Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Divergent Movie Companion

So, um, you can kind of already tell that this is going to be a quick read (quicker than most movie companions, that is) because the author's name (Kate Egan) isn't even on the cover or spine. Maybe also from the fact that I was expecting to find it in the section in the bookstore where the other movie books are kept--and instead it was in the teen section next to the Divergent books. While it does make sense to group things by subject matter instead of just genre, it didn't take long to find that this book is targeted at a certain audience--despite the fact that I like Divergent and I am not in that particular audience.

My first movie companion was for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; I was fourteen, and I was not overwhelmed by it. While I realize that there are more details to go over for a movie like that than for this one, I'm not just referring to the degree of detail--I'm talking about the way a movie companion is written. I find the Divergent companion a tad simplistic. Maybe even patronizing at times--in the way it's written. While I realize that the intention may be to make it an easier read for people who have never read a movie companion or are still a little young, I don't think this approach achieves anything. If they're teens (as I was when I first started on movie books), they'll get the hang of it easily. And if they happen to be younger and maybe the text has a little too much detail, well, they can just read as much as they want to and leave the rest be--it isn't necessary to dumb it down for the rest of us who really want to hear about how the movie was made. After all, it's a movie companion--not a visual companion. Visual companions are about pictures; movie companions need more text. And I don't like the font of the main text in this book, either.

I don't know. I've probably exaggerated my point. I'm almost ready to just erase the previous paragraph because, contrary to my seemingly black negativity, I am glad I got this book.

The details may be sparse and the tone simple, but I still learned a little. There are, at least, still plenty of quotes from the cast and crew--those tend to be the best part. It adds something to hear what an actor thinks of his character, or what someone on the crew finds compelling about the story. And behind the scenes pictures are always nice to have. I think my favorite sections were on the sets, costumes, and makeup. I've become so accustomed (with, say, The Hobbit) to films using sets and costumes in a thematic way--and even though this was kind of a mainstream action-type movie, that same concept holds. Characters blend with their environments and subtle differences in the way similarly-dressed characters look can give indications about their past and their choices. 

Final point: this wasn't my favorite movie companion, but I still like movie companions and I still like this movie, so I still enjoyed my time reading through it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Hobbit Chronicles: Book 5

I may be wrong, but I think this is the last volume in the Chronicles set. It's book five, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Chronicles: Art & Design. My goodness, what a journey this has been. I've always known movie companions tend to be sparse on information, but they will always seem very bare now after I've gone through such detailed books as these. But movie companions are good introductions to most of the departments that helped create a movie--the Chronicles books are more specific in their focus.

By the time you get to this book, you wonder if there's really much new to go over. Yes, there was a third movie, but doesn't it mostly cover the same locations and characters seen in the first two movies? Maybe not as much as I'd thought. There's discussion in here about the destruction of Lake-town and the refugee camp its citizens set up, Galadriel's look for Dol Guldur, more sections of Erebor and Dale, new costume pieces for the dwarves and other characters, and some of the creatures and sets from the final battle.

Besides, of course, pouring over all the used and unused designs, I enjoyed hearing about the collaborative side of design, specifically how it overlapped with plot. If a certain sequence needed stairs, then those had to be worked into a set--that sort of thing. I think this book, more than the others, showed more of that plot angle. So that made for a new way of looking at how the concept artists, Weta Workshop designers, and costume artists were approaching their tasks.

My pre-ordered copy was signed by Alan Lee, Daniel Falconer, Nick Keller, and Gus Hunter. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

February Favorites

1) Jewelry Hangers - I wasn't exactly planning to get anything new for my jewelry, but a couple of items were starting to get cramped and these hangers from Hobby Lobby were in the perfect shade of green. I maybe have them overstuffed with necklaces and bracelets--they'd look prettier with less, perhaps, but they're more functional this way. I have mainly the beaded necklaces up because they're the ones that tend to take up more space in drawers.

2) Downton Abbey Butler's Pantry Blend Tea - This is the fifth flavor I've had, right? It's black tea with blackberry leaves, honey, and vanilla. So it tastes like a strong black tea with an in-depth immersion of honey.

3) Wooden Necklaces - Someone recently gave me a few necklaces, among them these three with wooden beads. I really like the simplicity with the warm wood tones--I think they might be great for layering together or separately with other kinds of jewelry. They'll add a little texture and organic feel to outfits, which should be especially nice once the summer weather starts working in.

4) Double Chocolate Brownies Recipe - Click here for this recipe from Martha Stewart. It's fabulous and I highly recommend it--it's ever so much better than the other brownie recipe I tried out (which just used cocoa powder instead of also adding in the melted chocolate). It's fairly simple and because you're using chocolate, the kind of chocolate you use gives you direct power over the flavor. Do you want darker brownies with more depth, or something simpler? I've made them twice, each time with a different blend of (leftover) chocolate bars, so they tasted a little different each time. They're great: they have that harder layer on the outside and a wonderfully chewy sort of softer center. Since I don't have a picture of the brownies, here's the cocoa powder I used; it's from Equal Exchange.

5) Pair of Cameos - More gifts. These are pins, not necklaces, although maybe I wouldn't be opposed to making them into necklaces; I don't know, I'll have to think about it. They're simple but have a pretty different look to the cameos I already have--the colors and materials are different, giving maybe a more modern look. I'm picturing them with black and white type outfits.

6) Wooden Pen - Okay, so it isn't that I love products with my name on them--it's just that it's literally been years since I found one with my name. Actually, I think I've only found my name in two places: a gas station in California (this must've been 15 to 18 years ago) and a tourist shop in a cute little historical town (maybe 12-15 years ago). This pen was from the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. So, you know, I had to get it--and it's kind of nice that it's wood. I like wood.

7) Green Skirt - This might be the first clothing piece I've bought from ModCloth (minus a bathing suit). I don't really buy clothing online, but I was stalking this skirt for a while. It's the Bugle Joy Skirt in Olive. I love the color and I think the skirt is really pretty and so even though I'll hardly ever have anywhere to wear it (people don't tend to wear things like this in Arizona), I couldn't resist. Though the skirt is A-line, it doesn't look as full when it's on as it does in the picture; the color is also less gray.

8) Oaxacan Bird - Also at the Botanical Garden, they had a collection of these Oaxacan animals. Since I had started my collection of green ones with only two, I took the opportunity to get one more--three makes for a better set.

9) Soft-Boiled Eggs - Technically, perhaps, I've been making raw hard-boiled eggs. I like them best when the yolk is just barely becoming solid, though soft-boiled eggs are supposed to be more free-flowing than that. The egg cup is from Hobby Lobby.

10) "Beating Heart" by Ellie Goulding - You know that I've been a little obsessed with Divergent for the past couple of weeks. When this song played in the credits, I loved how it captured the feeling of the movie. Then I kind of started to like it just on its own; I've been listening to it a lot. I'm a little out of the popular music scene: I don't really listen to the radio, so mostly I'll hear songs in random places (like stores). I'd heard Ellie Goulding's name, but wouldn't have been able to name any of her songs. Now I'm rather intrigued by her style, that atmospheric quality and her very-alive vocals.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Theo: Congo Coffee & Cream

It's been too long since I had any Theo chocolate. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed their products until I unwrapped this bar and delighted in its markings (really, doesn't Theo have a great logo?) and then in its specific flavor. This is their Congo Coffee & Cream milk chocolate, which comes in a nice and solid 45% cacao. I love a deep milk chocolate.

As you can see from the bar's wrapper, this chocolate was made with coffee from Eastern Congo; a portion of sales also goes to the Eastern Congo Initiative. All the ingredients are organic and everything except for the milk powder is marked as fair trade. And there are, of course, only a few ingredients. So now that we have all the ethics and quality down, let's move on to taste.

It's called a Coffee & Cream bar, which implies something sweet and milky, despite the high (for milk chocolate) cocoa content. But remember, Theo is the one who does that lovely Creamy Milk Chocolate bar, which also happens to be 45%. I love that bar and it's one of my favorite, easily-accessible chocolates to share with other people. So the Coffee & Cream, it would seem, uses the same chocolate, just with the addition of coffee. The resulting flavor is like a perfect cafe mocha (you know, coffee with chocolate in it).

The chocolate is rich and warm without a hint of darkness, very creamy and yet not very sweet. The coffee, well, it's in those fine pieces; maybe it isn't so fine as ground coffee, but it's close enough that if you let the chocolate melt away, you'll be left with strange coffee grains in your mouth. So I would recommend more of a chewing approach; that'll also be the best way to blend the coffee flavor with the chocolate.

It's quite something to take an existing idea (creamy, rich milk chocolate) and combine it successfully with another flavor. Everything balances together. Because it's a milk chocolate, this bar is like a semi-sophisticated confection (I don't, however, mean that it's mediocre confection quality). It has enough milky and sugar flavors to remind you of candy chocolate, but then it has that edge of richness from the higher cocoa content and the darker flavor of the coffee. So it satisfies a few different kinds of cravings at once. Well done, Theo. I'm happy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

To the Beginning with Four

It's possibly unnecessary to do a post on this book (and I promise that I'll be resting on Divergent posts after this), since it is just a collection of four prequel stories and three short, additional scenes. But I posted on Gayle Forman's Just One Night (which finishes up after Just One Day and Just One Year). And come to think of it (though I hate directly comparing things), Four gives more to talk about than Just One Night did (it was basically the epilogue for the other two books). Four is more like the almost-book that I hate to mention out loud--Midnight Sun. Except while Midnight Sun was designed to cover all the space of Twilight (from Edward's perspective instead of Bella's), Four (from Tobias's perspective instead of Tris's) only tells some of the moments from Divergent--much of it is from before that book starts and the narrative is told in pieces with gaps in between.

It's really a book of extras, not an additional book--and that was the way I thought of it before reading, so I can't say I was disappointed. (Though I'm not sure why the knife-throwing scene wasn't included--I had to get the digital version of that one.) I kept thinking in my mind that Allegiant was the last book, and Four was just a little something to flip through afterwards. But, you know, it worked very well to have this little book to "flip through afterwards."

I've already explained how much I liked the way Allegiant ended--and how much I enjoy looking back at the good moments throughout the trilogy, especially from the first book. So it was satisfying, as a reader, to finish the trilogy and have it come to a complete ending, but then be able to take one last look (in a slightly different way) at the beginning.

Tobias, throughout the trilogy, emerges as an interesting character. Tris is there to find her strength and become herself; that's why it makes sense for her to shorten her name and stick with the shortened name. Tobias, however, is fleeing from his past and needs to make sense of who he has been and reconcile it with who he is trying to be before he can really be comfortable with himself and his decisions. So his journey is different from Tris's. And it's nice, just as an extra, to see where he began and what he was thinking at certain key points during Divergent. While these stories aren't all about finding out new things, there are several new tidbits that enhance the story or are just fun to find out.

I'm kind of sad now that I'm done (well, except for the movie companion--does that count?), but I am also satisfied by my time spent in this universe.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

To What Are You Allegiant?

If you've been reading on here for a while, you'll know that I really appreciate it when fiction (whether we're talking of books or movies) sets out with a specific purpose. It usually bothers me when a series goes on just for the sake of going on, not because the story is specifically designed to continue for a certain amount of installments. But with Divergent, Veronica Roth created a complete trilogy that sets out with a certain story to tell that is told just right in three pieces. This story also rose up with one of the best themes I've read in a while, expressed so powerfully that I love this last book for it. There will be some spoilers in this post.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Now We Are Insurgent

I'm trying to just let myself read these books quickly so that I can be free from their tight grip on me--I keep thinking of these characters, this world, the factions, the movement, the pacing, the images. It's great, on one hand, for a book to have a big impact--but it's also pretty hard when you still have your daily life to continue and that doesn't include sitting around all day reading or thinking about books.

There's a certain disadvantage to reading something so quickly; it can all just become a blur. But by the time I'd finished Divergent (read that post here) and started Insurgent, this story was so much behind my eyelids that I just had to read it in every spare moment (well, maybe not every moment). Because this time, I didn't know the plot; the movie doesn't come out until March, so it was all new this time, and I had to keep flipping those pages. (There may be some light spoilers in my post this time.)