What I’m Lovin’ Right Now

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I know some people don’t like to fall into the trap of or even believe in New Year’s resolutions; but I’ve always liked the idea of working toward goals. And yet, I haven’t taken the time to sit down and formally write my list of resolutions for 2015. I can’t say that I will at this point either.

Admittedly, I meant to do this over my holiday vacation, but other things got in the way. Rather than beat myself up about it, I came up with a very simple idea for how I wanted to approach 2015 in such a way that negated the need to write this long list of things that I would likely never get to because…you got it…life got in the way. Instead, I simply told myself that I wanted to have something to look forward to every day. I think this is a much more realistic and manageable way to deal with life at the moment. The great news is that it doesn’t have to be anything big. In fact, it will likely be the small things most days: a latte from my favorite café, heading home to binge watch Girls (my current obsession), meeting a friend for lunch, or curling up with a good book and my favorite candle burning nearby (see #3 below).

I haven’t sworn off New Year’s resolutions entirely – but I’m giving it a break this year. I will share that there is one main area of my life that I am aiming to make a big change at this year, that will require some thought and course of action; but really, I just want to spend more time being present, enjoying the little things.

As such, I’m lovin’ things that embrace small pleasures, things that aid in my goal to have something to look forward to each day. Below you’ll find a few ideas that I have in mind – be it the perfect bath after a long day (#7); a DIY project to sink my teeth into (#6); trying a new, healthier recipe (#8); planning a date night with my guy (#2); or treating myself to a little bling (#9). There’s always something to look forward to, and for once, I want to take it day by day.

Here’s to small pleasures and that one big change in 2015. I’ll keep you posted on how things come along. Here’s…

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 1. A fresh take on why we’ve got “happiness” backwards. | Enlarge to See Full Quote.

2. Where to go when you need a date night. | The 13 Best Date Spots in LA.

3.  The best smell in my apartment as I type this. | Bella’s “Midnight Orchid” Soy Candle.

4.  In case you thought you were doing everything right on the skin front. |  20 Skincare Mistakes That Are Damaging Your Face.

5. A quick reminder of your birth-given power. | 7 Things You Don’t Know About the Power You’ve Always Had.

6. Inspiration for what to do with all those damn coffee mugs taking up unnecessary cabinet space. | DIY Pallet Coffee Cup Holder.

7.  Everything you need to turn into a prune from the comfort of your own home. | Crafting the Perfect Bath at Home.

8. What to do when you perpetually have avocados and tomatoes ripening faster than you can eat them. | Avocado Quesadillas.

9. Feeding your minimalist jewelry binge. | Bar Drop Necklace.

10. Because winter reeks havoc on your skin…and it won’t win.  | Eau Roma Water (a personal favorite at the moment).

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MLK

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One of my favorite quotes in the world comes from the man who was likely never at a loss for the right words. They hang in my apartment, framed over my bed. They are words that I stop and meditate on should my eye ever be drawn to that particular part of the room. They are words that speak volumes, even if that volume is only 5 sentences.

If you’re familiar with this famous quote from the prolific M.L.K., you might notice that the last line is not apart of the original quote as you’re used to seeing it. That’s because I actually combined two separate quotes from MLK into one. I found one quote (compromised of the first 4 lines) and then saw the other quote (the last line) and fused them together when researching some of his famous words a few years ago. For whatever reason, it really was the last line the cements the message in such a way that crystallizes the relationship between love and hate; and ultimately, why we must practice forgiveness as human beings. It comes down to not even allowing yourself to move into spaces that do not serve you, that are beneath you.

I do hope Dr. King will forgive me for massaging his words, though together, I truly believe they create one of the most powerful declarations I’ve ever come across.

Today, let us stop and remember how far we’ve come, yet how far we still have to go.

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We All Scream For Ice Cream

Salt&Straw_Header_ATG FINAL{Feast your eyes on Chocolate Gooey Brownie ice cream.}


Where: Salt & Straw
Location: 240 North Larchmont Boulevard, Larchmont Village
Cost: $$


Just a few doors down the street from “The (over-hyped) Best Iced Latte in America,” rests one of the newest additions to Larchmont Boulevard, and it’s quickly becoming the ice cream spot in town. It’s not unusual to see the line hanging out the door into the wee hours of the night; as Angelenos happily fork over their hard-earned money for a slightly expensive, yet decadent, brain freeze.

Salt & Straw Exterior _ATG FINAL

Originating in The Beaver State (that’s Oregon, if you didn’t catch my attempt to be clever), Salt & Straw aims to take a beloved American indulgence to a new level. You might be asking, how does one do that exactly? If you think about it, unlike certain treats, ice cream couldn’t be a more accessible delicacy. If you’re in dire straits in the middle of the night to deal with a crappy day by drowning your sorrows in a tub of ice cream, a trip to your neighborhood grocery store happens to also have the added benefit of welcoming you with more options than you’ll ever need. And yet, I can see why scoop shops, like Salt & Straw or Sprinkles Ice Cream, might withstand the test of time…and the abundance of accessibility.

In a nutshell, it’s because when heading to specialty places such as these it’s in “the event” of it all. It’s in the getting in the car with a destination in mind. It’s in the anticipation of a rewarding treat. It’s in the gazing at the menu, deciding what you want. It’s in the tasting of the samples. It’s in the ambiance. But ultimately, it’s in the product itself – usually served with the freshest of ingredients and thoughtful presentation.

Suffice to say then, that Salt & Straw makes ice cream an event.

Salt&Straw_Exterior_Interior_ATG FINAL{Exterior/Interior seating areas.}

On a dreary, late Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, we paid a visit to see what The Beaver State famously had years before us Angelenos, a Salt & Straw. With much luck, and I’m sure fortuitous timing (everyone was likely at the mall finishing up some last-minute Christmas shopping), we found the place nearly deserted. In fact, we were in and out in a matter of minutes, thanks to no line!

What immediately feels distinct about Salt & Straw, compared to your more typical scoop shops, was the easy and inviting ambiance. This was achieved through carved wood; and warm, moody lighting. The space isn’t very big, and there isn’t much seating; but for the short time you’re inside, it certainly leaves an impression.

Salt & Straw_Interior_Counter_ATG FINAL{Interior/counter.}

For just over $4.00, I walked out of Salt & Straw’s welcoming shop with a scoop of Chocolate Gooey Brownie ice cream (pictured above) in hand. While the price is reasonable if you’re headed in for a solo treat for yourself, or on a date, it can certainly add up if dad decides to take a family of four out for ice cream and everyone wants a double scoop.

That being said, one spoonful was literally all it took. As the ice cream hit my tongue, I could taste the love that went into every aspect of it. It wasn’t until I got home and did a little research, that I realized the detail put into what ultimately, might come across as a simple scoop of ice cream. Turns out, the chocolate used in its base is from organic Holy Kakow Chocolate products, and the brownies are baked fresh, infused with marshmallows to give them a special fluff…and this dedication to quality is before they’ve even churned it together to make the final product!

Salt & Straw is regarded for their use of locally sourced, fresh ingredients; but also for their eclectic flavors. Admittedly, I went with a safe flavor for my inaugural visit, but take two will find me bolder to try some of their more creative options: Avocado & Strawberry Sherbet or Ojai Olive Oil & Burnt Orange Marmalade. Then again, I can get behind their Central Coast Champagne Sorbet, too.

They keep their popular permanent “classic” flavors on-hand at all times. The great news is that they’re also constantly rotating their selection, introducing new flavors every month to keep the menu fresh; and to keep Angelenos coming back, forking over their hard-earned money for a slightly expensive, yet decadent, brain freeze.

And this, my friends, is how you beat ice cream accessibility. It’s the big “event” taking place in Larchmont Village at the moment.

Well played, Salt & Straw. Well played.

Salt&Straw_IceCreamcase_ATG FINAL{Order your favorites to-go by the pint!}

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Best Dressed: The 2015 Golden Globe Awards

BEST DRESSED ATG FINAL_2015

Closing out a much-need, productive, yet relaxing 3-week vacation on the couch with my (they-just-don’t-know-it-yet) BFFs Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards wasn’t too shabby. At the very least, having the festivities of the show to fall back on did wonders at distracting me from my end of vacay blues.

Overall, the show kept me engaged. Though there were a few “WTF?” moments (paging: the weird vibe between Jeremy Renner and J-Lo), Tina and Amy did a great job. However, I always feel that the Globes (like the Oscars) should really incorporate their hosts into the show more. The Globes have to be the easiest hosting gig in town. Aside from the opening monologue, you only see them on-stage a few more times and it’s usually just to introduce someone, rather than keep the energy of the show alive.

I was happy to see some much deserved wins of the night (J.K. Simmons, I’m looking at you!); but also slightly disappointed at the unexpected upset for best actor in a motion picture. Admittedly, The Theory of Everything was the one big award-contending film I didn’t get to in 2014, but plan to catch soon. That being said, I was pretty sure David Oyelowo was a shoe-in for that honor for his formidable work as MLK in Selma. I guess we’ll see where The Academy stands on this issue next month.

And can we take a moment to reflect on the greatest speech of the night? Mr. George Clooney is in love. So in love. What a beautiful acceptance speech and the kindest words a man can utter to his new bride. The man had me choking back tears. Side note: I read that the tux he was wearing to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Award was, in fact, his recent wedding tux. Too sweet.

Aside from who takes home the statue – this is the night to star-gaze at all things fashion. I caught a bit of the red carpet pre-show, but ultimately was annoyed that we didn’t get to see steady wide shots of the gowns for any length of time because they were usually being interviewed at a medium. So, I did what any gal had to do…the internet. I got my full fashion fix the next day over a morning cup of tea.

I’ll preface, as I usually do, that when thinking about my favorites of the night – I went for total package glamour. This meant not only a show-stopping ensemble, but impeccable hair, make-up, and accessories. These ladies nailed it.

Here are my top 5 picks of the night…

5. | KATE HUDSON in Versace.

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 4. | AMY ADAMS in Versace.

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3. | KATE BECKINSALE in Elie Saab.

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 2. | JENNA DEWAN-TATUM in Carolina Herrera.

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BEST DRESSED. | EMMA STONE in Lanvin.

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Header image credit: Absolute Power” by vaibhav ahuja used under CC BY 2.0 | Modifications: filtered, text added to original.

Photo sources:
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2014 Best in Cinema: Features.

2014 Best in Cinema_Features_ATG FINAL

I can’t say with conviction that 2014 will go down as one of my favorite years in cinema. Of the nearly 70 films I saw this year at theaters across Los Angeles, there were very few times I walked away with that “wow” feeling. It’s that awareness that spending two hours of your life with a film, eventually become countless hours, because you can’t stop thinking about the lives and stories of the characters long after you’ve left the cineplex. As I think about it, my last “wow” came as the screen faded to black during Steve McQueen’s masterpiece, 12 Years A Slave. More, I can’t say that I saw many films this year that made me want to delve further into how I felt about them, to try to rationalize what I saw on-screen by dedicating a one-off blog post as I did for 2013’s Fruitvale Station.

This doesn’t mean 2014 wasn’t a strong year in cinema. What 2014 certainly did was create a space as one of the more memorable times in the industry, as the art of filmmaking continues to push itself harder. Through films like Boyhood, Locke, and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby – it’s clear that the intricacies of physical production when it comes to telling a narrative is changing. Filmmakers are becoming more and more aggressive and innovative in the craft of storytelling.

Sometimes this aggression and innovation helps a story (i.e., Boyhood), other times it might hurt it (i.e., The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby), but as the saying goes: “you can’t blame a guy (or girl) for trying.” Naturally, there is some nobility in that.

Here are my top 10 picks for the best feature films of 2014…


Boyhood_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_10Film: Boyhood
Date: 07.11.2014
Location: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood

Director Richard Linklater holds a very special place in cinema. He’s responsible for what I personally consider to be one of the best trilogies of all time, the “Before” series. Unlike nearly every sequel ever created that often falls into the trap of becoming one big diluted and uninspiring cliché; the “Before” films, like fine wine, get better and better with age. Five minutes after I sat in the chair to watch Jesse and Celine’s 20 year love story continue in 2013’s Before Midnight, I knew I was in for something exceptional…and it was. Before Midnight was my favorite film of 2013. Taking a moment to preface this, I went into Boyhood with extremely high expectations, that weren’t wholly fulfilled. Ultimately, why Boyhood is deserving to make any top 10 list is because Linklater experimented with the genre of film itself in one of the most unique and innovative methods in film history. Filmed over the course of 12 years, this is a coming-of-age tale more rooted in reality, for a fictional narrative, than ever seen on-screen. Every year Linklater and the same core group of actors would gather to further Mason’s tale of Boyhood. My biggest complaint about this film was that outside of the gimmick, while extremely commendable, the film wasn’t conflict-driven enough. Sure there were scenes capturing difficulties at any given point of Mason’s 12-year story-line, but given that we’re following a young boy into the complexities of manhood – it was surprising how little actually happens to our protagonist. One might argue that compared to your average human being navigating the journey of growing up, that Mason had a rather easy, uncomplicated life. Due to this weakness in the script, the audience doesn’t emotionally connect to, or cheer on or our “boy” with solid investment because of the inherent lack of true conflict. That being said, the dedication and commitment to see this film to completion, coupled with outstanding chemistry among the actors skillfully maintained over a 12 year period, rectifies its weaknesses. Undoubtedly, it must have been a labor of love for everyone involved given the demands of making it, and should be applauded, rightfully. It’s a delightful film to watch.


Abuse of Weakness_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_9Film: Abuse of Weakness
Date: 04.26.2014
Location: Director’s Guild of America, Hollywood

Solely because this film is based on Director Catherine Breillat’s own true story, does Abuse of Weakness seem even the least bit fathomable. And yet, the more you examine it, the more all too human it legitimately becomes. Breillat recreates her story through Maud, portrayed by the incomparable Isabelle Huppert, as a filmmaker who suffers from a life-altering stroke. Maud desperately wants to continue her work despite her newly acquired physical limitations, resulting in her having to re-learn even the most basic of human functions. Though she eventually learns to adapt to her physical restrictions, albeit it with much struggle, what becomes all too clear as you follow her journey toward building a new life while focusing on her work – is how much Maud hasn’t accepted or adapted to the emotional ramifications of her situation. She knowingly pursues an admitted con man, Vilko, to play her main character in her new film. The result of this choice creates one of the most maddening narratives of the year. Vilko’s timely and charming presence, spent making her feel important, while being of help through the difficulties of adjusting to her handicap, sets the stage for the con to come. Vilko swindles Maud out of all of her money over the course of the film. The caveat here is that though she’s aware of his history, he still manages to build trust with her in such a way that she willingly writes checks to support his questionable endeavors. The complicated part about their relationship is that Maud is clearly an intelligent, successful woman. As such, it’s hard to believe that she cannot see the outright manipulation taking place before her eyes. One might question whether or not Maud let it happen for the sake of having his presence in her life, and therefore, purposely continues to turn a blind eye as she loans him money to the point of bankruptcy. Alternatively, it’s possible she considered it a genuine loan and simply wanted to help out a friend in need, who helped her. When it comes to what took place in reality, Catherine Breillat asserts that she was purely taken of advantage of due to a “diminished mental state” at the time, which is also entirely possible. However, I interpreted Maud’s actions to be more gray. By virtue of how intelligent and strong, yet vulnerable and lonely Maud is characterized throughout the film, it’s hard to truly ascertain her motives other than that she seems to appreciate the attention. Abuse of Weakness is a remarkable exploration of how much and how low one will go to feel valued, and to hold on to a human connection, even as the ugly truth is staring you in the face.

 


Two Days, One Night_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_8Film: Two Days, One Night
Date: 11.07.2014
Location: Egyptian Theater, Hollywood

Marion Cotillard gives a stellar performance as Sandra, a Belgian woman who spends her weekend after an extended medical leave of absence for depression, convincing her co-workers to forgo their bonus checks so that she can keep her job. Upon learning that a majority of them voted for her dismissal in favor of their bonuses, the film follows Sandra as she swallows her pride and personally visits each co-worker, petitioning them to re-consider their stance. It is a portrait of a woman desperately seeking not only monetary, but emotional security as they seemingly continue to slip away from her over the course of Two Days, One Night. What a complicated, yet delicious predicament, when you consider that most not only relish bonuses, but that her co-workers are in dire financial straits themselves and can certainly use it. It’s an examination of a modern-day version of Darwinian theory, rooted in the foundation of what provides both physical and emotional self-preservation, our jobs. It speaks to a variety of themes: the survival of the fittest and stepping on others to get ahead; humbling oneself to ask for help when needed; but more so, having the capacity to help our fellow-man by making the responsible choice, even as it comes as a personal sacrifice.


Enemy_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_7Film: Enemy
Date: 03.26.2014
Location: Laemmle Theaters, Santa Monica

Adapted from José Saramago’s 2004 novel “The Double,” Enemy takes on the arduous task of creating two characters and two worlds that brilliantly merge together toward what has to be one of the most mind-blowing endings in film history. Enemy introduces us to Adam, an off-beat history professor, who one day finds that there is another person in the world who looks exactly like him. Determined to meet his doppelganger, named Anthony, Adam eventually locates his double and is immediately transfixed by the life Anthony leads. What ensues is a rather complicated and hard to describe narrative that forays from a well-executed mystery, to an intense thriller, leading toward an almost science fiction-like finale. Incredibly, as much as this film takes the audience on a perplexing, hallucinatory journey with the incredible Jake Gyllenhaal at the wheel; it does an impressive job of balancing your interest enough to keep you invested. The duplicity, and eventual mergence, of Adam and Anthony’s world is unlike anything seen on-screen this year. Enemy’s unusual plot-line, unique premise, strong performances, and phenomenal cinematography all lend to its success, but what must be its core strength is how much it can brazenly confuse the hell out of its audience, yet still produce a top 10 film!


Obvious Child_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_6Film: Obvious Child
Date: 06.13.2014
Location: Landmark Theaters, West LA

On the surface, Director Gillian Robespierre’s first feature-length narrative may appear to be your typical, quirky, small-scale, independent film. Surprisingly, what she created was a prototype that illustrates how a typical, quirky, small-scale, independent film can still cultivate finesse and substance. Obvious Child follows Jenny Slate as Donna Stern, an up-and-coming comedienne who learns she’s pregnant after a one-night stand. Unlike most films that would then accompany Donna as she agonizes over what to do about her unplanned pregnancy, this film breaks stereotype by immediately making it known that Donna has already made a firm decision to have an abortion. The film subsequently escorts our protagonist over the next few weeks as she waits for her procedure, not once doubting her decision, but certainly doubting where her life is going. The unique thing about Obvious Child’s narrative structure is that after she’s made the decision to proceed with her abortion, her one-night stand reappears during those weeks, interested in pursuing a relationship. Again, Donna maintains her decision about the abortion, but takes the risk of letting her one-night stand and the father of the baby into her life. What both Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate create through Obvious Child is in effect, the backwards romantic comedy, more comparable to real life. Not all women necessarily agonize over unplanned pregnancies knowing their station in life isn’t right for a child. Not all women meet their Prince Charming, fall in love, get married, and then start a family. Sometimes it happens the other way around. Unlike the formulaic romantic comedy, Obvious Child, takes a regret-free and often crudely hilarious exploration at life, love, and sex with refreshing authenticity.


Skeleton Twins_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_5Film: The Skeleton Twins
Date: 9.13.2014
Location: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood

If there was one film of 2014 that did a near-perfect endeavor of inviting the audience to a familiar portrayal of a place, time, and relationship, it’s as a result of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader’s seamless stint as bother and sister in The Skeleton Twins. Estranged twins Maggie and Milo reunite after each attempt suicide on the same day, using rock bottom as the foundation toward mending their broken relationship. Writer/Director Craig Johnson creates a realistic version of fiction through the struggles plaguing Maggie and Milo, both as individuals and as a unit. On some level, we can relate to their problems, and see hints of our own inadequacies and insecurities in them. Further to that, the film’s setting during the nostalgia of the fall season, not only forms ornate visuals to carry the story, but somehow feels symbiotic. We watch our protagonists literally “fall” from grace in many areas of their life throughout the course of the film, but also “fall into” each other, effectively returning to what they know, what’s always been there. Maggie and Milo find home in each other in such a way that becomes more than just the basis for a feel good film, which it undoubtedly is, but an illustration at how core relationships, particularly between siblings, ground us in a way that no other relation can.


Love is Strange_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_4Film: Love is Strange
Date: 09.02.2014
Location: Private Screening, Culver City

When it comes to romances, a 40-year love affair is ideally expected to have already been sealed through the bonds of marriage, living and growing together, happily ever after. When Ben and George, played by the delightful John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, consummate their fate and finally marry once the state of New York recognizes gay marriage; a joyous occasion ultimately becomes yet another obstacle. George loses his job soon after exercising his right to marry, causing the newlyweds to have to look for alternative housing options in New York’s highly competitive market. Sadly, after decades spent together under the same roof, our newlyweds are forced to separate and move in with others as they seek a permanent solution. Love is Strange couldn’t be a more quieter film in terms of execution. Outside of the daily relational conflict, as a result of their separate living situations, not much else happens in terms of plot point apart from the beginning and end of the film. And yet, it’s because of the natural chemistry between Lithgow and Molina that make it such a treat to watch their story unfold on-screen. Somehow between the daily nuances that erupt from living apart, their commitment and relationship remain the most normal part of the film, cultivating a loving silhouette of a same-sex couple. Love is Strange paints a believable portrait of the many facets of love and our relationship to people because of it, suitably referring to “love” as “strange.”


Locke_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_3Film: Locke
Date: 04.29.14
Location: Landmark Theaters, West LA

One might say that Tom Hardy’s assignment as Ivan Locke is this year’s All is Lost. Locke receives a phone call that a one-night stand is about to give birth to a child he never knew about. On the night before an important career highlight takes place, Locke gets into his car to make the long journey to the hospital to meet the woman he thought he’d left behind months before, but not before having to make the difficult phone call to his wife while on the road. Locke is one man, one location, and one phone call after another that skillfully details the destruction of a life carefully built. Hardy’s impeccable performance within the mere confines of a car for 85 straight minutes, unwaveringly captivates the audience. This stems from the sharp narrative structure, savvy direction, and stunning camera-work, that instantly pull you in for the ride…literally. Like Robert Redford, Hardy alone carries the weight of a story that on paper would come across as extremely difficult to pull off. The risk was worth it. With every conversation, we watch Locke’s personal and professional life fall apart in one of the most unique manners ever told on-screen. Simply put, Locke takes the practice of filmmaking to a whole other level, leaving behind a cinematic masterpiece as the perfect thumbprint.

 


Selma_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_2Film: Selma
Date: 12.22.2014
Location: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood

Selma couldn’t be a more timely film given the continued and growing animosity that took center stage between urban American communities and law enforcement in 2014. It speaks to how far we’ve come, yet how far we have to go. Selma’s uncommon approach to what might have otherwise been conceptualized as a traditional biopic, effectively bypasses the core traits of a historically based film. Essentially, it avoids the typical chronological engagement of its subject from childhood through death. Instead, it intelligently enlists its audience by thrusting them right in the middle of King’s fight against oppression; assuming, rightly, that King really needs no introduction. The accomplished work of David Oyelowo as King brought by far, the most formidable performance on-screen this year. Director Ava DuVernay, along with writer Paul Webb’s dialogue-heavy script creates a sophisticated snapshot in time, following three short months of his life in 1965. Therefore, what Selma does do with extreme grace is re-acquaint audiences to King’s legacy through the turmoil and specific actions of the preeminent march from Selma to Montgomery, without diminishing the established intellect of the audience. It trusts its audience to know everything they need to, to appreciate this work of art, the man, and the message. Unanimously, we do.


Whiplash_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_1Film: Whiplash
Date: 12.02.2014
Location: Laemmle Theaters, North Hollywood

Definition: to “jerk or jolt (someone or something) suddenly; to affect adversely, as by a sudden change.”

Miles Teller gives a redeeming and phenomenal performance as Andrew, a student at a music conservatory that will go to no end to become one of the greatest musicians of all time. To get there, he craves the approval and tutelage of Terence Fletcher, played with staggering and nail-biting intensity by J.K. Simmons; whose career goal is to find the next best Charlie Parker. The battle that ensues between teacher and student is arguably one the most ruthless, complex, and inspiring stories captured on film. It explores the lengths one will go to in pursuit of being “the best.” When thinking about the definition of “Whiplash” along with the errorless execution of this masterpiece, I cannot help but be more and more impressed by writer/director Damien Chazelle’s mere second feature film. Every single aspect of this film is as succinct and apt as its title. From the razor-quick editing, to the sharp dialogue, to the physical demands of Andrew as he strikes the drums with tireless energy to prove his worth, to Fletcher’s enduring need to not give it to him. The inexhaustible intensity that continues to build from the first frame to the last, comes at the price of authentic transformation to everyone involved with this film, even as a viewer. You certainly don’t leave this film the way you came into it. As a viewer you walk out of this experience with a physical and emotional case of Whiplash, unable to fully let go of Andrew’s harrowing journey. Four weeks before the end of the year,  did I finally find my “wow” film of 2014.

A look back at my thoughts on the best films of 2012 and 2013, too.

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*Header image credit: My DVD Library by snkhan used under CC BY 2.0 | Modifications: cropped, filtered, and text added to original.

*Movie poster images sourced via IMDB.

Birchbox Review | December 2014

Birchbox December 2014 _ ATG FINAL 3

A little remaining 2014 business to take care of today. How the latest and greatest in beauty and lifestyle products made a gal feel a bit more gorgeous…or not so much. Let’s step back and get the skinny on the last Birchbox of the year.


#1. Acure Organics Sensitive Facial Cleanser  | Clearly, the probiotic trend is on the rise. I can personally attest that as supplements, they do wonders for the digestive system, but not until Acure’s product arrived in the mail, did I ever hear of probiotics in your facial cleanser!? Aside from being free of commonly found chemicals in your typical cleanser (think along the lines of parabens and phthalates), this organic cleanser does everything right. It’s gentle, creamy, non-scented, and moisturizing. This discovery has been an absolute dream to work with during the winter months. Admittedly, I usually like products that overdo it on the scent. It somehow makes me feel like it’s more of a treat to wash my face (than just a simple hygiene-based practice) when inhaling an invigorating fragrance, but I honestly didn’t mind here. I used this cleanser with my Clarasonic. Combined, it created something pretty special. I was actually surprised at the mere $14 price tag….until I realized that a “full-sized” product is only 4 ounces. Beware, you’re in for a treat, but you’ll pay for it.

Overall: A do. If you can get behind the cost.

#2. Beauty Protector Protect & Oil  | This discovery from Beauty Protector had all the right ingredients to impress me: a light-weight texture; a pleasing, subtle scent; and upon application, a nice sheen. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough moisture in this product to make me feel like my strands were consistently hydrated. I had to use quite a bit of oil once I gauged that might have something to do with it, defeating the “light-weight” factor some. I can imagine someone who simply needs a hint of moisture that would like this product. However, if like me, you have chronically dry hair (and prefer to spritz in moisture) – I’d skip this and recommend the Macadamia Professional Healing Oil Spray

 Overall: Pass.

#3. Laura Geller Beauty Spackle Supercharged Fortified Under Make-Up Primer | I’m a gal who appreciates a good primer before make-up use. I wasn’t always of this mindset, thinking that it was simply another expensive product that was ultimately unnecessary. When Birchbox introduced me to Lancôme’s La Base Pro Primer, I became a believer and haven’t looked back. The caveat is that Lancôme’s primer is expensive, and between you and me, I use the tiniest pump possible to stretch not having to buy it more than once or twice a year. This alternative from Laura Geller just might replace Lancôme on my counter-top vanity. It’s $12 cheaper and 2.5 times the size! The added benefits, outside of creative branding (I think calling this stuff “Spackle” is pure genius), this primer is infused with vitamins and anti-aging ingredients. As such, it can also be worn alone for a soft, make-up free, highlighting glow to the skin. It’s a win, win.

Overall: A do.

#4. Manna Kadar Lip Locked | When I hear that a lip product is “a primer, lip stain, and gloss in one,” I can’t help but get excited about the potential. If done right, it eliminates the need to have several different products in your make-up bag that can be achieved with just one. When I hear that a lip product is all-in-one AND long-lasting, I’m officially on-board. Unfortunately, Manna Kadar didn’t get the memo – their product is lacking. I’ll admit that my dissatisfaction was in large part because I received a shade that was too close to my natural lip color to really stand out. This may work for some ladies, but if I wanted to sport a look the same color as my lips – I’d just throw on some clear Chapstick and call it a day. What I really couldn’t understand was why this was considered “long-lasting?” I’d swear this stuff came off pretty quickly. Then again, seeing as how it was mere inches in difference from my natural color, perhaps my eyes deceived me? So, I tried again…and determined they weren’t. Bottom line, there are entirely way too many products on the market for all this guess-work. I expect to be impressed immediately when it comes to lip products.

Overall:  Pass.

#5. Lord & Berry Paillettes Eye Pencil | A little bit of sparkle and a whole lot of fun, just in time for the holidays. Lord & Berry’s glimmer-filled eye pencil was a festive addition to my make-up routine on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. I found the pencil to be long-lasting and the amount of glitter not too overwhelming. Unfortunately, unless you’re club-hopping every weekend after the holidays, or find yourself at a lot of parties throughout the year – there won’t be much use for it. I certainly plan to enjoy the sample as the appropriate occasions arise, but it’s not practical for everyday use.

Overall: Indifferent.

Birchbox Blue Gold Foil December 2014_ATG FINAL 2

{Side note: I would’ve paid $10 just for the stunning blue and gold foiled box! Well done, Birchbox.}


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2014 Best in Cinema: The Documentary.

2014 Best in Cinema_The Documentary ATG FINAL

I’ve said it before, so I’ll simply quote myself again: I don’t think there’s a genre I’m more fond of than the simplicity of a well-made documentary film. I suppose it’s because it embodies what I think makes this particular aspect of cinema a force unlike any other – and that’s the synergy that comes from telling a story rooted in and based on reality, fused with the artistic ability to capture that moment in time through one of the most powerful mediums ever created.

2014 brought great new additions to the documentary genre, stories that satiate that part of myself that’s always curious and hungry to know more about the world and the people who inhabit it. Interestingly, all of the films on this list share a common harmony: they immediately captivated me by providing an intensely voyeuristic look at the life of complex and all too “human,” human beings. As I reflect back over why these films spoke to me so much, I realized that it’s not entirely about the subject being explored outside of the people themselves. Of course, the idea that the government is watching us (which is arguably problematic) or the body of work that a person leaves behind (albeit admirable) is of immense interest, for me it’s really about spending time in another person’s existence that often engrosses me as a viewer. Ultimately, what I find appealing is the how and the why of it all when it comes to the human condition set against a film’s circumstances.

With that, here are my top 5 picks for the best documentary films of 2014…


CitizenFour_ATG FINAL_5Film: Citizenfour
Date: 11.25.2014
Location: Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood

While in the middle of making a film about post-9/11 surveillance, Director Laura Poitras starts receiving encrypted messages from “Citizenfour,” requesting her assistance in educating the public about the amount of covert monitoring taking place from top U.S. Government agencies. “Citizenfour” eventually identifies himself while holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room as Edward Snowden, a systems administrator. Poitras refocuses her energies on documenting Snowden and the journalists responsible for placing the spotlight on the government’s highly questionable surveillance of everyday Americans,  birthing the film, Citizenfour. The film spends much of the time in that Hong Kong hotel room, examining Snowden as he remains in hiding while the information he’s provided leaks…and the world reacts. You can literally feel the risk and the danger involved not only to him, but everyone involved in the making of this film. Essentially, it’s exposing exactly what we shouldn’t know. The unfathomable amount of surveillance taking place is the premise of the film, however, one cannot help but be drawn to the seemingly fearless, and somewhat arrogant, protagonist. As a viewer watching Snowden literally threaten his liberties as an American citizen by blowing the whistle on these operations, I questioned repeatedly what his true motives were in connecting with Poitras. Was it simply to expose these programs for the sake of the people as a genuine gesture? Was it for fame, or perhaps revenge? It’s difficult to say when walking away from this film. Snowden maintains a rather nonchalant attitude toward the entire situation. What this film does well is cleverly and unabashedly manipulate its audience through creating a real-life behind-the-scenes thriller, unfolding just as it happened in 2013, before our very eyes. Poitras takes the much-feared “Big Brother” concept and subsequently spits it back at the U.S. Government, who have coincidentally been tracking her movements for years as a documentary filmmaker as her work continues to gain traction. With access to Snowden’s information and the production of this film, she’s now in effect watching them. You have to admire the ballsy poetry in that.


Elaine Stritch_ATG FINAL_4Film: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
Date: 03.12.2014
Location: Laemmle Royal, Santa Monica

Four months before her passing, opened the film that would be one of her very last times on-screen. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me comically and movingly follows the legendary actress in her late eighties as she moves through a seemingly endless work schedule and busy life, just before she’s set to retire near her family in Michigan. It eloquently re-acquaints those familiar with her seven decades of contribution to the art of performing, while introducing those to the highlights of her life who may not have known much about her body of work. What’s emblematic about this piece, is not only the intimate look at life as you age, but knowing that you are near the end of it and looking back with intensity and honesty. Stritch does a phenomenal job of letting us see her: the good, the bad, the funny, the sad…and the pant-less. She is simply being herself and taking the viewer along for the 81 minute ride. I saw this film in March of 2014, and stopped and gave a heavy sigh when I heard of her passing in July 2014. I have to admit, knowing she’d had nearly 90 years of life on earth to take with her, I instantly smiled, remembering this film. She got it right and lived an incredible and complicated life to prove it. This is the tale of an entertaining woman, born to entertain.


Finding Vivian Meyer_ATG FINAL_3Film: Finding Vivian Maier
Date: 04.02.2014
Location: Landmark Theater, West LA

Finding Vivian Maier is a mysteriously beautiful and complicated portrait of a woman who would have rather remained unseen, yet devoted most of her life seeing others through the lens of her camera. After a box of negatives is sold at an auction, a young filmmaker eventually uncovers over 100,000 photographs taken during her lifetime. Though many around her often saw a camera on Vivian Maier, they never knew what talent was behind an otherwise ordinary Chicago-based nanny. Since the discovery of her archives and exhibition of her work, she’s quickly become one of the most celebrated street photographers of the 20th century. While her photographs undoubtedly evoke emotion and artistry, and captured the human essence with unassuming grace, it was the woman behind the lens that’s the real story. I cannot think of a more complex character I’ve been introduced to on-screen in recent years than that of the portrayal of Vivian Maier. She is depicted by those who knew her as a series of contradictions. Some described her as “Mary Poppins-like,” while others alluded to her as being abusive. What there seems to be no question about from anyone who knew her, was that she was slightly strange and treasured her privacy immensely. Those closest to her had never even seen her photographs. It begs to question not only how Vivian, who died in 2009, would feel about her posthumous fame, and whether or not she might have lived her life differently knowing the world would eventually respect her talent; but also if we ever truly know a person, even if they’re standing right in front of us.


life itself_AtG FINAL_Film: Life Itself
Date: 07.06.2014
Location: Laemmle Theater, Encino

What Life Itself did best was honor the final days and life story of the legendary film critic, Roger Ebert. It shares the 40 year career of Ebert’s hand in bringing the art of film criticism into the mainstream, ultimately influencing how and what people might see at their local cineplex. In other words, he created a voice so strong, that film criticism became a form of entertainment in and of itself. Beyond that, it’s an homage to a 70-year life, lived thoroughly. The film energetically paints the intricacies of the man: his complicated relationship with Gene Siskel during their wildly successful television show; his steadfast and loving relationship with wife Chaz; his battle with alcoholism; and the battle he would never overcome, cancer. I can think of no better person to bring this tribute to fruition other than director, Steve James, whom Ebert championed for his 1994 film, Hoop Dreams. Ebert famously wrote, “It is one of the great moviegoing experiences of my lifetime.” To this day, Hoop Dreams is still widely considered the best documentary film of all time. It’s only appropriate then that James return the favor…and he did. Masterfully. He created a film that championed the life and career of Roger Ebert.


Rich Hill_ATG FINAL_1Film: Rich Hill
Date: 08.17.2014
Location: Laemmle Theater, North Hollywood

When thinking about what makes documentary filmmaking an unparalleled style of storytelling, it’s when the film does such an effective job of pulling the viewer into the world of its central narrative figures, that it’s hard to let go as the screen fades to black. The realization that unlike fictional features, documentaries are designed to encapsulate a real moment in time. The knowledge that these true-to-life stories continue even after the camera stops rolling, adds another level of depth to the medium. Such is the case with Rich Hill. It is an expressive profile of three young boys and their families as they live day-to-day in Rich Hill, MO – population: 1,393. The irony is that its inhabitants are far from “rich” in every sense of the word. The film subtly enters Andrew, Appachey, and Harley’s world sharing the harsh socioeconomic conditions plaguing small town America, and how our youth is navigating the journey. It sheds light on how our surroundings shape us, and therefore, our place in the world, our future. While there are certainly exceptions, it sparks debate on whether or not those born into poverty can ever truly gain footing in life and become more than their circumstances. Sadly, it suggests how this struggle simply passes onto the next generation, forcibly creating an unbreakable cycle. And yet, the resiliency of the human spirit, despite circumstances, takes center stage. It’s a narrative told so beautifully, so elegantly, it leaves you wanting more. You get to know the boys in such a way that you care about what happens next, having become invested in their lives and their stories. You cheer them on, hoping they break the cycle – knowing that it is more the exception than the rule. I personally encourage you to see this film. It’s 2014’s best.


A look back at my thoughts on the best documentary films in 2012 and 2013, too.

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*Header image credit: My DVD Library by snkhan used under CC BY 2.0 | Modifications: cropped, filtered, and text added to original.

*Movie poster images sourced via IMDB.