We SAID: The Best Brands You’ve Never Heard Of

Staff Writer

In a globalized market full of products from every conceivable pocket on the planet, it’s hard to stand out in today’s beauty industry. Every season, we’re inundated with products that promise to change our minds forever about what we think we know about skin and hair care. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and most savvy consumers are hard to impress. So it’s always a refreshing surprise to see brands really shine with an impressive list of ingredients, and the performance to back it up.

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Bella Aura Instant Lifting Eye Contour features a formula that hydrates and tightens in a single drop. Full of feel good ingredients like Argan and Nigella Sativa, it lifts the eye area without the signature dry feeling associated with most firming formulations.

Luxe Botanics Kigelia Clarifying Moisturizer might be the crown jewel in the company’s cozy skin care selection. Featuring Kigelia Africana, this clear moisturizer cuts inflammation, and acne-causing irritations from the very first application. It feels more like a serum than a traditional moisturizer, but still manages to hydrate oily and acne-prone skin.


Mirai Clinical Purifying & Deodorizing Shampoo claims that this formula is so moisturizing, you don’t need a separate conditioner. We’re happy to report, it’s actually true. The low-foaming formula cleans your hair without stripping it, and leaves strands feeling light and hydrated.


Aleavia Enzymatic Body Cleanse claims to clean and heal the skin in one shot. The formula is so gentle that it can double as a shampoo and even a facial wash. You couldn’t ask for a simpler lineup of ingredients; there are only 7.


She SAID: New Beauty

Shahada Karim

The  new year is off to a colorful, albiet decidedly muted start. Some of the spring collections got an early start during Holiday ’16, and we’ve noticed that they’re not much different in texture (and in some cases, color) than what trended through the end of the year. From Burberry mattes to Chanel smoke, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Ever the little company that could, Viseart continued it’s multi-tasking philosophy with the new Warm Mattes Palette. Made up of warm neutrals from off white to brownish red, the palette features the same creamy texture and high pigment that Viseart has become famous for. Also released was an extension of the new pro palettes, which are a fraction of the size and feature complimentary mattes and shimmers.

The Burberry Silk & Bloom Palette might be the most appropriate ‘Spring’ offering, in a decidedly bright pinky-plum shade. The company also released a collection of  Liquid Lip Velvets that apply and dry like a typical matte liquid lipstick, without the additional feature of remaining transfer-proof. On the up side, they remain very comfortable on the lips, unlike many formulas that leave lips parched and thirsting for relief.

Anastasia Beverly Hills  began her legacy with brows, and created a makeup empire that now includes just about everything else on the face. The company’s latest offering comes in the form of a highly anticipated lip palette, that includes both traditional and primary colors to bring out the mixologist in every beauty lover.

Chanel  got out early with the new CODE collection for Spring, by releasing it in December. The crown jewel of the collection is Blush Harmony, with four distinct colors to blend or use alone at your discretion. Two new eyeshadow palettes and a slew of lip colors have the potential to get lost in Chanel’s other permanent offerings, and the eyeliner in Petrol Noir is fun but forgettable.

If there is an up side, it’s that the trends from Holiday (or even spring/summer of ’16) haven’t really changed. That’s good news for anyone hoping to embrace the new year effortlessly and beautifully, without breaking the bank.

He SAID: Hidden Gem

Scott F. Evans

2017 (and late 2016) continues to deliver solid African-American cinema with this week’s release of Hidden Figures.  The film tells the story of the black women, classified as “computers” by NASA, whose invaluable input helped astronaut John Glenn orbit the planet.  It’s a remarkably inspirational story that’s been ignored by cinema and largely forgotten in history.  But this film, based loosely on the non-fiction book of the same name, seeks to remedy that.


Hidden Figures is directed by Theodore Melfi with a script co-written with Allison Schroeder and adapted from  the book by Margot Lee Shetterly.  And while the direction isn’t particularly special, the film still works surprisingly well.  Melfi’s direction is adequate, certainly a step above pedestrian, but it won’t garner any awards. He does elicit strong performances from his cast though.   He and Schroeder’s script give the actors plenty to work with.  The dialogue pops and breezes along with a slightly whimsical tone without trivializing the situation.  These brilliant women had to deal with an altogether different brand of racism; one that had no problem using their amazing talents, while refusing to acknowledge their efforts.  But the script doesn’t beat you up about it by focusing solely on the puzzling racism that still permeated a scientific organization like NASA.  It doesn’t run from or soft sell it, but it also doesn’t wallow in misery.  Instead it illustrates the value of higher education in a world that is rapidly progressing through technology.

But Hidden Figures is really elevated by its cast, with every player turning in a robust performance.  Taraji P. Henson leads the pack as mathematical genius Katherine Johnson.  While the film is something of an ensemble piece, Henson truly anchors it.  She plays Johnson with a easy, yet restrained touch, giving the role a light sense of humor even as she navigates the racial minefield of late 1960’s NASA.  Octavia Spencer gives another one of her typically solid performances as Dorothy Vaughn who manages the team of “computers”.  She plays Vaughn as strong, but not in that stiff manner we usually get in these types of roles.  Janelle Monae is new to acting, but she holds her own as the determined Mary Jackson. She plays her with a bit of sauce, but not enough to push Hidden Figures beyond its PG rating.  Kevin Costner is as stalwart as ever as Al Harrison.  He’s good in the role but as it’s almost tailor-made for him, it’s not a standout.


If there’s one criticism I’d level at Hidden Figures is that music is weak.  It’s not bad, but the score by Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer all sound inauthentic, like modern music trying to sound period.  It’s too polished and synthetic sounding.  This film was made with the relatively low amount of 25 million (it doesn’t look it) so maybe securing era-specific music rights proved too rich for the budget.

So even though Hidden Figures plays almost like a big budget TV movie, it’s still worth a look in theaters.  This is truly an important story that should serve to inspire both young and old.

He SAID: Fences

Scott F. Evans

“It’s been a long time… I shouldn’t have left you…”

August Wilson’s acclaimed play Fences finally gets a big screen treatment. While it can be very effective on stage in a live environment, it doesn’t quite work as a piece of cinema.

The problem certainly isn’t with the performances. Denzel Washington turns in yet another excellent performance as the film’s protagonist Troy Maxson. It’s almost a shock to the system to see how animated Washington plays the character. Washington can do more with a simple turn of the head or an eye change than most actors can do with pages of dialogue. Here, he goes from that natural stillness, which works so well in film, to a broad stagey-ness that sometimes feels a little phony.

Viola Davis shines as his long-suffering wife Rose. She puts everything up there on the screen. She’s able to convey both strength and vulnerability at the same time. Rose is almost a thankless role because Troy bulldozes everybody around him. But Davis never allows Rose to get lost in the midst of his destruction. Her performance is probably more grounded than Washington’s, but it’s also a less flamboyant role.

Stephen Henderson almost steals the show as Troy’s best friend and co-worker Jim Bono. No matter how great Denzel and Viola are, they’re still Denzel and Viola: two of the most recognizable faces in the business. Henderson has been around for a while, but he’s still fairly unknown to movie-goers. That near anonymity adds a layer of authenticity to Henderson’s work as Bono. He seems like a man plucked straight from any Black community in the 1950’s. You never see him acting and he gives the most genuine performance in the film.

All of the main actors in the main cast reprise their roles from the 2010 Broadway revival. Jovan Adepo is one of the newcomers to the cast bowing here as Corey, Troy and Rose’s son. Adepo handles the role with ease.  Even in his scenes with heavyweights Washington and Davis, he more than holds his own.

Mykelti Williamson and Russell Hornsby play Troy’s brother Gabriel and first son Lyons respectively.  Gabriel is afflicted with a wartime head injury and is mentally disabled. In many films this type character can be distracting when the actor is allowed to overplay it.  Williamson keeps it reigned in though, showing us Gabriel’s mental struggles, while still underplaying it.   Hornsby is solid as the ne’er do well Lyons, but the character is unfortunately shortchanged by the script.  Much of his story happens off-screen so Lyons feels like a one-note character.

And that’s why Fences doesn’t quite work as a piece of cinema.

Washington directs the film with an almost slavish adherence to its stage roots, with too much of the action being confined to the Maxson’s backyard.   This is understandable for theater productions as there’s an inherent limit to what can be done on a stage.  But this is a movie and that visual restriction makes the film feel claustrophobic.  Maybe Washington wants the audience to experience the oppressive confinement that the characters are living in, but it feels more like him trying to remain faithful to the play rather than creating a visual theme.   The script, written by Wilson (who worked on it before his death in 2005) and Tony Kushner, doesn’t help alleviate the staginess of the film.  While the dialogue is rich, authentic, and expertly delivered, far too much of it expository.  While monologues are an integral component to theater and actors love them, again, this is cinema.  Show us, don’t tell us.  The characters in Fences spend a lot of time talking about events that happen offscreen.  Many of these events are fairly vital to the plot and could have easily been shot, making the film a fuller cinematic experience.  Instead, we’re given something that often looks like they just shot the play in an outdoor theater.

But it’s a soft criticism.  Fences is a good film.  Because it’s such an actor’s piece, the performances help make this adaptation a success.  However, the faithfulness to that theater-ish style prevents it from becoming a classic.