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: Fall Foundation

Shahada Karim

Seasons change, and so do our skin’s needs. That’s true with skin care, and that’s certainly true with makeup. We continue the trend of clean polished skin (versus heavily contoured or powdered finishes) as we head into the cooler months and carry through to Holiday 2016.

If you’re not worried about your actual skin showing through, MAC Face & Body continues to rule the roost with the most natural finish for a sheer foundation. The formula binds to the skin and stays put until you take it off. It’s also compatible with a wide range of skin types, from oily to dry and even mature. Even the newest offering from Make Up For Ever doesn’t hold a candle to this tried and true formulation. The packaging isn’t fussy or fabulous (it was originally designed with pros in mind) but the formulation definitely gets the job done.

Elcie Micro Silque Foundation stands firm for one of the best ‘skin’ like finishes with medium to full coverage. Applied with fingers or the highly favored BeautyBlender, the finish is both posh and polished, and has become a cult favorite among both professional makeup artists and consumers in search of a strong foundation off the beaten makeup path.

Chantecaille Future Skin is another tried and true formula that has yet to let us down. The oil-free gel formula has enough coverage to address issues like acne and hyper-pigmentation, and is also friendly to a wide range of skin types. The shade range is also impressive, with distinct neutral and yellow undertones. The only complaint about this foundation is the packaging. It comes in a pot, with no consideration for sanitation or general handling. The formula is dense, but pliant enough to be dispensed through a pump or even a tube.

Chantecaille, consider this a firm suggestion.

He SAID: Apocalyptic Fail

Scott F. Evans

Can we all just finally admit that the X-Men franchise isn’t very good?  This is the eighth film in this way-past-its-expiration-date series. Of that eight, maybe two of them are decent.  Maybe.  Fox has been cranking these things out since the beginning of the century with spin-offs and even a midway reboot followed by another reboot which basically did away with the previous films.

The studio started with the first three X-Men films, X-Men, X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand in 2000, 2003, and 2006 respectively.   Director Bryan Singer jumped ship before Last Stand started shooting and was replaced at the last minute by Brett Ratner.  The fourth film, X-Men: First Class was released in 2011 with Matthew Vaughn directing and a completely new cast of younger actors.  First Class was set in the 1960’s and served as a reset to the series.  This was followed in 2013 with another Wolverine sequel titled, simply, The Wolverine.  The Wolverine takes place directly after The Last Stand and doesn’t reference First Class at all.  Singer returns in 2014 to helm X-Men: Days of Future Past.  It was designed specifically to straighten out the franchise’s confusing timeline.  By the film’s end, it had basically erased the first three X-Men films and both Wolverine solo projects.

Or created a separate timeline.

Or something.

Point is, this franchise is a mess and needs to be put down.

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Singer returns with screenwriter Simon Kinberg, a few of the First Class cast, and several new faces for X-Men: Apocalypse. Even with the new additions, it’s become painfully clear that everyone involved has run out of things to say. Magneto, played for the third time by Michael Fassbender, has the exact same character arc from every X-Film he’s been in.  This time he gets a family in an attempt to switch things up, but the result is the same old story. To Fassbender’s credit, he’s such a great actor that I can’t tell if he’s just phoning his performance in or really trying to elevate the stale material he’s been given.

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James McAvoy, in his third outing as Professor Xavier, is also an excellent actor.  But you can see him desperately fighting to make something out of this exhausted screenplay.  He always seems to be just on the verge of tears. Honestly I’m not sure if the text calls for such emotion or if McAvoy is just that frustrated.

Conversely, the top-billed Jennifer Lawrence sleepwalks through this.  This is also her third time playing Mystique and it’s clear that Lawrence is over it.  She’s rarely in the character’s signature blue appearance and delivers her dialogue with the least amount of effort possible.  As bored and detached as she is, you’d think that Singer and Kinberg would either recast or write the character out. Nope! Instead, Mystique is shoehorned into this plot and about as useful here as Wolverine was in Days of Future Past.

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Evan Peters, who stole the show in his initial appearance in Days Of Future Past, is back with more to say and do. While his function is no different than it was the first time, his scene is longer and still as enjoyable.

Poor Oscar Isaac bows as the evil Apocalypse. If ever there was a disservice done to a stellar actor, it is this.  Buried under pounds of prosthetic makeup and hobbled with hackneyed comic book dialogue, Isaac is criminally miscast as the titular villain. The role could have been played by a bodybuilder with his lines dubbed in by any voice actor and it wouldn’t have mattered one bit.


Final thoughts on X-Men: Apocalypse… it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before. The story is painfully simplistic and filled with superfluous emotional flourishes that want desperately to  be significant.  None of the performances stand out enough to justify investing two and a half long hours of your time. The spectacle, which features more destruction than all of the past superhero movies combined, is so common now that it’s become tedious.

Just like this entire franchise.



He SAID: Sound, Fury & Spectre

Scott F. Evans

There seems to be a fourth entry curse on the 007 franchise. Four actors have played the super spy at least four times. Each fourth outing is problematic as that fourth film usually follows a highly successful third entry. Sean Connery’s Thunderball, bowing in 1965, set the standard with that film working overtime to top Goldfinger, released the previous year. Thunderball is good, but at 130 minutes, this is where we get that “Bond Bloat”. 1979’s Moonraker, Roger Moore’s fourth, follows his series best The Spy Who Loved Me, released in 1977. Mooonraker, while enjoyable, really pushes your disbelief by ending with a Star Wars inspired laser gunfight on a space station. In 1999, The World Is Not Enough was released. Like most of the Pierce Brosnan films, it’s at best, a mixed bag. Producers decided to “fix” the problem by following it up in 2002 with Die Another Day. It’s telling that this film ended the Brosnan era and recast the lead. 2012’s Skyfall is considered by many, especially if box office is any indication, to be the best James Bond film ever made. It was Daniel Craig’s third outing as the iconic character.

The Sam Mendes directed Skyfall was a resounding success, bringing in over a billion dollars worldwide as well as garnering critical acclaim. In response, franchise producers Eon Productions lured most of that film’s creative team back for Spectre, the 24th Bond film. Mendes, Craig, and the writing team of Neal Purvis, John Logan and Robert Wade are all back with Jez Butterworth being added to the writing team. Eon also doubled the budget of Skyfall, making the rumored 300 million dollar Spectre one of the most expensive films ever made.

The money’s all up there on the screen. Spectre has an abundance of exotic international locations, grandiose sets, designer wardrobes, spectacular stunts and explosive effects. That’s not the problem. Spectre’s problem begins and ends with the story. In a nutshell, the writers, for some wrongheaded reason, are trying to connect every thread from all three of the Craig films. Every adventure that this Bond has gone on since Casino Royale is tied into a vast terrorspectre7ist network called Spectre. That’s fine as a comic book storytelling device. MI-6 needed an evil organization to fight, I suppose. But it makes everything that has happened since Craig rebooted Bond feel too small and personal. Instead of a British secret agent fighting tirelessly against various international dark forces, now Bond feels like a cop fighting crime in a medium sized city. And it doesn’t help that Spectre has a superfluous midpoint twist that only makes Bond’s world even tinier.

And it’s Spectre’s story problems that cause the film to run out of gas a little more than halfway through. There’s a showstopping fight on a train between Bond and Dave spectre6Bautista’s main henchman Mr. Hinx that should’ve been the climax. It’s the best action bit in the entire film and stands up next to the parkour chase in Casino Royale. But Mendes and company decide to keep Spectre limping along for almost another hour delivering not one, but two tedious shootouts that end with massive explosions. One of the shootouts is so lazily executed that it’s literally Bond walking directly at a small team of Spectre thugs and calmly shooting every one of them with monotonous accuracy. It’s the most half-assed action scene I’ve seen in a mega-budgeted feature film since the climactic shootout in The Dark Knight Rises.

Mendes’ direction is solid for the first hour and change. He starts the film with a beautiful tracking shot that seems to go on uninterrupted for almost five minutes. There’s an exciting sequence on an out of control helicopter and the aforementioned train fight is exceptional. Mendes also gets good performances from most of his cast, but he’s unable to pull it all together. Again, I can only blame the half-baked script.

Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, while no Roger Deakins, still delivers some satisfying work. Compared to Skyfall, Hoytema’s work is almost pedestrian. spectre5There’s a lengthy film vs digital argument being had in Hollywood right now. Traditionalists still prefer film, arguing that video is just unable to capture images the way film does. Well, add the latest Bond film to the pro-video argument. Spectre was shot on 35mm film but the visuals are nowhere near as beautiful as the digital imagery from Skyfall.

Daniel Craig is solid in what may be his final appearance as 007. He’s contracted for one more, but the role has taken a toll on the actor. His Bond has been more rugged and physically demanding than previous takes so it’s understandable that he may be ready to retire from Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Leya Seydoux plays the female lead Madeleine Swann. She’s serviceable. It’s not that Seydoux is bad in the role, it’s just that she looks too young for Craig and the two have zero screen chemistry. This is a serious problem because the story wants you to believe that Swann might be Bond’s true love. Suffice to say it doesn’t work at all as the two actors actually look bored with one another.

Spectre introduces us to Bond’s latest arch villain Franz Oberhauser. Christoph Waltz is spectre1terribly miscast in the role. Oberhauser is the head of this huge, sinister organization and Waltz plays him like the CEO of a candy company. He’s too lightweight for the part. He’s not intimidating physically or mentally and you wonder if he just bought his way to the top of Spectre because he certainly couldn’t have earned the title.

Naomie Harris, so great as the re-imagined Moneypenny in Skyfall, is reduced to little more than an extended cameo in this one. Instead, Spectre decides to give the much less interesting Ben Whishaw’s Q more screentime. The story struggles to find reasons to get him out of his lab and into the field. With his foppish hair and comically fastidious ways, he feels like an awkward response to Simon Peggs’ Benji Dunn in the Mission Impossible series.

spectre3If you’re a Bond completist, go see Spectre. It’s fairly entertaining for at least half of its overlong run-time, so catch a matinee or on discount night. If you’re more of a casual fan, pop in Skyfall and wait for Bond 25.

RATING: Matinee

He SAID: The Perfect Pile Of…

Scott F. Evans

The Perfect Guy is the perfect title for this film. It’s bland, unoriginal, and insipid. Directed by David M. Rosenthal, with a screenplay by Tyger Williams, this film couldn’t be more theperfectguy5predictable and generic.

The film’s problems are specifically with writing and direction. Williams hasn’t written a feature length screenplay since 1993’s Menace II Society, and it shows. None of the dialogue feels authentic or natural. There’s not one moment of this film that feels even remotely clever or original. It’s like Williams just cribbed together scenes from every sex thriller from the 1980’s and 90’s, updated them with modern technology and threw them into this mess of a script.

And then Rosenthal completely neutered it. For frivolous stalker films like this to really work, they need to commit to the lurid nature of the concept. Like 1987’s Fatal Attraction or 1992’s theperfectguy4Basic Instinct, The Perfect Guy has nothing to actually say about human nature or behavior patterns. It’s not interested in examining how the lead character’s age and gender causes her to make poor relationship decisions. Nor is it interested in exploring the antagonist’s particular form of mental illness. It doesn’t have to, but the film could at least deliver some cheap, lurid thrills. The Perfect Guy isn’t particularly sexy, violent, or thrilling. It’s so middle-of-the-road safe in content and direction, that it plays like a Lifetime movie with a bigger budget.

To their credit, the cast tries their best with this trite material. Sanaa Lathan plays Leah Vaughn. She’s beautiful and competent. She gives it her all, but the script fails… giving her nothing but stale tropes to play. Michael Ealy plays Carter Duncan. He’s handsome and competent. He hits all of the “crazy but charming” beats you’ve seen in every film with this kind of villain. He tries, but he’s not given much to do beyond play tired clichés. Morris Chestnut plays Vaughn’s boyfriend Dave. He’s handsome and practically a cameo in The Perfect Guy. He shows up in the beginning and disappears for a lot of the run time.

Chestnut isn’t given anything to do besides be an obstacle for Ealy’s character. And if it wasn’t enough to deal with lazy scripting and boring direction, the three leads are honestly too old (intelligent?) for these clueless characters. They’re all in their forties (to be clear, none of them look it). They move and are styled like middle aged adults, but the story is written for characters in their early to mid-thirties. They play like stunted versions of their younger selves, potentially displaying a psychosis of repeating patterns well into an age when they ought to know better. But again, none of this is addressed or even considered in an attempt to make the story interesting or original.

Like No Good Deed (released about the same time last year), The Perfect Guy is yet another watered-down thriller featuring three leads of color. It’s a shame that filmmakers feel the need to sanitize these films so much, because they at least have the potential to offer up some fun, racy thrills. There’s a reason people still talk about Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct decades after their release. For all of their pulpy sleaze, they’re at least memorable. You’ll forget The Perfect Guy on the way to the parking lot.

RATING: Television