Thursday, July 25, 2013

Product Review: SleepPhones

I've got an issue that's probably not really rare - when I got married, I was used to listening to music to help me sleep. My husband was used to silence. There's not really a happy medium or a good compromise with this particular problem.

Or at least, for the first years of my marriage there wasn't a solution. But then a year or so ago I saw an ad for SleepPhones. I think most people who like to listen to music have been annoyed by how uncomfortable headphones can be, and when you're trying to sleep and the other person in the room needs total silence? It's just not going to work. But I was still wary. For one, the price tag was a bit high, since I'm usually pretty rough on headphones and don't like spending a ton of money on things unless they're going to last a long time.

But the other thing was that I just didn't believe that they would actually work and be comfortable. There had to be a catch. The headphone part was still hard plastic, or they still leaked sound and your partner could hear. Something. This was too good to be true.

Well, lately I've been dealing with some pretty severe insomnia, and I've been using a white noise app to try to help me get into a mood for sleep if I was trying to get some rest when the husband wasn't around. But this wasn't helping me at night when I was supposed to be trying to sleep. Thanks to a Groupon sale, I decided to finally take the plunge and purchase some SleepPhones. I got mine in grey.

I was a tad worried when they came in and I tried them, because my head is probably oddly sized. The headband fit great (I got the one size fits most) but the actual speakers don't quite hit my ears right. I can get them lined up with a bit of work, but I wasn't exactly pleased about that.

But I've changed my mind entirely now. I've gotten used to getting the band settled in the right place, and I've tested them with music, my white noise app, and at multiple volumes. There's almost no sound bleeding through to disturb anybody. Apparently the only noise that comes through is the bird's chirping selection on my app.

I don't move around much in my sleep, so having the cord attached doesn't bother me too much but I could see how it would be a problem for some people. But they really are comfortable to sleep in, and not too painful even if you sleep on your side with your ear mashed into the pillow. Actually, I'm wearing them at regular times too now because normal headphones often give me headaches and these don't.

If you toss and turn too much, they have a wireless option, but it's much more expensive. There are also replacement parts so you don't have to buy a whole new set if you're like me and destined to break something in a year or so.

Overall, I've had my SleepPhones for about a month and I wholeheartedly recommend them. They're definitely worth the price, even if you can't find a sale like I did.

Pacific Rim

Somehow, I managed to know next to nothign about Pacific Rim before it came out. I hadn't really seen most of the trailers, and mostly all I knew was that there were giant robots and giant monsters.

To be honest, while that sounded fun it didn't sound like something I was going to go out of my way for, unless I just really wanted to go to the movies and that was the best thing playing. But a special trip to see it wasn't in the works or anything.

Until my friends went to see it. This is the power of word of mouth - so many people I knew were so in love with this movie, and people who's opinions I respect. So basically I decided that I had to see it on the second weekend before I learned anything else about it. No spoilers.

It was a really good decision, because I really liked this movie. Honestly, yes, it is a movie about giant robots and giant monsters (called kaiju, if you're a fan of Japanese monster movies and Godzilla you already know this term). Yes, that is the center of the story, and also at the center is the fact that it is a film for, by, and about people who just seriously really love giant robots and kaiju.

But there is so much more going on than that, and that's what elevates it past other recent giant robot/sci-fi action pictures. Is it the plot? No, not so much, the plot is kind of paint by numbers and more than slightly predictable (sorry guys). But I didn't care, not because the action or effects were awesome, they were.

It was because the characters were just that darn great. And how many times have I wanted to stand on rooftops and yell at Hollywood that it's the characters that make or break their projects? Raleigh manages not to be the angsty emotionally damaged and thus closed off and cranky reluctant hero. He pays some lip service to not getting back into a jaeger (the giant robots) but at the end of the day he's got a good reason and he doesn't really hem and haw. He changes his mind and decided to go fight again and then he just does. Thank goodness for small favors.

Idris Elba is always amazing, but his role as the leader of the jaegar program gives him plenty to work with and he does what he does best. A lot of reviews are talking about how great the wacky scientist sidekicks are, and they are pretty great but didn't steal the movie for me or anything. Even the cocky pilot who thinks he's God's gift and the only one who can save the world who is destined to be taken down a peg by the reluctant hero is a bit more complex and interesting than he seems at first. And del Toro actually took the time to make a racially and ethnically diverse cast, because these people are saving the WORLD, not just America. What a concept, having representatives from all the nations bordering the Pacific? Who would have thought.

But the movie belongs to Mako Mori, and we all know it. I've seen a few people arguing about how they wish that she was the lead instead of Raleigh and I'm not entirely sure which movie they were watching. She's not a supporting character, so what else is she but one of the two lead characters? Even her fans are having a hard time breaking out of years of Hollywood conditioning. Yes, Raleigh spends part of the movie trying to convince people how great she is but there's no "but she's a woman" coming from any single person in the entire film. It's the experienced pilot urging people to give the young hot shot a chance, and that narrative is age old if you make it two men instead.

Quite frankly, I haven't seen a female character this good on a movie screen in a very, very long time. So many weaker writers and directors have felt like when you put a woman in an action movie you have to make sure to make her more feminine so that we don't forget she's a woman or something. We skip right over that here, and if anybody is being the more "feminine" character, emotionally, it's Raleigh.

And I can't wrap up this review without mentioning Mana Ashida, who plays young Mako in an extended flashback. She's barely even in the movie and she is, without a doubt, the most memorable actor in the entire thing. She is so raw and so emotional and so compelling that if you don't feel for her then your heart must have been pulled out or something. She was eight years old, and I can't even imagine how good she's going to be when she's older. That girl is going to rule Japanese cinema.

Overall, the basic takeaway from Pacific Rim is that it's a daring movie that tried a lot of things. It's got very few big name actors in it, and they're mostly supporting characters. It's not America-centric and most of the action takes place in China instead. Del Toro even has said that he made sure to establish that in most of the big destructive action sequences that all the civilians are safe and the streets are clear so you can enjoy the explosions without guilt about innocent bystanders. It's like a movie about world peace with giant monsters and robots, and it has a racially diverse cast with a woman in one of the lead action roles. And it's based on an original screenplay and a new idea the revitalizes a beloved older genre. Even if the movie wasn't any good, it would be worth your attention just for all those things.

But the truth is, it is really good. It's fun, it's funny, the actors are good, and the characters are amazing. It's going to be a tragedy if this doesn't earn some more money at the box office because everybody involved should be rolling in cash just for trying something new and succeeding.

Project Runway Seasons Ten and Eleven

I know, this is actually all old news. But I thought I should probably address this.

This blog really grew out of my desire to talk about certain aspects of Project Runway, way back in Season Two. Basically I wanted to talk about the dresses as works of art rather than fashion, and I started doing recaps. I doggedly kept with it when I could but that dropped off quite a while back, sadly, because I went to grad school and the workload was too much.

Part of me thought I'd get back to it one day, recapping each episode. That was the plan many times. Especially when I started watching season ten. To be honest, my enthusiasm for the show had started to wane, and I was just feeling like I wasn't going to have anything to say. But I dutifully watched the show each week with my best friend, and I slowly started to get excited again. All-Stars had, quite frankly, really dimmed my enthusiasm but this cast was really bringing it back. Sure, there was a bit too much classic reality tv show drama (Andrea, my goodness, Andrea) but there was also a good crop of actually interesting designers.

Even if I didn't go for her aesthetic at all, Buffi Jashanmal was fun and interesting and had a distinct point of view. Kooan Kosuke was fascinating and fun, and to be honest I don't blame him for leaving the show because the judges clearly had no idea what he was about simply because he was being a little more daring than fashion likes to be. More than once I felt like they were being culturally insensitive, but that's a long rant for another day.

Even Gunnar Deatherage, who started the season being one of the most singly obnoxious designers the show had ever seen ended up warming my cold heart and making me upset when he was auf'd. The way he treated his client for the "real women" challenge was a revelation and a lesson to all other designers that have appeared on this show (and other designers in general, and especially Ven, take some notes jerkface).

And at the end of the day, I loved Dmitry, Fabio, and Melissa and could have been happy with any of them winning the final title and I won't spoil who does, because I absolutely think that this season is one you should catch up with if you missed it. There was a lot of real talent and real skill on the part of the designers, and the "characters" that you thought you hated, you ended up loving and the favorites at the start were not so rosy by the end.

The biggest problem was the judges. By the time they started blasting Elana for designing a dress for the Rockettes that looked exactly like the dress they were given for inspiration (not saying she copied, saying she had no taste) I realized they were just done. I have no idea how they still have careers in fashion, and I got sick of hearing them talk. I watched for the designers and tried to pretend the judges weren't there.

So I was actually thrilled when they announced that Michael Kors was leaving and Zac Posen was taking his place. If they also replaced Nina, perhaps the show would be as good as it was in the beginning, before the two of them had gotten so full of their ego from being on a successful show that they forgot what they were doing. Okay, I'm a little bitter.

So I started watching season eleven. I was ready for it to get better, I was on board and ready to fangirl again. But then they failed again with selecting the designers, and every week I got more and more disgusted with this show I used to love. Nina was still ridiculous, but thankfully Zac Posen was not afraid to shoot her down (and Heidi was getting bolder too). My favorite moment was when Zac Posen pointed out that he was the only judge who had actually BEEN to an American prom and had no clue what everybody else was talking about, especially Nina, because prom is about gowns and not short skirts. Preach it, Zac Posen, I've been yelling that at my TV for years.

But the designers, oh man the designers. The team challenge thing didn't really make an impact because the actual people they chose were so poor in character and were so unlovable that I barely could tune in every week. The best example for me was when the editors took a clip of Michelle talking about how much she loathed Patricia, followed it with the two of them getting paired together, and then a clip of Patricia happily talking about how she's looking forward to working with Michelle. This is the two-face, back stabbing reality show crap that Project Runway always skirted on the edge of and usually didn't dip into.

Amanda, Layana, and Michelle formed a mean girls clique that could not be beaten for cattiness and ego and every week I deeply wished they would go home simply because they were not nice people. I know everybody likes to talk about "the editing," but listen, I know editing. I know how it works, it's actually part of my JOB to know in detail what is and isn't possible with editing. The three of them were not painted as bad guys or villains by the editors, the show actually seemed to see nothing wrong with what they were doing. They were practically shown as heroes, I'm almost positive the producers were convinced we would hate Patricia instead, and they definitely wanted Kate to be disliked even though she clearly didn't deserve it from what they were showing.

I was two weeks behind on the show when somebody spoiled me about who had won before I could watch the finale, and that was the final blow for me. I actually have not bothered to watch season twelve, and I'm pretty sure that I won't. Season eleven took a show I had loved for so long, a show I was rejuvenated about and dying to see more of, and killed everything about it. The producers, the editors, and the designers all reveled in the exact same type of person that I don't like in real life or on my television shows, and if that's what the show is about now then I'm sorry but I'm done.

It makes me so sad to say that, but basically this is me saying I hope that everybody enjoyed my PR posts before because I don't think there will be any more unless somebody I really love ends up on All-Stars next season.

I'll just stick with Top Chef then, I guess.