Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Phantom Proceedeth with Menace

As many others, I have been entirely enjoying Ian Doescher's William Shakespeare's Star Wars series, which started with Episodes IV through VI. I was hoping he would do the prequel trilogy and look at this, all three come out this year, starting with The Phantom of Menace.

Let me get it out of the way: I think that both the original and prequel trilogies, as films, have strengths and weaknesses, so I am willing to defend either trilogy as the need may arise. So I was happy to see that the prequel stories are getting the same treatment as the originals had. In fact, they're even getting better treatment: back when Ian Doescher started with the first book, it was a stand-alone type of thing, it was sillier, and the dialogue was much more similar to the lines in the movie. With each book that he has created, however, he refines his technique, adds more to it, becomes more subtle, and makes something that is greater than a silly diversion.

The Phantom of Menace didn't make me giggle as much as some of the others did, and I didn't mind because I had slowly been transitioned into something new. What began as a novelty has become something grand and poetic in its own right. Borrowing Shakespeare's flow of language and vocabulary, Ian Doescher has seamlessly transition the world of Star Wars into the world of an Elizabethan play. It's seamless--it really is. The language is just right and better than ever: not only are the existing lines given a Shakespearean twist, but there is also more bulk given to each line. Characters take a moment to reflect on the meaning of their situation, or the meaning of something that has been said--not just to deliver their lines; that's very Shakespearean.

And then there is the content. When the form moves so much into this Elizabethan feel, the content is not the thing to hold it back; rather, it helps it along. Episodes IV-VI are a wonderful, classic story. But Episodes I-III are more complicated and more tragic--and that is perfect for Shakespeare. It's a very political story and a very social story, with dramatic character relationships. If ever you doubted the worthiness of the prequel trilogy, please read this book: it will make you realize, if you have somehow not realized it before, that there is plenty of meat behind the computer effects and Jar Jar Binks.

Speaking of Jar Jar Binks, he is one of the biggest changes in this book; he is, if you will, the silly element. Except that, while he is a silly character in the movies because he's mostly a comedic character, he is the silly element in this book because he is made smart. He is smart, but only feigning simpleness because he knows that is what other characters expect of him and so that is what will help him achieve certain ends. It's smart because it solves how to not let him be annoying. And it's smart because the idea of dual identities makes sense for Shakespeare (everyone is always disguising themselves in his plays) and for the story (Padme disguises herself, Palpatine disguises himself, even Darth Vader is later disguised in a certain sense).

It's like all of the wonderful things about this story have been taken and polished into Shakespearean language and then given to us as gleaming lines to remind us of why this story is one of the best ever. I love Star Wars.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Who Is my Closet?

I have other posts in mind right now, other things I could be talking about. But there is one random thought going through my head that I wanted to get out before it fades. You see, I looked in my closet the other day and wondered who it belonged to.

A few years ago, I found myself at that point where I no longer get rid of clothing because it doesn't fit me anymore (it's called growing up). And around that time, I was also trying to get more quality clothing. Less synthetic materials, less things with elastic that tends to wear down more quickly. Oh, yes, and be friends with washing clothing by hand: even if an item doesn't have to be hand washed, do hand wash it if you know it'll last longer that way. And try to air dry as much as possible. But I digress. My point is, I now have clothing that is new and that is eight years old and everything in between.

I've come to have a fairly specific style and a decently good idea of what I do or don't like when it comes to clothing. So around the time I graduated college, I was at a high point, loving my lace dresses and colored tights. But style changes depending on where you are, what you do every day, and where you are in life (also your daily mood). And when I looked in my closet the other day, I realized that it's still the closet of a college student--and I wasn't sure what I thought of that.

The closet of a college student can mean many things. I wasn't the type to show up to class in sweats (I hate hoodies and sweats are pretty much the same thing--in fact, I don't think many literature students wore sweats). I was the type to try out crazy outfits just because college is that time in your life where it doesn't really matter what you're wearing. I'd wear dresses and vintage hats and brown shorts with lavender tights or this really weird outfit where I put green tights and a green shirt under a black Banana Republic dress. By trying things out, I figured out what I liked and what worked.

But now I'm realizing that what worked then doesn't necessarily work now. Where I'm living now, a lace dress that I wore to class on a regular day is considered a very nice dress--so I find myself wearing dresses like that less often or trying to dress them down as much as I can. But then I realize that much of my closet is made up of simple, girly dresses like that. And I wonder if that's a good thing.

When you're in your twenties, you can pretty much wear whatever you want (aside from how you need to dress for work). You can dress a little older or a little younger; it's all fine because you are at that in-between age. But I generally think that if you can or feel like it, you shouldn't try and dress older than you are. I used to wonder why people in their twenties dressed the same as people in their forties. And then I realized that these are people who probably shop at places like Ross, Wal-Mart, JC Penny's, and Sears for their clothing (other places are considered more expensive, although you can sometimes still get better deals if you have the time to look--but sometimes other stores are also farther away). And stores like this tend to jump right from the teen clothing to the grown-up women clothing: there are no in-between styles. That's why I like Anthropologie and Chelsea & Violet and MSSP from Dillard's: for the most part they're clothes that aren't for a specific age group and yet there's youth in the playfulness and originality of the styles.

But how far should you take playfulness? Given that I am short and thin, sometimes people still think I'm sixteen--at which point I have to assure them that I'm two years out of (four years of) college. So I stay away from the shirts with animals on them or things like that that I think would help make me younger. I add in some Antonio Melani pieces, or pearl earrings (I don't feel the need to wear shoes to make me taller). But I'm still wearing the pretty dresses and lace shirts, and now I ask, to what identity does that clothing belong?

Is it of a free, creative young woman who enjoys life? Or is it of a woman still searching for stability, still thinking that she is that young college student who was trying things out instead of maintaining things and working toward specific things?

So what do you think? Is there a time when your wardrobe needs to gain a little more seriousness, or is it okay for it to remain fun and original?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Michelle Haute Chocolat: M Bar

Okay, so this is just weird. I don't think I've ever had this happen to me in nearly seven years of chocolate reviewing.

I bought an improperly labeled bar of chocolate.

Recently when I was at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, someone pointed out to me the prickly pear chocolates and I answered that some of the ingredients looked cheap, so I wasn't really interested. Then the next time I went, I saw a collection of prettily-wrapped chocolate bars that list cacao beans and cane sugar as their main ingredients, an instant positive. Did I just not see them before, or are they a new item? To add to it all, one of them was Rose Petal and I adore rose products (just have a look at my perfume collection). There were some bars with open packaging, where you could see the rose petals or other flowers, but I chose a closed bar in beautiful gold paper: I've seen open packaging before but I don't know when I've come across a chocolate in such pretty paper. The black and white patterned bar on top is my friend's; she chose French Lavender.

I know I mentioned how happy I was about seeing cocoa beans and cane sugar as the top ingredients, but I admit I was a little suspicious of the fact that the flavors are simply called "Love." Okay, I suppose I understand that you don't want to give away your secret recipes, but what's so secret about saying that you use rose petal and vanilla? Unless you use artificial rose or vanilla flavor? It's a little odd, right?

Oh, yes, and don't glance over that $15 price tag. Granted, these go for about $10 online and it is a large bar at 100 grams, but still, it's expensive. I might have been more hesitant if it hadn't been Rose Petal and in such pretty gold paper. I had a wonderful time unwrapping the hand-folded paper to reveal gold foil and a gorgeous--wait, what?

Instead of seeing delicate, pink rose petals, I saw what looked and smelled like cinnamon and other powdery ingredients (I guess this is what "Love" looks like). For just a moment, I thought that maybe it was the right bar: maybe the ones in the paper wrappers were different from the ones in the clear wrappers. Maybe these had other flavors mixed in, as well. So I tasted a piece, only to be immediately hit by the taste of spice.

If you've been reading my chocolate reviews, you'll know that I grew tired of chili chocolate a long time ago, after maybe the first two or three I tried. If it isn't done expertly well, it tastes bad, and even when it's done well, well, I don't like my chocolate to sting my mouth. Chocolate's too elegant and smooth for that (the way I like it, that is). So of all the flavors to get instead of rose, a spicy chocolate was not one to make me happy. I was sad and amused . . . and really sad. I wanted rose chocolate.

But since I have this one in my hands, I might as well give some comments. It appears to be the Exotic Chile Cardamom bar instead of the rose one. Cardamom and chile spices. Yay. I still don't love chili chocolate, especially after being taken by surprise like this, but this is one of the nicer chili chocolates I've come across. The chocolate, though dark, has a mild degree of sweetness to it; putting that together with the cardamom helps give a softness to all the spice. Sometimes with spicy chocolate, you lose depth of flavor; here, you can still taste the chocolate and also the cardamom, so that gives your palate some depth to explore. It's fairly nicely done, I admit.

For the curious, my friend's lavender chocolate did have lavender and, no, I haven't tried it. For that matter, I don't know if I'll ever try the Rose Petal bar: I don't know how long it'll be by the time I find myself back at the Botanical Garden and even then, I might still be a little frightened to have the same experience again.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

To Arizona Visitors

So if you're taking people who have never been to Arizona around the Central to Northern regions (during Spring), what ends up on your list? There are many, many places to go--especially many outdoor places when the weather is nice like it was during said visit a week or so ago. But you don't want to get too tired or just go on trails day after day; you also need some indoor things and some touristy things. So here is, more or less, what was on my list:

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix - A nice introduction to the great variety of cactus and succulent plants that are out there, this garden can be a casual and brief visit or a longer walk through all of the paths. It's also a good place for lunch.

Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde- Such a good park with such a good philosophy, Out of Africa is always fun to visit. You get to see the animals (and feed a giraffe and a tiger), take lots of pictures, and also immerse yourself in some of the vegetation of the Verde Valley.

Predator Zip Lining at Out of Africa - Thrills or sightseeing? It's kind of both. A series of zip lines above the park is exciting and fun, while also giving you a great view of the lions and tigers and of the mountains surrounding the valley (including Sedona's famous Red Rocks).

Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale - A four hour, roundtrip ride in a vintage train to the ranch at Perkinsville (you don't get off the train there) and back, this ride lets you take in the scenery of the canyon. It's sort of like a more immersive experience into a lesser Grand Canyon (you know, unless you're one of the relatively few to raft or hike down the Grand Canyon).

Blazin' M Ranch in Cottonwood - It's an old, family-owned ranch that's set up like a little Western town. You can take pictures, wander the shops, practice shooting (not with real bullets), take Old Time pictures, and then everyone goes into the main area for dinner, with a show to follow. Though it's sort of a touristy concept, the singers are good, so if you want a little silly Western feel, this is the place.

Petrified Forest National Park in the Painted Desert near Holbrook - I adore the Painted Desert. I absolutely adore the quiet feeling of the land, painted in colors of red, pink, white, purple, and blue with still and sparse vegetation. It's like sunrise stretched across an open land. Visiting the Petrified Forest, you get a look at the Painted Desert without having (unless you want to) to hike around much; you also get to see some big collections of petrified wood. I recommend the Blue Mesa trail.

Sedona - Sedona is the land of the Red Rocks, stretching up toward the sky and calling many, many visitors every year. There are trails, shops, restaurants, and Red Rock State Park.

Slide Rock State Park in Sedona - Where the river climbs down the mountains, there is an area that makes (by itself) the equivalent of water slides. It's all at your own risk, so do be careful, but this area is always popular, whether for those wanting to slide through the smooth rapids, wade in the calmer water, or simply take in the sun and the short trails.

Prescott - I'd recommend the Sharlot Hall Museum, where there is a small collection of historic buildings and a great gift shop (it has candy and books and toys and things). It's just a block of two from the Square, which is a quiet, tree-shaded place for a stroll, surrounded by shops and antique stores. Eat at Bill's Pizza.

Jerome - You have to stop at Jerome even if you don't go anywhere or do anything while you're there: the views of the Verde Valley are wonderful. Jerome was a mining town built up on the mountainside; it became a ghost town after the mines were abandoned. Now it has a few shops and a couple restaurants in the old buildings, but mostly you go just to go and to walk around a little. Jerome State Park is also a good place to visit if the town is new to you.

Grand Ganyon National Park - Usually I like to talk about how Arizona has a lot more than the Grand Canyon and a lot of Arizonans don't even live close enough to it to visit very often, but if it's your big trip to Arizona, naturally you should try and make it over. If you can stay longer, do, but just one day is fine, too. You can stop at the viewpoints and gift shops, picnic outside, go see the Desert Watchtower, and maybe hike partly down South Kaibab Trail.

Montezuma's Well and Castle - These are quick stops, but they're some of the more easily accessible, well-preserved examples of cliff dwellings (left by the Sinagua). 

Fort Verde in Camp Verde - For a little history and a look at the remaining buildings from one of Arizona's military forts, stop here. It's also a general look at how some of the settlers to this area lived. Sometimes they let you try out their clothing and guns, too. (There are less yellow pictures, but I'm not holding the gun in them.)

Flagstaff is also good: I love Sunset Crater/Wupatki National Monument, and there's also a nice arboretum and an observatory; but Flagstaff can be good if you're visiting in the summer because it isn't as hot as much of the rest of the state. On the opposite to that, Tuscan and the areas around it have some traditional desert views: there's the Saguaro National Park and Picacho Peak State Park and I think one more area that's slipping my mind. 

It's such a lovely state. Such variety of beauty. So many different kinds of plants, so many animals, and so many natural features that you can just spend months and years exploring.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

(Partly) Insurgent Against Insurgent

Ugh, I thought I only got headaches from long 3D movies. Insurgent wasn't long, but I still had a bit of a headache afterwards--and do you know what? It probably wasn't even worth it.

Months ago, I saw the teaser trailer (the one where Tris is saving her mom from the burning building) (probably in 3D) for the movie and thought it didn't look like anything I would want to see. Then, as you know, I watched Divergent last month and really enjoyed it and then read the books. While Insurgent is easily a least favorite just because it's at a sad point in the story, I was still looking forward to the movie. 

And then I was kind of disappointed by it--but not for the same reasons as with the book. With the book, there's a lot of violence and you see Tris at a really low point with a lot of anger and grief that makes her act out not always in the best ways. But I was prepared for that. What bothered me about the movie is that almost all of the character development and interaction is removed. I understand that there are many characters and that they're not all necessary to a two hour movie plot and I do appreciate when a movie can movie toward a single purpose without getting bogged down by less important details. 

But in order to do that with a book to movie adaptation, you have to interpret what is most important about a story. So they made this movie about the interaction between grief and self-image. The grief is definitely part of it and the self/image, too, but I think community and relationships was a big aspect that was barely touched on. It is community and relationships that show Tris that she is appreciated (by Tobias, by Christina, and by other friends and people she knows) and help bring back her confidence and optimism. And what did the movie do with all of these relationships and communities? It glossed over them entirely, in favor of action shots and scenes that often had little to do with anything.

Where is Tobias getting mad at Tris for not telling him sooner about Will? What about his confession that his greatest regret is leaving Abnegation? Where is the reconciliation of Christina with Tris after she admits that it wasn't Tris's fault? Where is the detail about Marcus--the information he knows and Tobias's feelings toward (or should I say against?) him? Uriah is barely in the movie, much less Tris's other friends from Dauntless--and her feeling of being part of Dauntless is important.

And what's this with changing the secret that Abnegation was protecting and the thing that Jeanine is hiding? They both already knew the message: Abnegation wanted everyone to know it and Jeanine didn't want the public to know it because she was afraid of what would happen if their society changed. Given that the faction society is one of the compelling things about this story, I don't take it lightly that this crucial story element is changed. And why does the end of the movie show everyone walking toward the wall when that is most definitely not what happened? Oh, yes, and then there is the removal of Tori's need for vengeance against Jeanine--isn't that also important? True, movies try to keep the focus on the main character and not take too many side journeys, but if there was enough time to add in a long scene of Tris rescuing her mother from a burning, floating building in a simulation, then there is enough time for Tori's story. Yes, this is part action story, but not so much that all it needs are random special effects--special effects that I wasn't even wowing at with my 3D glasses. I just wanted to get back to the story and the characters.

I'm just complaining, I know. But there were some things I liked. I still feel like the movie is well cast and that the actors do a good job with what they're given. The first fewish minutes of the movie were probably my favorite: Amity was well-done. Their clothing, their setting, the way they move and talk. Peter pointing out the rainbow to them was hilarious. And seeing Tobias in a new setting helps to show that even though he played Dauntless well, he isn't entirely Dauntless. The sets were still good. It still looks like a very specific place. So I liked seeing some things, but not necessarily the way the movie played out. Someone please remind me, why is Allegiant going to be two movies when this story works so perfectly as a trilogy and when the movies seem not to be understanding how to portray this story anymore? Sigh.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

March Favorites

Sorry I've been so absent: I was on a sort of Spring Break exploration all across Northern and Central Arizona, playing tourist for the benefit of visitors from out of state. I thought I would still be able to post, but we were so busy (having such fun) that I couldn't. So here are my belated March Favorites.

1) Arizona Books - Maybe it has something to do with the fact that visitors were coming in, but I've really been delving into Arizona lately. I love this state--and now I want to start reading more about it. So I've been going through the books I already owned and buying more (at almost every museum or state park store we went to during this past week, as if I didn't already have so many books). Some of the ones I was most excited to get include Vanished Arizona by Martha Summerhayes, Julie McDonald's two newer books, and a book on the Petrified Forest.

2) Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes Precision Longwear Eyeliner - I've mentioned before how I can only use liquid eyeliner on my eyelid (and how eyeshadow instantly creases if I don't use primer); since I try and use mostly Tarte products, I had settled for their (mostly mediocre) liquid eyeliner. But then they came out with this new one, which is basically a felt tip. It's much less watery, meaning that it's much easier to get a thick line if that's what you want or even to do a cat eye. It still creases on my weird eyelids by the end of the day if I'm not wearing eyeshadow, but when I am, it's great and much better than their other liner.

3) Ellie Goulding's Halcyon Days (Deluxe Edition) - Last month I said I was getting interested in Ellie Goulding's music, so I bought this album and it was almost all I listened to all through March. "My Blood," "Only You," "Figure 8," "Joy," "Hanging On," "Explosions," "Dead in the Water," and "Hearts Without Chains" are some of my favorites.

4) Momentary Escape Perfume in Nowhere to Be (from Anthropologie) - Actually, it was Dream at Dusk that I really liked, but by the time I was ready to buy it it was gone. So I had to at least get this one. I has a marshmallowiness to it that reminds me of Lollia's Wish, just maybe not quite as perfected and elegant and magical. Still very nice, though.

5) Magnet (Hematite) and Polished Stone Rings - Since I've been going around to some of the tourist shops, I picked up these four rings and then found them a pretty good deal. They're a dollar or two each and they're stone; I like real materials. I have the hematite, a green one, a pink one, and a black and white one.

6) Green Cameo - Okay, so we all know I like green. And especially after I got my green glasses, I've been wearing even more green. So when I saw a couple of pink cameos for sale, I had to get one. I don't know what the material is, but the cameo is supposed to be old while the setting is new. It only came with a pin back, so I chose the one that had space where I could add in a loop for a necklace. I do wish the setting were smaller, but I really like the cameo itself. It's green.

7) Montana Ulla Shoes in Bronze - I wanted some sandals for summer that would have some more support for my feet but wouldn't look like they belong to a, um, rather older lady: I don't want to wait until my feet and knees hurt to look for better shoes. But it's hard because I have narrow feet and most of the "comfort shoes" are wide. These shoes are pretty basic and neutral in their style, have some support, seem durable, and are comfortable. The only thing is that when I first wore them, I was walking around all day and they were irritating the outer side of my feet and maybe also my smallest toes. I'm hoping I just need to break them in more because otherwise they seem like they'll be great (I do think that's going to be the case).

8) Tarte Eyeshadow Palette - This is the palette that came with the Christmas set and I've been loving it. It's the closest Tarte has brought me to the Naked Palette: it has a lot of neutral colors and shades of brown and grey, with just a couple on the purple and blue sides. You can make a soft, barely makeup look or a more standout look--and have fun mixing and matching the shades.

9) Living Stones (Lithops) - I used to have some of these, though mine were more colorful. They're so weird, so naturally I adored them but I haven't been able to find anymore until the last time when I was at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Now I'm super excited to have them again.

10) Honest Kids Berry Lemonade - Completely random item, but given all that time spent playing tourist (I'll go over some of our stops later), we often had a big cooler of drinks with us. I discovered these lemonades, which are in packs like Capri-Sun (which is the nostalgia factor) but have berry lemonade that is sweetened only with fruit juice, which means I enjoy it. I don't know exactly what berries it tastes like; it's just a good, basic berry lemonade without tons of sugar or artificial ingredients.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Jane Eyre Through the Eyes of Divergent

I will now celebrate the release of Insurgent in theatres (which I haven't watched yet) by indulging in another of my story comparisons. When I was thinking so much of Divergent a few weeks ago, I naturally started connecting it with that book I always like to talk about, Jane Eyre. So now I will go over some of the concepts that appear in both books, or some of the things that stand out in Jane Eyre when you're considering it with Divergent in the back of your mind.

Individual Strength - Jane Eyre is often spoken of in terms of independence: throughout her life, Jane makes a journey toward being self-dependent, even though she begins as a poor, plain woman without family or friends and would seemingly (in the context of her life) not be capable of independence. But she lets herself be educated, finds herself a job, falls in love, makes friends and finds cousins, and ends up with an inheritance that also gives her financial independence. Jane can and Jane does--likes Tris. Tris is raised to be selfless, to think of others before herself until her own identity is almost non-existant. She's young; she's small; and she does look pretty insignificant. But she decides to be her own person. She joins Dauntless and completes initiation, makes friends, falls in love, and acts in order to save both the community she is living in now and the one she grew up in. She does more than anyone would have expected--because she decides that she is capable.

Reliance on Others - Although both of these stories stress the power of the individual to be in control of his/her own actions, they don't gloss over the significance of relationships and unity. Jane is very kept to herself and she's often in isolated places where there aren't many people to begin with. But the people she meets are significant toward her life. People help her: Helen Burns reminds her to be patient and take advantage of receiving an education, Mrs. Fairfax gives her a job, Rochester listens to her opinions, and the Rivers family (after saving her life) gives her more education and another job when she needs it. Jane, for all her perseverance, would be nowhere without other people. Likewise, Tris cares about other people, helps them, and receives help back. Christina in particular is very important in Tris's ability to feel at home in and worthy of being in Dauntless.

A New Environment Can Be a Good Thing - Jane grew up in the shadows of her aunt's house and then in a pretty desolate boarding school. She didn't have much opportunity in either place--so she leaves. She advertises her teaching ability and gains the position of governess at Thornfield. There she is able to start a new life, earning her own living and being master over her own person. Tris did grow up with a family that loved her, but she needed more opportunity in her life: she didn't want to fade into the background of Abnegation. So Dauntless is her Thornfield, her opportunity to make her own choice about who she is and to be judged only by who she is, right here and right now.

Understanding Someone Else in a Unique Way - I love that section in Jane Eyre when Jane and Rochester are talking about fairies and who knows what and Mrs. Fairfax is sitting with them and wondering what on earth they're talking about: they're speaking their own language to each other that only they can understand. They do that a lot. It's one of my favorite things about them because it makes them feel very suited toward each other. And it's rather like Tris and Four, who are both faced with what it means to be Divergent. They both resist the simulations, so they both find themselves different from the crowd--and like to each other.

Mentorship, Friendship, and Love - Rochester is Jane's employer--she calls him "master" even after she leaves Thornfield. So, in a certain sense, he is above her, like how Four begins as Tris's initiation instructor. The difference (well, one of them) is that Tris never really alludes to the fact that Four was her instructor after initiation is over: that time was short, they're only two years apart in age, and there is so much else going on that it seems a very insignificant detail. The only thing that perhaps Tris keeps is the knowledge that, when most everyone else thought she wouldn't make it through initiation, Four always thought she was strong enough. Similarly, Rochester was essentially the first person who listened to Jane and her opinions and wanted to know what she was thinking and ended up encouraging her to be her own person (despite the fact that he twice tried to persuade her to do things that would make her his person rather than her own--but that's why she said no). That's why love is at its best, right? When both people encourage each other and the two can achieve more together than they could have done alone.