Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Julep: Diamond Mystery Box Review

I joined Julep on a whim a few months ago and I've been very pleased with their products so far, and their ability to convince me to buy more because of how many sales and specials they have. I've slowed down a lot recently but it's time for me to start reviewing all my purchases! If you want to see how my various manicures look, you should follow me on Instagram, I always post a picture there.

Anyway, I had resisted the mystery boxes that Julep does for a while, but then they came out with the Diamond Mystery box, which automatically came with two gorgeous glittery top coats. I am a complete sucker for glittery top coats, they're my primary nail polish weakness (along with anything blue and/or metallic).

The add promised that the mystery box would contain at least $120 worth of items, and the add on would be worth $48. The box itself was only $24.99 and then the add-on was an extra $9.99 so I decided it was worth it and went for it. Now, one thing that's important to note is that Julep always calculates that "value" at the list price of each item. If you're a Maven you already get a discount.

The mystery add-on was the Moisture Mask Trio ($20 list/$16 Maven) and then Adele and Lois were the polishes. Julep always says their polishes are worth $14, but I've never paid that for a single one. Both of these colors have been on sale since the box came in, but they're currently both full price at $11.20 for Mavens. That puts the add-on value at $38.40 for Mavens, though like I said, both of those polishes have been much cheaper since I purchased this box.

Moisture Mask Trio: Retail $20, $16 for Mavens. I've only tried the nail and foot masks so far. The nail masks are interesting, and they're not lying when they say you can still use a touch screen through them, which surprised me. I wasn't going to bother but I got a phone call the second I finished putting them on, so I'm glad they worked! The foot masks were a little awkward, but they stayed on and everything did what it said it would. I didn't notice any particularly amazing difference in my skin after each one, but it was a nice way to relax and pamper myself for a little while.

Adele and Lois: $14 list/currently $11.30 for Mavens. Both of these have been on sale at least once since I got this box, and were on sale when the box arrived as well. Adele is a "golden reflective top coat" and it's gorgeous. I've been wanting it for a while, it goes wonderfully over other polishes and I love it, I'm very happy that I got it in my box. Lois is a "dusty rose frost" and honestly it's not my style and I've developed such a huge collection already, so I've listed it on eBay instead of keeping it. It does look quite beautiful, I just usually go for blues or reds rather than pinks.

At the time that the box came in, I added the value based on prices on their website as $33.19, but if you bought it today it would be $38.40. So no matter what at least a $20 savings.

The actual box!

Along with the seven polishes, which I'll get to in a second, there was also:

Pink Grapefruit Body Frosting: List price is $18, but it was on sale already for $9.99. This body frosting smells wonderful, and it's a really interesting and fabulous texture. It really is whipped and airy like frosting, and I really liked it. Since winter started, I've been switching my regular body lotion up with body butter and this is similar. It rubs in quickly, it feels nice, and it smells good. It might have been discontinued already though, I had a very hard time finding the website for it.

A pink scrub mitt: Retail $5 but on sale for $2.99. I admit, I haven't used this yet. But I've used similar products in the past and they're quite nice. I'm sure it's good.

Doublestep Foot Treatment and Friction Stick: Retail $22, $17.60 Maven. I had been thinking about buying this before, but I read a few negative reviews on the website and hesitated. I'm kind of glad I did, because I got one in this box. And also, because the reviews were right and I wouldn't want to have two. Honesty, there's no way this is worth even the $17.60. As soon as you apply any pressure (you know, like by actually using it like it's meant to be used) it rolls right back into the container, so you have to hold the dial at the bottom to actually use it. It doesn't go on particularly smoothly, and I haven't noticed it really doing much to prevent blisters though I admit I don't wear shoes that regularly cause blisters. I also haven't noticed it being particularly moisturizing or nourishing. There are much cheaper products that do the same thing, this is the first major disappointment I've gotten from Julep.

Travel Eyelash Curler: You actually can't buy this product on it's own, but I calculated the value based on the set linked here minus the cost of the mascara, which basically made it worth $6 list or $2 on sale. I've tried to use this a couple times since I got it, and honestly I have no idea if it's really doing anything. I've always found eyelash curlers a little silly, I'm just not that kind of girl I guess. I suppose this one is good for what it is, I wouldn't know the difference.

and pink rock candy, which looks delicious but I haven't tried it yet.

Now for the best part, the polishes!

First, the ones that were sold as "exclusive," Geo and Antonia. Now, I took "exclusive" to mean you could only get them in this box, but Antonia is now on sale at their website. But that's okay because Geo was my favorite anyway. They're both holographic diamond glitter top coats, Geo is blue and Antonia is pink. I absolutely love them, though I haven't used them yet. I'm giving them both a full value of $14 list or $11.20 Maven.

My other polishes:
Candace: A "golden chocolate microglitter" that looks so much fun in person. I wouldn't really describe it as chocolate, more of just a really dirty bronze, but it's still very pretty.

Eva: a "raspberry creme," which made me happy because I've been craving more berry reds in general and really wanted this one. I haven't really used it yet though.

Karen: a "peach bellini frost" and really pictures don't completely do it justice. I don't have a ton of colors like this, so I like it for the variety and that it's a bit more subtle and "classic" than most of my colors, while still being a bit fun.

Karmen: a "golden crimson microglitter" and this one is just really beautiful. I have so many slightly different shades of red, but this one was so wonderful I actually got rid of a similar one because I knew I would always prefer this one instead.

Lucy: a "modern, dark burgundy creme." I have no idea what makes burgundy modern, but sure. I actually have an older polish from a different brand that's just called "red black red" that is very similar to this color, and I never do anything this dark as a base color, only as accents, so I decided to keep my half finished bottle and sell this one on eBay.

All of these colors are currently $14 regular price or $11.20 Maven pricing on the website, except Lucy which is $7.99 on sale.

Overall value
Now, when I actually got my box I did the math based on the prices listed on the website that day, and I came up with the box being worth $107.77 using Maven and sale pricing, because that's what the value would be to ME, since I'm a Maven. Obviously, this is kind of a far cry from $120+. Going by list price plus sale prices (because non-mavens can get the sale price) then you come out around $140. Now, I knew this would be the case going in, and honestly when you only pay $25 for something worth $100, then you're still getting 75% off.

So the Diamond Mystery box was absolutely worth buying for me. I got no duplicates, I got several polishes off my wishlist, and I got a few items I had wanted too (even if one of them turned out not to be that great). I do think that the boxes come off a bit of "let's get rid of a few things" because so much of it was on sale at the time that I got it, but that's okay because it's still nice stuff.

However, then we come to the glaring problem with Julep that I've discovered:

Okay, so you get what you pay for and Julep does free shipping on most of their items, or if you're a Maven. Maven boxes ship out USPS, and they're always very quick to arrive.

Everything else ships out DHL. Which means it slowly meanders it's way across the U.S. before the tracking number states that it sits in a shipping facility for at least one week, usually two, before it's transferred to USPS and then delivered a day later. That's IF you're lucky enough to get a correct tracking number.

The number I got for this mystery box was not correct, and so I had no tracking information to work with. For all I knew, the box had never even actually been shipped because it always just said "invalid number." I waited for the tracking info to show up and it just never did. I finally got upset enough to write Julep an email, and they replied with a valid tracking number the day after my box arrived.

It's difficult to complain about something free, but I will say that the horrible tracking, the lengthy waits, and the general lack of any response from Julep on the matter on ANY of their social media sites (it's a constant refrain from customers everywhere and they never say anything in reply) means that I have greatly reduced my purchases from them.

That's great for me, it's saving me a lot of money. It's helped me resist nearly all of their Black Friday and Christmas sales, it means I've barely glanced at their holiday shop. I've been seriously coveting a particular holiday duo and it's been part of I think four sales since I added it to my wishlist and I've added it to my cart twice, each time to think about the shipping, which leads to thinking about what I've been spending, and then clicking cancel.

So while I'm saving money, Julep is losing money and sales, and my goodwill solely because of their shipping partner being so terrible. I'm sure they're able to offer free shipping because DHL makes them a great deal on cheap services, but they're cheap because they're AWFUL and that's not really the best way to run a business. And it's especially bad to be blatantly ignoring your customers when they complain about it.

Again, I'm still very happy with my box so there's a decent chance I'll purchase the next mystery box depending on the theme or what "exclusives" come with it. I'm just irritated that something I was so thrilled about getting eventually became a disappointment because it got tied up with terrible shipping and lack of tracking information.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

November Birchbox!

I'm a little behind on posting, that's because in the world of my big career, there's a lot going on. I'll probably post about that when things are more official, but yeah, been super busy!

Anyway, it's the first of the month so time to post about my fabulous November Birchbox!

I was thrilled with this month's box, everything in it was something I wanted to try!

First up was the Eyeko Black Magic Mascara, and this was perfect timing because I was just thinking I wanted to try out some mascara on my quest to learn how to do makeup (twenty years later than the rest of my peers). I absolutely LOVE this mascara, the packaging is adorable and reminds me of oil paint tubes, and since I used to paint that's a great plus. It goes on easily, and what I love is that it's not trying so hard to be BIG BOLD LASHES and so it's actually right for my face and my lashes, which don't need a ton of extra bells and whistles and just need to be a bit more defined and well, nice looking. I love it, it's become a regular part of my routine already.

Then I tried the Folle de Joie eau de parfume. Now, one thing I have to specify: I am not a perfume person. I don't wear it regularly because I can be overly sensitive to the ingredients in it (not sure if it's the alcohol or what) and often I can't smell what they're saying it's supposed to smell like, and it gives me a headache. This perfume is absolutely 100% the cure for that problem. It smelled heavenly and was very subtle and lovely. I really, really wish the full size wasn't so expensive, I would have bought it already.

I've become a huge fan of body butter lately, so the AYRES Body Butter in Midnight Tango was a nice addition to my box. It smells fabulous, which I didn't expect. Normally if a scent says "midnight" it's not my style but this is a blend of orange blossom and vanilla, which was really wonderful. It's also a great consistency and just a fabulous body butter in general. Highly reccomend.

There were also two products by WEI, the Golden Root Purifying Mud Mask and the Pomegranate Buffing Beads. I had been wanting to try the mud mask for a while because of the great video they did about it:

The packaging is pretty cute, and I admit the idea of brushing on the mask makes me happy. The sample didn't come with a brush, so I grabbed a paintbrush I already had to use it. The good thing is, these little pods hold way more than one use of the product. I probably could have gotten three out of it.

The reason I say probably is that I only really used it once. The first time, the mask was great and I really liked it. My skin was noticeably softer afterwards. The second time, some ingredient in the mask set off a skin issue that I have (it's probably an allergy but I can't isolate the ingredient that causes it) and I had to wash it off almost immediately. Which meant that I couldn't really use it again. Now, I only mention this because it means I couldn't use the product enough to give it a fair evaluation, not because I'm unhappy about it. My weird allergy is my problem.

The buffing beads I wasn't really a fan of the idea to begin with, because I don't need to juggle a whole bunch of different packets and bottles and mixing stuff while I'm in the shower. I'm a fan of simplified skin care, and also organic ingredients and I've heard these beads are pretty much just plastic and that's not on my list of okay stuff. So I'll stick with the exfoliater I have now, which does a fabulous job and doesn't really need any help anyway.

The last thing in my box was Fatty Sundays Gourmet Chocolate Covered Pretzels in Toffee Crunch. I only have one bad thing to say about this sample: I wanted to go buy thirty boxes of this stuff after I ate it. I love toffee, and the brilliance of the Fatty Sundays covered pretzels is that the toffee coverage is at the right ratio. The toffee and chocolate pretzels I've seen since have this little barely there smattering of a few toffee pieces. No, this is coated in amazing, delicious toffee. It was so, so, so good.

So that's my November box! Pretty much all hits really, and at least one item that is a new staple for my makeup box. What'd you get in your box?

And if you don't get a box sign up now! It's definitely worth it, check out my Birchbox tag for more box reviews if you're curious.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Birchbox/Ruffian Giveaway!

So, you may recall that last month I did a tutorial explaining how to get the lovely Ruffian Manicure. I've fallen in love with the fantastic nail lacquer from Ruffian, which is exclusive to Birchbox. Well, imagine how thrilled I was to get notified that I had won one of their giveaways! I became the proud owner of their Ruffian Crowdsource Collection.

Of course one of the first things I did was create a new Ruffian manicure, this time themed for Halloween, using Delirum and Hedge Fund. Here's the pic from Instagram:

But the best part? Well, the box this prize came in was a little big for just one set of lacquer:

That's right, they gave me some to give away to you guys!

So I'll be choosing two random winners through this contest, and then I'll run another giveaway right after that. There's a lot of ways to enter! You can leave a comment on the blog here, follow me on Twitter @onegirlsreviews, follow our Pinterest Board, follow me on Instagram, and don't forget to tweet about the giveaway to get more entries!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This contest runs through the 25th at midnight, so make sure to enter! And while you're at it, sign up for Birchbox so you can get your own amazing samples and new items every month.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Product Review: Jasmine Seven Foot Wipes and Dr. Scholl's Fast Flats

While we were in Vegas, we walked a LOT, so I had a chance to try out two products I had been wanting to check out for a while.

I've not been shy about saying how much I love Birchbox, check out the tag here to see all the good things I have to say. My best friend also is a subscriber, and her first box came with a product I've been wanting to try myself so I was a bit jealous. Then I was placing an order and just threw a few packs of Jasmine Seven's Fresh Feet Wipes into my cart on a whim.

This was a couple months ago, right at the end of sandal season. When I lamented on twitter that I bought them just in time to not need them, the company tweeted back:

How right they were, thought it wasn't boots that were the kicker for me, it was tromping around a big city every day for a week! The first day was really a killer, because I wasn't used to the walking and my feet just ached, so I popped out these wipes and it was fantastic. The scent is nice, so it definitely made me feel a bit better about what my feet might smell like, but it also left them feeling clean, fresh, and more relaxed. It was just a nice breather for my tired feet as soon as I took my shoes off. Which was especially good on two particular occasions.

There were two events we went to where I wanted to wear nice shoes. But my nice shoes aren't the easiest for walking around in, my best friend and I opted to pick up some of those Dr. Scholl's Fast Flats that they advertise on TV all the time. We figured we would wear those to walk around, then put on our nice shoes when we got to our destination.

In theory, this plan worked fine. It worked much better than actually wearing my dress shoes would have, to be sure. And you can't beat how absolutely tiny these are when you stash them in your bag after you get where you're going. I actually ended up wearing them down to the pool and the spa as well, because it was just so much easier than my sneakers and I hadn't packed any sandals (a mistake, of course).

There's a couple problems though. For one, there's the problem I've always had with their commercials. They show a woman dancing and getting tired of her heels, but hey, she's got this pair of flats folded up in a cute little clutch! It's like magic! Okay, but then where do her heels go when she changes? I was already carrying a pretty large purse with me the two days we dressed up, so it wasn't a big deal, but it's kind of annoying to have to throw your shoes in with all your other stuff, and it made it really hard for me to find things when I needed to fish out say, a monorail farecard.

The other issue is that because these flats fold up so easily to fit into a clutch, they're only barely better than going barefoot. Now, I do walk around barefoot a lot more than the average person, so that's not always a problem for me. But on the hard concrete of the Strip, it really hurt. Not to mention having to watch really hard for broken glass and other hazards because it would have sliced right through these like tissue paper.

I get it, you might be saying "that's not really what these are for..." And you're probably right. For running down to the pool or the spa where I just wanted something on my feet so they wouldn't get dirty walking through the hotel, they weren't bad. Maybe at a club where I'm not really going outside it wouldn't be too bad, though I'd think I'd worry about getting my feet stepped on by other people dancing.

In the end, because it was Vegas, we paid $15 for one pair and then $20 for another, and I've got $4 sandals from Wal-Mart that do the same job with more comfort, and probably protect the sole of your foot more. Their only advantage is that they fold up into a small space to carry them around, and well, if I have to have the space to carry my other shoes once I change into these, I already have the space for cheap sandals too. Overall, I'm not upset that I bought them and I think I got my money's worth, I'm not going to throw them out. But I think you should really know what you're getting, and they're not as good as they pretend to be.

But I do have to say, after wearing these and feeling a bit like I was walking barefoot down the street in Vegas, those Fresh Feet Wipes were really, really wonderful.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Product Review: The Body Shop Peppermint Cooling Pumice Foot Scrub

So yesterday I pointed out that I'm not thrilled with The Body Shop's Chocomania Body Butter, so I thought I'd do a more positive review today.

Ages ago, I used to use a foot scrub from a different store. But they discontinued it, and I found the Peppermint Cooling Pumice Foot Scrub from The Body Shop. It's a bit pricier than the product I used to buy, so definitely wait until you find a sale for it, which is what I do.

I love to go barefoot in the summer, and wear sandals whenever possible. But my feet aren't in as good a shape as they were when I was younger, so it's not always as easy as it used to be. Which is why I started using a foot scrub in the first place.

This one is a very good product, and it does exactly what it says on the lid. The smell is lovely, the sensation is cooling so great for when your feet ache. And it scrubs away all the gross stuff that you want scrubbed off your feet to leave them feeling much smoother and softer. It's a really lovely treat, and the only slim drawback I've ever found is sometimes if you aren't careful you leave some of the grit behind in the tub if you don't rinse it really well. Small price to pay though, this stuff is fantastic. One of the best products like this I've found, and even at this price point it's one of the cheaper ones so when you get it on sale you can really stock up.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Product Review: Chocomania Body Butter from The Body Shop

So one thing I'm going to be trying to do with the blog is do shorter reviews and just get to the point quicker. We'll see how good I am at that.

Recently, I placed an order with The Body Shop because they were having a great sale (and seriously, they're always having great sales but this was half off almost everything) and with my order they sent me a free sample of their Chocomania Body Butter.

I haven't really gotten into using anything else I ordered but I went ahead and used up this sample. One thing to note about it up front was I hated the packaging of it. I wish I had taken a picture, but it was this very large packet, and once you actually squeezed the product to one end to use it, the product itself took up literally less than one fifth of the size of the packet. So the wasted space irritated me up front.

That's not to say the sample wasn't generous, it actually had enough for me to use it for two days, which was nice. In the end, I think the actual body butter function was great, it was really moisturizing, it spread on quickly and blended into my skin quickly. I didn't feel sticky or weird after, which is one of my complaints with a lot of lotions and especially thick things like body butter. I'm actually quite glad that my order contained another one of their body butters, because I think it'll be great this winter when I'm really dried out and need something more severe than just an average lotion.

The trick for me was the smell. I get that chocolate is fantastic, I love chocolate. But for one thing it didn't actually seem to smell quite like chocolate to me, it smelled like some sort of fake "this is kind of like chocolate but not really." And it wasn't good, I just did not like the scent at all. Of course, I should also point out that I tend not to go for any kind of thick or strong "baked good" type scent for bath products, I prefer lighter smells for that.

So overall: yes to Body Shop's body butters, but no to the Chocomania for me just based on the scent alone.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Where did you go?

It's been too long since I posted! What in the world is going on?

A couple things. One, I started a new fabulous part time job, so I'm still getting used to my new schedule of going in to an actual office instead of working from home.

Two, I'm actually getting near the end of a three year saga of making my feature documentary film which is taking a lot of my time.

And three, I went to Vegas for a week! It was a ton of fun, and I plan on posting and reviewing as much as possible from everything we did there.

So tomorrow I'll be trying to get back into a regular schedule and re-evaluating my posting schedule. We'll get it figured out, stick with me! And especially you want to stick with me because I'm going to be posting something awesome just for my readers next week!

While I'm working on my schedule tomorrow, any suggestions? Things you want to see more or less of? How many posts you'd like to see in a week?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Julep Maven: Review and Manicure

I've been so thrilled with my Birchbox, and I saw an ad for Julep the other day. I've been wanting to do more manicures as well, so it seemed perfect. On top of that, they offer you the first intro box free. So of course I signed up.

When I took their style profile quiz, they said I was "Boho Glam" and when I saw what came in the intro box I figured that was probably pretty accurate, so I stuck with it. When you sign up, if you don't like what comes in the box you get you can select a different one, so take the quiz and see what you get, you can change it.

I also opted to get a mystery polish as an add on, so that's why you see three polishes in the picture. So I got this fabulous Pedi Creme, which I absolutely love, a sample of the instant warming foot scrub (which is also wonderful), and three new colors to experiment with: Marion, Courteney, and Charlotte - pictured left to right here.

I had also just gotten my order of the Ruffian extras from Birchbox, so I decided to use the Gesso Base Coat and Varnish Top Coat along with Charlotte and Marion for my first Julep manicure. I decided to go for a very typical look but with fun bold colors, so french tips, using the same drafting dots that I used for my Ruffian Manicure (check out the tutorial for details).

Overall, I think it came out great. I'm not sure if it was because of the gesso base coat, or the Julep polish in general, but I did have some trouble with the Charlotte polish peeling off in large chunks when it chipped, especially when I was cleaning up my cuticles after I was done. So I had to fix a few spots.

I'm a big fan in general, and Julep has so many fantastic deals and ways to save that while their prices are a little high, it works out well and it is high quality polish. I've ordered a few more, and can't wait to show them to you.

Roundup and Preview: Winged Reviews!

Next week Winged Reviews will be hosting the first stop of author Paula Weston's UK blog tour for the second book in the Rephaim Series: Haze!

I was so thrilled to be able to participate, this is my first time being part of a blog tour, and it couldn't have been on a better book series. Read my reviews of the two books, Shadows and Haze before the 14th!

While you're waiting, catch up on my previews reviews:
The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clark
The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

The Percy Jackson Series
The Lightning Thief
The Sea of Monsters
The Titan's Curse
The Battle of the Labyrinth
The Last Olympian

Enjoy, and tell me what you think!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Obsessed With the Dress

As much as I love Project Runway, and I will always admit I watched five seasons of Say Yes to the Dress in about a week, I don't want to admit how much I was addicted to this show.

I'm railing against the idea of "guilty pleasures" lately because well, you shouldn't feel guilty about enjoying things and you shouldn't feel like you have to pretend you don't ACTUALLY like something to avoid getting attacked by close minded jerks. I should be able to stand up and say I enjoy Kelly Clarkson without shame or ridicule, thank you very much.

And at first, my reason for not talking about watching the show was a bit of a "serious film people can't admit they watch reality shows, for shame!"

But I know plenty of people that are crew on shoots like this and it's what people want to watch so whatever. There's no shame in it. But now? The reason I don't want to admit I watch the show is because by the end of the six episodes of the show I realized that there were only two possibilities of what was going on: either it was completely scripted and everything was trumped up for drama, or every single person on that show (save one) is childish, immature, unprofessional, and doesn't deserve any success or notoriety they're getting from the show.

Yet I kept watching. It was an accident at first, there was nothing on, and my best friend and my sister were over and we wanted to just put the tv on something random. Then there was a preview for the next week that was enough of a cliffhanger that we wanted to know what happened, so we tuned in again. Only that preview was actually for the season, not the next episode, so we had to watch a couple more to get to that part and by then we were kind of hooked.

That's how they get you. So good on you Pie Town Productions, you did your marketing well.

But really, if the show focused more on just Michelle (the owner of The Winning Crown Boutique) and her pageant consulting, it could have been pretty good. A good insight into the pageant world? Sign me up. I got to attend Miss USA a few years ago, and talk with some of the contestants and I really learned a lot of stuff that would make a great series. And when the show was focused just on the girls coming in for their appointments and trying on dresses, it mostly was great. It had all the pieces of Say Yes to the Dress, but with an added bonus of pageant coaching and insider knowledge.

This is reality tv though, so the bulk of the show was actually focused on the drama between the staff, of course. Listen, Say Yes to the Dress did a little bit of that, but not much, because the drama came from the bride's personal stories, their annoying or loving families, and just the general stress of weddings. There wasn't a need for this superficial idiocy.

So in the end, Obsessed With the Dress really fails, because like I said, either it was all made up for the tv cameras, in which case it wasn't even a good story so why invent something so lame? Or it was that Michelle has no clue how to actually deal with employees, and Beau actually does a few things that might possibly be illegal, but are definitely immoral in how he handles his role as manager of the store. Not to mention that the employees behave terribly, and are constantly saying things in front of customers that if I was running the store would have resulted in being reprimanded, sent home, and only brought back after some serious training. I don't care if these girl's win pageants and "they're young" as Michelle keeps lamenting. It's YOUR job to teach them how to be salespeople and good at customer service. Gretchen was the only person in that place with some sense, really.

At the moment I'm trying to take comfort in the fact that it was probably almost entirely faked or at least exaggerated by the producers who egged on the people for extra drama. I'm certain they encouraged Tiffany to act out in the shop while customers were there, and encouraging Beau and Sarah's little commentaries in their interviews together.

Basically, while I have to admit I watched all six episodes of the show, I also have to say that even if I was suddenly ridiculously rich and wanted a fancy dress, the Winning Crown would be the absolute last place I would visit to get one. Michelle could undoubtedly pick a great one, but who needs the drama?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

September Birchbox!

It's that time again! I got my September Birchbox a few weeks ago but now I've had time to try everything so I'll tell you all about it. First, I finally remembered to take a picture of the fabulous box it comes in. I absolutely love the Birchbox branding, it's really well designed. And I even like the pink when I normally don't like pink at all!

This is just the outer wrapping to make sure your box arrives in fabulous shape. The actual Birchbox itself is a fabulous brown box, that is perfect for reusing for all kinds of things, or turning into a craft project. I'm planning on taking mine and making a nice box with drawers for all of my cosmetics and jewelry.

One of the great things about Birchbox is that they don't just ship you a box of random stuff, they make sure to pack it with care and include plenty of information and instructions. Every month the box has a theme, and while I can't always make sense of how the products I get fit that theme, at the same time the company really takes the time to put together a great presentation and I love that.

The items are also shipped very safely, with any packets or fragile things being put in a small cardboard box so that they are protected and don't get jostled around. It's like opening a present that then has another present inside.

But in the end, it's all about the contents of the box! That part is the most fun, because it's always a surprise. I even wait to watch the sneak peek videos until after I've gotten my box, I don't want any hints about what I'll get!

So here's what arrived in September!

Now, the thing I was the most excited about was the Ruffian Nail Lacquer, which I did know was coming, and I couldn't wait! Mine came in Fox Trot, a beautiful orange shade. I had to wait a few days to try it out, but I was thrilled with the results. I wrote about it a little in my Ruffian Manicure tutorial, so check it out there!

The other product I really loved this month was the Elizabeth Arden Beautiful Color Luminous Lip Gloss (what a mouthful). Mine was in Precious Petal, which is a good color for me. It's a great lip gloss, though it is quite "glossy" which I'll have to take some time to get used to.

The Pearly Wipes did what they said, and definitely would be great for a person who drinks coffee or wine regularly. But I don't, and I don't think they'll ever take the place of brushing even in a situation where you can't really brush. Davines This Is A Sea Salt Spray was also one I was lukewarm on. I'm sure it's a great sea salt spray, but a as a beauty newb, I just don't even know what it's supposed to do or how I'm supposed to use it. Spraying it on my hair while it was dry made it look a little too dull for my tastes (honestly I don't understand the point of matte finish for hair). When I used it while my hair was wet, I didn't notice any extra moisturizing properties I don't already get from my other product so I'll stick with that.

The last product was a sample of Paula’s Choice RESIST BHA 9 for Stubborn Imperfections. The main ingredient in this is salicylic acid or BHA, which is something my skin can't really tolerate very well. I did try the sample once, and I found it to be really oily and messy, and not really the type of product I'm apt to try to use more anyway. I didn't have a big reaction to the one-time application, but I didn't want to risk it so I didn't use it again and saw no huge improvement (which can't be expected with just using it once).

Photo from Birchbox!

Overall, it was yet another box I was completely thrilled with. I've of course already ordered some more Ruffian nail polish, and I still highly recommend Birchbox. I've discovered so many great things just over the three months I've been a member, it's well worth the money every month. Not to mention that when I do order full sized products I get points and coupons and deals. And their customer service and social media engagement are perfect. It's a great company, you should check it out!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Classic Film Review: Galaxy Quest

My local theater does these screenings of older movies called "Insomnia Theater" and a few weeks ago they were showing Galaxy Quest.

I missed Galaxy Quest the first time it was in theaters, and I can't even remember why. I just don't think I thought it was going to be all that funny, it didn't come out in a time where parody movies were doing all that well. Let's be honest in generally they're pretty terrible unless Mel Brooks is involved.

This was definitely my mistake, and when I was finally convinced to watch it (and I can't remember by who or how), and I found out instantly how wrong I was. This movie isn't just funny, it's brilliant. It works on multiple levels, and it's smart in ways that even now most movies don't even attempt.

On it's surface, it's simple. The washed up actors who appeared on a short lived but cult favorite tv show are mistaken for real spaceship commanders and brought into space to save an alien race. Even that's been done before, but usually with something that becomes much more serious. But Galaxy Quest keeps up it's level of humor and intelligence at every moment.

It's no surprise that these actors are fantastic, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shaloub, and Alan Rickman are some of the best actors in the country and so of course they're fantastic. Tim Allen has some hits and misses, but he's perfectly at home here and does what he does best.

Of course this is an almost direct parody of Star Trek and it's fans, and a lot of people (Patrick Stewart himself included) have worried that it was at the expense of those fans. It isn't, at all. One of the hardest things to accomplish in parody is being a loving tribute as well as poking fun at tropes and cliches. Galaxy Quest is one of the best examples of how to do this well. Which is probably why many Star Trek fans talk about it being the best Star Trek movie, because it's the one that comes from the same place they do, and it represents not just the world of Star Trek but also the world AROUND Star Trek. And it clearly understands the universe better than certain other recent writer and director teams I could name.

In general, if you like science fiction or Star Trek on any level, you should have seen Galaxy Quest by now. But you also should check it out if you like humor, or if you want to have some fun with the behind-the-scenes world of movies and television. It's a lot of things for a lot of people, and it does all of them well.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fall Season TV Review: Sleepy Hollow

I really didn't have high expectations for Sleepy Hollow. For one thing, every time I saw a synopsis of it I thought, haven't we done this before?

It wasn't even just that it was a story about Sleepy Hollow, there's a ton of those already, but that everybody kept talking about it being a mix of a period piece and a modern police drama but not explaining HOW. I'm going to go ahead and call that bad marketing. That is not remotely a good description of the show, as it turns out.

Basically, Ichabod Crane actually is the man who beheads a horseman, and then the both of them are buried and come back to life in modern day America. Of course, now he has to deal with 2,000 years of culture shock AND a headless horseman.

It's got a few parts fish out of water, a couple parts vast apocalyptic backstory, put in a dash of conspiracy theories, a couple cups of buddy cop comedy, and at least one helping of "main characters who don't follow orders" drama. And it's predictable as all get out, because it doesn't just follow one formula, it follows them ALL.

And I really liked it.

Every time a character showed up you could peg almost everything that was going to happen to them before the end of the episode. The only surprise was when Abbie (the female lead) reveals her "tragic backstory that connects her to the main storyline and also reveals that something has been up with her all along and her mentor knew it but kept it from her" in the first episode.

There was a brief moment of playing "dead or bad guy" with one character, but it would be spoilers to explain to you how that worked out. But the thing was, I didn't care that I knew everything that was going to happen and could practically quote the show before the characters actually said their lines. Between the actors and the directing (and some seriously good art design) I just wanted to go along for the ride anyway.

Abbie is fantastic, she's easily one of my favorite characters on TV in a long time. She's having none of anybody's crap, and somehow the Nicole Beharie doesn't make that a stereotype. Ichabod is snarky and amusing, and he could come off really insufferable in the hands of a different actor, but Tom Mison makes it work. I cringed when the conversation between the two inevitably turned to slavery, expecting such a cliche and some really overly sappy remarks. Instead they both traded some sarcasm and Abbie threatened to shoot him, and he basically shrugged and said "alright, stranger things have happened today."

I didn't even get that obnoxious anachronistic feeling of "too enlightened for his time" that period romance novels tend to fall into so that you can like the main character even though traditionally they'd believe some things we now view as horrible. I'm sure history majors are clutching their remotes and flinging things at the screen, no doubt, but I could let it go.

I was also quite wary because Kurtzman and Orci have had some pretty big missteps when it comes to movies lately (don't get me started) and their welcome was wearing a little thin. But maybe tv is their natural home, because I'm sold on it and I'll definitely be watching.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ruffian Manicure Tutorial!

So, this month's Birchbox was extra exciting for me because it included a sample of the fabulous Ruffian Nail Lacquer collection. Mine came with Fox Trot, which is absolutely gorgeous, and I painted my nails right away. But I did them with just one solid color, and next I wanted to try the Ruffian Manicure style instead. And I'm absolutely loving the results, this is the pic I put on Instagram today:

I think it looks really fabulous, and it's not the same old french manicure look. And it was really simple to do, we'll go through all the steps but it's one of the easiest techniques I've used. I've been painting my nails for about twenty years now, and I was doing some pretty fancy nail art on a budget back in the day, so I've also included some tips here of things I've figured out over the years.

You can watch Birchbox's lovely video tutorial first if like videos:

But personally, I prefer pictures and text so I can follow along more easily as I go.

First, I'm just going to derail for a short minute and talk about how fantastic the Ruffian Nail Lacquer is. These were my nails after over a week with no touch ups, plus plenty of wear and tear since I've been helping a friend set up new furniture and move her stuff around a lot lately:

You can see that the longer nails started to get a little chipped, but for the most part they're still in amazing shape compared to cheaper polishes. I was so thrilled, and the color was gorgeous, it even looks pretty good in the picture after the flash washed everything out a bit! All in all, I want every single color in the entire collection already.

Now, first thing I always do when I'm going to paint my nails is gather all of my supplies:

What you should gather together:
-Nail polish remover (I prefer non-acetone because acetone is so harsh on my nails).
-Cotton balls
-Hand lotion
-Cuticle oil or cream
-Nail file and buffing block
-Manicure kit (mine is cobbled together after losing and replacing pieces)
-Base coat
-Two colors of nail polish
-and for this manicure, I used a secret weapon: drafting dots, I'll explain those in a bit.

Step one is naturally to remove all of the polish you might already have on and get your nails into good shape.

I use both cotton balls and Q-Tips for this process, because I've found that sometimes Q-Tips can get at those stubborn spots on the sides a little easier. Plus, I'll use them again later.

I've also found that the best thing for me is to actually remove my nail polish the day before I'm planning to do a nice manicure. If I'm only going to do a solid color, I don't really bother. But when I want them to look nice, having a bit of time helps me make sure they're at their best.

So after removing the polish, one of the first things I'll do is try to counteract all the damage the nail polish remover may have done, and pamper myself for a bit. First, with some hand lotion, which I forgot to put in my supplies picture:

I am a HUGE fan of Look Ma, New Hands from Bath and Body Works. This bottle is so beaten up because this is what I keep in my purse for the extreme dryness of D.C. winters. It's not necessarily an every day lotion, but with the paraffin, it's the perfect thing for when you want to really spoil yourself or you really need to make sure the moisture stays.

After you treat your hands, don't forget to treat your nails. A lot of troubles women have with their nails are actually caused by lack of moisture, especially hang nails. They're so obnoxious. And after removing polish, my nails always look dry and a bit busted up, so my favorite remedy is The Body Shop's Almond Nail and Cuticle Oil. The applicator is perfect, and you really can make sure that you get good coverage. It only takes two drops of oil (two clicks of the bottom) to cover an entire hand for me so it also lasts forever.

Step two: File, shape, and trim.

I don't have a picture to go along with this because you probably know how that part works already. But take the time while you're sitting down to take care of your nails to file away any snagging edges, and to make them look nice. Personally, I don't think they need to be perfect and even (as you'll see in later pictures) but I do like to make each one look good.

I also don't push back my cuticles, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I might do some trimming with the tool from my manicure kit, but for the most part I leave my cuticles alone other than using oil on them. It never seemed worth the effort, so your mileage may vary. But again, I do all this maintenance the day before so that the next day when I go to paint, it's not as annoying when I find that one more spot that needs to be filed or trimmed.

Step Three: Base coat and choose your colors if you haven't already!

Now, a good base coat is always a good idea, even if you've buffed your nails to a smooth shine. I use Sally Hansen Hard as Nails right now because it's what I have but any good clear coat will do. Ruffian's Gesso Base Coat looks pretty amazing too, I'm looking forward to trying it out.

My husband helped me pick out the colors that I used, the dark blue is actually an old discontinued color from Bath and Body Works, back when they made nail polish. It's called "meteor" and it's actually the color I wore to Prom when I was in high school. This dark, deep blue is just gorgeous and I actually even have a spare bottle of it because I love it so much. We thought the silver would make a great accent to really bring out the deepness of the blue.

The Wet 'n' Wild is also an older color that I think has been discontinued, you can tell by the bottle shape how old it is. Which becomes a bit of a problem later, and is one of the reasons that I can say now that cheap polish has it's place in the world but it doesn't age like higher quality polish does, that's for sure.

Step Four: Stencils!

Now, the official Ruffian Manicure is done with the Ruffian Manicure Stencil Set, obviously. The stickers are nice because they come in different sizes, but I didn't have any of those and since my husband is an architect, what I do have around the house are drafting dots.

Drafting dots are basically little circles of masking tape used to hold down drawings on drafting tables, and they're actually ridiculously useful for a lot of things. I first got the idea to use them for this manicure after reading about using hole reinforcement stickers to do a french manicure.

So I actually tore the drafting dots in half because they're pretty big and I didn't want to use up a bunch of them. This was a mixed success, I would suggest cutting them in half instead of trying to tear them. But when you put them on your nails it's EXTREMELY important to get a good seal. Really press down on your nail and make sure it sticks all the way across. I always paint my nails one hand at a time, and wait for it to dry, but here's pictures of both.

Step Five Paint the bottom color. I decided to do the bright silver as my bottom color, because the blue is one of my absolute favorites so I wanted it to be the main statement. Because you've got the stencil, you can just paint right over top of it, you don't have to be very exact and specific. And don't worry too much about getting polish on your hands, we'll get to that later. A tip - paint your thumbnails last, because the way you hold your hands you're so much more likely to smudge it while reaching for your other fingers.

One thing I learned on this step is that a very thin polish like the one I was using is NOT good for this part of the process. For one, the color is so light that it needs multiple coats to really show up and two, it just wasn't designed for this kind of thing. This is where using your more expensive and nicer polishes is a good idea.

Now you want to peel off the stickers, and make sure you pull up on one side and peel across the nail, instead of pulling from the top down. This way it'll help your polish stay in a nice line if it's not quite dry.

You can see a bit of the problems I had with the super liquid silver polish here. It wasn't a perfect line after I peeled the stickers off because it actually wasn't really dry enough. The picture is a bit hard to see because I had to use the flash and it got all Star Trek lens flare on me (trust me, you should see the ones I deleted).

Anyway, you can see here that I definitely got plenty of polish in places where it "doesn't go" but don't fret! The thing I learned a long time ago about home manicures is that you're supposed to be doing it to relax, and you can fix almost anything. Plus, nobody is actually looking that closely at your cuticles to see if you got polish on them. And if they are, well, they've got their own problems. It's fine to take pride in a good job, but remember why you're doing it, to have fun, right? So make sure you're still having fun!

Step Six Paint the main color.

Once you've peeled off the stickers, you may have noticed that the polish ends up with a pretty nice edge to it because of the way you painted. That makes it a lot easier to paint the main color, because then it's a lot like trying to paint your nails and not go over onto your skin. And again, don't worry too much, you're having fun. I did one coat first where I was more hesitant and then another where I got right up to that edge on the silver, and it worked great.

You can do a top coat if you want, but make sure your polish is pretty dry before you do, otherwise it just gets very muddled and messy.

Step Seven Streaming video.

There's is nothing more distracting than having wet nails and not being able to do anything or touch anything. You're going to suddenly remember every chore you have to do around the house, and every book you want to read and then your nose will start itching.

My solution to that is always to watch something. I'm suggesting Stargate SG-1 because it's one of my favorite shows of all time and I really think more people should watch it. It's streaming on Amazon right now! But I think at least two episodes of an hour-long show (because they're not really an hour) or a movie before you even try to do anything.

Now, what about all that polish that you got on your fingers because you listened to me and didn't care? You can just take out one of those q-tips and put some polish remove on it, then you can really be exact about where you apply it. There are also a lot of different tools available to wipe up any places like that, in the Ruffian tutorial they use a wipe, and I've also used a Manicure Clean Up Pen in the past, and it worked pretty well.

Now your nails look beautiful! You should post pictures of your manicures in the comments, or tweet at me @OneGirlsReviews so I can see them!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August Birchbox!

My review of my July box!

At first I was thinking I would just write about my first Birchbox but I've got so many things to say I thought I would make it a regular feature! I always forget to take a picture of the box itself, though I suppose the box never changes. But I want to talk about how much I love the great boxes this comes in, they're high quality and I'm already repurposing mine.

But this is the box without the lid, to give you an idea of the presentation. It feels like a present every month, and it's all carefully wrapped.

This is what I got in my August box. Another month and again I'm very happy with everything I got. Well, perhaps I wasn't in love with the Violet Oasis 100% Organic Argan Oil, mostly because my skin is already a bit difficult to work with so I'm not really thinking I'll start applying oil to it anytime soon. It might be good for hair.

Speaking of hair, I got two samples of Miss Jessie's products designed for curly hair. Now, I din't have curly hair it's really more of a wavy texture, and even that is not really that pronounced. But I get all the frizz and problems of curly hair without the prettiness of it, so I was excited to try them.

First, I tried the Rapid Recovery Treatment. Now, I'm completely beauty stupid so sometimes even what normal people would think are clear directions confuse me. The directions on this sample said to apply it to damp hair, and then rinse it out after a half hour. I assumed this meant not to actually wash it out. I'm still not entirely sure if that was the right decision, but basically it went rather poorly.

The day after I used it, my hair may not have been frizzy but it was weight down and looked oily and just generally gross like I hadn't washed it. I wasn't thrilled but I think it may have been user error. So a few weeks later I tried the Super Sweetback Treatment and this time I actually washed out the treatment when I was done. First, I have to say that the Super Sweetback Treatment smelled HEAVENLY. I have no idea what was making it smell so good but it was fabulous. And my hair retained the scent for a while and I loved it.

It also did look nicer the next day, less frizzy, a little more normal. But there were two things that are keeping me from buying this one- first, I don't think it was really a miracle worker like they described and I might get the same results from any decent conditioner (perhaps it takes multiple applications to really work) but the other thing is the price. If I can find a cheaper alternative, then I don't really have the money to spend on this kind of thing. I wish I could find something that smelled this wonderful though!

My favorite thing this month was the Whish Deodorant Swipes. I'd never used a deodorant wipe before, and I found the idea intriguing. I was really pleased with it, I liked the scent and the feel of it and the deodorant definitely worked for me. I would have already bought a pack of these if Birchbox actually listed the quantity you receive on their webpage (unless it's $22 for a single wipe, in which case absolutely not!) and I don't know how much I'm willing to spend on them. They also supposedly inhibit hair growth, and I couldn't tell you how well that works since I only had one but if it does, then that's definitely worth a bit more cash.

The only other product that I've got any feedback for is the ModelCo Party Proof Lipstick. My sister wanted to try this one, so I decided to be nice and let her have it. The one in my box was a great neutral shade called "Kitty," and she reported that the shade was really lovely but while the color on your lips might not fade, it did rub off on her coffee mug. I'm still thinking I'd love to get the Neutral Collection sometime soon but I'll have to be quite careful not to leave lipstick stains everywhere.

Photo from my Birchbox account page

Overall, another really successful box! I definitely have a few more things added to my favorites list on the site, just waiting for me to build up some more points before I buy them. As a lucky bonus, I also got to see the samples that my best friend got in her first Birchbox this month, and they were completely different from mine! I'm jealous of a couple of them, and hoping I get them in a future box. If not, I'll just wait until she tells me if they're good and buy some of my own.

My next box will arrive in a couple weeks, but it takes time to try out the products so expect another review in about a month! If you think this looks fun to get a new box of samples every month, then you should definitely Subscribe! I highly recommend it!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vera: Series One

Honestly, I can't remember how I discovered Vera, I think it was a Netflix recommendation. Possibly because I liked Sherlock, who knows.

But I have been particularly interested in discovering new mystery series, in whatever medium, that feature older women detectives. Obviously there's Miss Marple, and I haven't really delved into that yet. But I'm tired of the typical mystery show cliches with the men always in the lead. And usually with some hot young thing that's impossibly in some expert role but never seems to have the brains for it. I'm looking at your casting decisions, CSI. You're constantly saying these extremely young, traditionally attractive women are experts in their field when that field takes 30 years post graduate work or something.

That's a tangent for another day though (and really, let's establish up front that I love the original CSI and have seen almost all of it). The thing that I love about Vera is how absolutely non-traditional it is. Vera Stanhope is not just an older woman as the lead detective. She's a woman in charge of an entire precinct, so she has a position of power. She's not a mother figure, she's actually quite acerbic and tough on everyone. And I'm not talking tough love either, I'm talking yelling and throwing things. She doesn't come across as a prodigy that people begrudgingly respect because even though she's a woman, she's still so brilliant. And the way they dress and style Brenda Blethyn, she's definitely not getting ahead on her looks.

She's just a good, solid policewoman who does her job at all costs and does it well. You get the sense that she rose in the ranks through sheer determination, along with a significant amount of skill. In short, she's exactly the way that male characters are usually written in this type of role, and yet there's no big deal really ever made of it. I can't recall a single instance of somebody being insubordinate because she's a woman, or even really commenting on it.

Her partner IS a hot young thing, but he's not a love interest in the slightest. He's actually religious, married, and his wife has their third kid in the first episode. He's a father and a family man, and always much more polite and respectful than Vera. It's a pretty distinct role reversal, and the actor, David Leon, plays the part extremely well. All of the acting on the show is top notch.

But the best part is the mystery - it's actually a mystery. I've talked before in my reviews of Castle (I think) about how I adore the genre but it gets a bit hard for me to love sometimes because I've read too much and usually can figure out the ending. But on Vera, there's no huge telegraphing of the main clue so that the audience doesn't miss it. The story progresses normally, the information is given to us with the same weight and importance across the board, and it's not the thing that was obviously meant to be forgotten because it was portrayed so unimportantly that you know it's important that ends up being the main part of the solution.

I've usually forgotten that part or dismissed it because it's all just so matter of fact. And because the show is about Vera, and Joe, and the rest of the detectives in Northumbria. You're too busy paying attention to the character development, which is so well done, that when you remember the mystery it's because the show is revealing the killer and you're just along for the ride.

The episodes are all very long, because that's the way the British do their tv. It's really more a series of tv movies than a series, and season one is only four episodes long. But they're all well worth it, and I wish that we had more stuff like this on American tv.


Normally, I review seasons of tv shows, mostly because I watch them too quickly to really do much else. This time I'm reviewing about two and a half episodes, because that's all it took before I gave up.

I'm tempted to say the fan equivalent of "it's not you, it's me." Maybe Hex wasn't for me. Maybe it wasn't the right time. But really, while there are some things the show had going for it, in the end it was just too much of a big mush. There are shows that have recovered from such lackluster opening episodes, even shows with terrible first AND second seasons that then become great.

I never really got the sense that Hex was one of those, and that's why I watched until something distracted me and never put the disc back in the dvd player.

The acting is good, and I think that's why I ended up with this in my Netflix queue in the first place was that several of the actors are more well known for other things (most notably Michael Fassbender, though he's really neither here nor there for me, just recognizable). The school principle is actually Colin Salmon, who I've really loved on Arrow this season. He was definitely the highlight of the episodes I watched.

But the actors can't really rise above the material or the general tone of the production. The story is a mishmash of old tropes and cliches that I've seen a million times before. Oh, the rich white woman is sleeping with a slave and she's fallen into using Voodoo! She uses it to summon a demon! The manor where she did the summoning has now been turned into something where impressionable young women are available to reenact the whole story, this time a boarding school! The main character is drawn to the demon because he's a sexy, sexy man but he's dangerous so she also has to stop him, or does she? I'm already bored.

That's not even mentioning the fact that the show has a preoccupation with sex that could have been interesting if it was done in anything other than the most exploitative and cliche way it possibly could have been.

Basically, the only thing in the first few episodes that made me take notice was when they killed off a main character that I wasn't expecting would die, but then she came back as a ghost immediately so meh.

I read a summary of what happens in the show in later episodes and I really think I made the right call. If I had continued watching it and saw those things happen after I'd invested time and energy I might have broken something and my dvd player has enough problems.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Last Unicorn Screening Tour

Last week on August 12th I was lucky enough to attend one of the screenings of the amazing new Last Unicorn Screening Tour. When they announced the tour last year, I was hoping that they would bring it to D.C. since most events like this come my way eventually. And they didn't disappoint, one of their first stops was The AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The tour is really fantastic for people who are fans of the movie, and I would suggest to anyone who is a fan of fantasy or animation as well. Or even 1980's movies, since it was shown as part of a retro 80's lineup at AFI. They're actually showing a brand new digital print of the film, so it's clearer and more gorgeous than has been seen on screens since 1982 when it premiered. I actually asked my mom and she told me that we didn't go see it in the theater when it came out, so this was my first time seeing it on the big screen. It was very beautiful, and like all good films there are a lot of things that you'll probably discover that you'd never noticed before.

The best part though is that the author, Peter S. Beagle, was there to do a Q&A session after the show as well as sign items and meet fans both before and after the film. I've actually met Beagle before, several years ago at Dragoncon in Atlanta, Georgia. I bought a new copy of his first book, A Fine and Private Place, and spoke to him for a while about why I loved it and how it reminded me of some very specific good memories. Meeting him was one of my favorite experiences at that convention, because he really took the time to talk and came across as a very genuine and charming person. But I had been under the assumption that I had been lucky to come to his table when there wasn't a line, and that's why I got the personal attention.

I learned last week that this wasn't the case, it's actually that Beagle is always wonderful to his fans. He will take the time to talk to you, learn a bit about you, tell you a story, and make you feel like the most important person in the entire line. This time we talked about screenwriting, and he gave me the best piece of advice about the film industry I've ever heard: "Just be patient. If you're patient, you'll outlive the bastards." It's my new motto.

The Q&A was also wonderful, he spoke about several other books he had written and his experiences throughout the years as an author. I hadn't realized how many different types of writing he had done, or how often his works have been adapted to other formats. I really enjoyed him telling a story about why he wrote "Come Lady Death." Apparently, he was in a writing workshop with someone who hated fantasy in all it's forms. When another woman wrote a fantasy story, this other member of the group ripped into it simply because of it's genre. So Beagle went home and wrote the best fantasy story that he could to submit for the next week. He said that the other gentleman grumpily told him it was a well written story, but that he hated it anyway. "He also taught me that I could write a story in a day and a half if I was angry enough."

I've had some similar experiences in writing workshops, so I definitely appreciated the sentiment.

There was also a raffle and giveaways of I think five or six items, mostly copies of Beagle's books. I didn't win anything but I was okay with that because the bulk of what was given away I already owned (and I had several in my bag at that very moment to get signed later).

The tour is going to be in Southern California next, and some of the shows are sold out but you can still get tickets to a few at the tour's website. I spoke briefly with Connor Cochran of Conlan Press and he said that they hope to return to many of the cities where they've brought the tour because often people have found out about the screenings too late to get tickets, and they've been sold out in quite a few cities. So keep your eyes peeled, they may come to your city and if you missed it they might come back and give you a second chance. It's well worth it. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time for the autograph line, so that everybody gets their one on one time (including you!)

Short and Sweet: Game Review: Spaceteam

Over the weekend, I was hanging out with some friends and somebody suggested we play Spaceteam. I had never heard of the game, and I'm not going to spend a lot of time explaining it because it's something you kind of have to play to understand.

But basically it's a phone/tablet game that's also cooperative. So you are running it on your device, and 1-3 other people in the room are too. Commands flash on the screen, and they may be things you can do in your game, or they might be things somebody else has to do. So you're telling each other what has to be done to "fly" your spaceship.

The commands are often hilarious. We had "Discourage mutiny" for one, and "Plan weekend." As you go further in the levels, they start using pictures instead of words for the command buttons, which makes it harder but also funnier. There's a lot of little things that make it harder as it goes, and the commands are faster and weirder so you start yelling louder.

Overall, I really enjoyed it but I think it's going to be more fun with at least three people rather than two, and you already have to be in kind of a fun party atmosphere to get the full effect. But if you have a regular game night with your friends, you should definitely check it out.

Thursday, August 08, 2013


Since Red 2 was coming out in theaters, I thought it might be time for me to finally watch the first film. I had been interested in it because the original trailers were rather funny and it was a movie full of actors that I always enjoy. Just having Bruce Willis usually means I'll at least give it a try.

I'm also a pretty big fan of action films, in general, though there are some tropes of the genre that I'm getting more than a bit tired of. Excessive chase sequences being one of them (just wait until I review Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, I'll rant about it then). But I was really pleased to see that Red didn't really fall into very many of those cliches. It was pretty refreshing, and made it a really enjoyable evening.

The story gets going quickly, and while some of the action sequences are really not at all believable, at the same time I was willing to let them get away with it because the characters were so much fun and the actors are really into it and giving it their best.

Pretty much everything comes together well, from the direction to the cinematography, and the special effects are especially well done. The plot itself is almost secondary, it's kind of a standard "the secret agents have been betrayed by somebody taking over the government behind the scenes." It's sometimes pretty predictable actually, but there's a great sense of sarcasm and fun to everything that happens. The writing isn't good because of the action things that happen, but the clever dialogue and excellent characters, it makes me wonder how much of that came from the original comic and how much was the screenwriter or even the actors.

I don't have too many specific things to day because so many things worked well. It's a great film, anybody who likes action films should give it a shot. I'll definitely be watching the sequel, though I wonder if it's possible for the next movie to even approach this kind of experience. It seems like the first one was a great contained piece, so I don't know that I even wanted a sequel, but I'm not unhappy that it exists.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Leverage Season Three

Season One
Season Two

So far, I've been loving Leverage, as you can read in my reviews of previous seasons. I thought that season two was the perfect follow-up to season one. Actually, they reminded me of British tv shows, where each "series" feels more self contained than American television usually does.

Season three is a bit more of the same, but they introduce something I've been expecting for a while - an overall adversary. The entire season is built, more or less, around the fact that the team has been told they must take out international criminal Damien Moreau.

We start with Nate in jail after the events of last season's finale. He's resisting the urge to break out of prison because of the deal that he made with Sterling, but the deal to take out Moreau eventually trumps that, and Nate breaks out and soon enough everybody is back to their same antics.

I'll be honest, I wasn't the biggest fan of the Moreau storyline. I still liked it, Leverage at it's worst is still ten times better than most shows. Moreau felt almost tacked on sometimes, and it doesn't help that the actress playing the mysterious Italian was just never really working for me. I don't know why, I think maybe most of her dialogue was redubbed in ADR and it made her sound strange because her words weren't coming from her mouth. Bad ADR will lose me every single time.

But there are so many amazing episodes in season three, especially since Gina Bellman is back full time as Sophie. The Reunion Job, where the group has to fake their way through somebody else's high school reunion, The Scheherazade Job where Hardison has to perform as a violin virtuoso, or The Gone-Fishin' Job where Hardison and Elliot are taken hostage by a backwoods militia are all excellent episodes with a lot of fun moments.

The season belongs to Parker though, in my very biased opinion. Early on we meet her mentor Archie in "The Inside Job," and it's a brilliant episode that really opens up her character and starts fleshing out her past. Not too much, just enough to make her even more fascinating. She spends the season dealing with her growing feelings for Hardison (a romance I'm much more invested in than Nate and Sophie's unresolved tension), and in The Boost Job she has to deal with meeting a young girl who is very much like her. In The Underground Job, Parker is even put in the place of a grifter, dealing with a corrupt politician as a new intern. She excels, proving that Sophie's lessons are really working.

Of course, the rest of the team has to deal with their pasts' as well. Nate's father appears in The Three-Card Monte Job and Sophie must deal with her time in England during The King George Job. Elliot even gets to sing in The Studio Job, where he becomes an unlikely country star as part of the con, revealing a hidden talent (that works because Christian Kane is actually an excellent singer).

The season finale, a two part story consisting of The Big Bang Job and The San Lorenzo Job, wraps up the Moreau story and delves only a little bit into Elliot's history. The cons in these two episodes are huge, and the stakes have never been higher. The San Lorenzo job was especially fun for me, because we ended up watching it not long after the recent U.S. presidential election, so the take on corrupt American politics was especially amusing.

Overall, I could probably write a long, glowing review for every single episode of season three. They all have something good in them, even when there are parts that aren't as much fun. But the best for me is definitely how Parker, Hardison, and Elliot are evolving. I would watch entire seasons in one sitting if people would let me.