• Behind The Scenes

    The Side Show Editorial
  • Fall Issue Sneak Peek

    Meet Elizabeth Lyons
  • Macy's Glamorama

    Local Events and Fashion
  • Sararose on Oak

    Local Shopping
  • Beauty Test Kitchen

    Youtube Beauty Videos
  • What's Your Office Style?

    Home and Lifestyle
  • Creative Chicago

    Meet Zap Props
  • AVFest Hideout Blockparty

    Music and Venues
  • Chicago International Film Fest

    Out and About
  • Blogger Style Icon Search

    Enter to be featured

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sparta in Illinois...The Spartan Race

The Spartan Sprint and Super race brought the legendary Sparta to Illinois. Well it wasn't like the movie 300, but it did bring forth many super athletes from our great state to compete in this extraordinarily difficult obstacle race. The Spartan Super (which was the one we had our contributing writer Dylan compete in) consisted of 8 miles and between 20-30 obstacles. This race, unlike others such as the Gladiator, requires strength, agility and speed to make it through.

So which types of obstacles did the Spartan Super race offer their victims, oops, meant challengers? There was a javelin throw (yes I was surprised there weren't any casualities), swimming across puddles, lifting boulders and carrying them, rope climbs from water, crazy monkey bars and much more. " The Spartan had a good variety of challenges" Dylan stated. Also if you couldn't complete a challenge, unlike the real Spartans where you literally would be killed, here you had to complete 30 burpees. Our writer, Dylan, had 2 failures so he endured 60 burpees. His nemesis, the javelin throw and the rope climbing out of water.

Other than the unique obstacle races and the burpee penalty, there is a team work social aspect to these races. People help strangers out, creating a fun atmosphere that is non competitive except for against yourself. Out of a rating from 1-10, 10 being the absolute best score for a race, our writer rated the Spartan Super at a 8. He recommends this race to anyone who wants a challenge. It is a unique challenge and great for versatile athletes since the terrain is all over the place.

So interested in competing in the next Spartan race? Check them out here, they have many upcoming races but you must hurry now, since space IS limited!!!

Our writer Dylan completing the Super Log Carry

Thank you to contributing writer Dylan Diesing for taking on this challenge for us!!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall Fashion Roundup & a Giveaway with Ruff Hewn

When it comes to fall style, color pattern and layers seem to be on everyone's mind. The rich deep and dark colors create a visual of warmth which really helps to transition our mindset from the warm days of summer into the cold days of fall.

This fall roundup features a focus on Fabrics, colors and layers – opulent brocades in jewel tones, clean neutrals and darks that create a polished look. Brands like JJ S LEE and Alice & Olivia really played up these trends for A/W 2014. The modern take on the suit mixed with opulent fabrics really created a statement.

In our round up, we are featuring a structured jacket from a brand like Ruff Hewn. Ruff Hewn & Ruff Hewn Grey, which is carried at Carson's /Bon-Ton, is a vintage inspired casual brand that focuses on special detailing, on trend clothing and items that are comfortable, but still put together.

We are also showcasing slim cut pants in black from Slimsation. Slimsation is a great brand of pants that helps to complement your shape. Basically they contour your waist, slim the lower tummy and shape the hips without constricting. We are also showcasing soft netural colored base layers, striped loose sweaters and patterned leggings from brands like Isle. Isle is all about creating beautiful pieces that become your go to for lux, comfy style that makes you feel as good as you go. Each of these pieces all help to create a simple, tailored and luxe look.

For fall footwear, combat boots continue to be a popular go to. Sugar brand takes this traditional look and gives a it modern twists with an all in one tongue and wraparound laces. Leggings from Lemon add some color and a hint of athletic wear with their striped style and come in a range of options from cotton, velvet, suede and even micro fiber. They are made to last and are incredibly affordable ranging from 15-35 dollars. Convertible and fashion tights from brands like Hane’s Silk Reflections are all perfect layering pieces to keep you looking chic, but leave you feeling warm on colder days. These are a great way to keep wearing those tailored shorts well into the fall. Accessories like fashion glasses and bold costume jewelry add some fun to simpler looks.

For this roundup - we have teamed up with Ruff Hewn and Carson's/Bon-Ton for a giveaway! We will be giving away one Ruff Hewn Grey Coated Blazer in Navy. This jacket features a slimming silhouette with contrast cuffs and a seamed design. To enter, simply follow @Bonton and @Halfstackmag on Twitter and tweet the following: “I want to add #RuffHewn to my closet this fall @Halfstackmag and @Bonton!” Entries must be posted by Monday October 27th, at 5 P.M. CST, and one winner will be chosen at random. Good luck!

*Sorry, limited to U.S. readers only. $99USD total value. Winner will be contacted by email once contest closes, and announced soon after.

Check out our video roundup here!

Target Style Competition Chicago

Target, or otherwise known as Targeé by the fancy, has impressively raised the bar in affordable fashion over the years.  Target Style, an extension of the Target brand, has a mission of "Design for All", highlighting stylish, yet wallet-friendly fashions. 

On Thursday, October 9th, Target Style hosted their Ready, Set, Target Style event at Target located at 1200 N Larrabee St.  This Project Runway meets game show featured three Chicago based stylists/bloggers, Yanira Garza, Dana Weiss, and Emma Arnold.  

Each stylist competed to create the best look highlighting a white button down blouse, (an essential piece for any wardrobe) for two outfit challenges presented by Master of Ceremonies, Courtney Kornegay of Courtwalk and host, Senior Fashion Editor of Marie ClaireZanna Roberts Rassi.  Each look was judged by four stylists including Rassi, stylist, Ikram Goldman, Editorial Director and advice columnist for PAPER Magazine, Mikey Boardman, and style/beauty blogger, Mary Alice Stephenson.  

For the first challenge, each stylist was given just a few minutes to create a look that would take the Chicago gal from brunch in Bucktown to tailgating at a Bears game, using a preselected assortment of Target pieces.  With a rating out of 10 points, Arnold won the highest score with a casual, yet modern combination of skinny fit stretch leggings, a short sleeve sweater top layered over the mandatory white blouse, a plaid shirt tied at the waist (for those chilly fall nights at the game) and a comfortable and stylish ankle boot.  Honestly, it was my favorite look from the challenge as well!  I would definitely wear the combination for a fun-filled fall day. 

The second challenge involved each stylist selecting one item from a grocery basket full of things found at Target.  The items selected by the stylists were a light bulb, lighter fluid, and a padlock.  Interpreting the lighter fluid to represent "hotness", Garza was awarded the winner of the challenge with an outfit including a sexy, striped sweater over the white blouse, a fierce heel, and gold accessories.  

The audience had the final say in the overall winner of the style competition.  It was a close one, but Arnold ended up taking home the gold!  

Guests of the evening also enjoyed delicious fall inspired appetizers and cocktails, while shopping the latest fall trends at Target and consulting with Pixi cosmetics artists for makeup makeovers.  

Of course, I did some shopping myself at Target during the event after being inspired by the stylist's looks.   Fall is my favorite season, especially because of all of the wonderful fashions.  Currently, I'm on a mission to find the perfect flannel top and I will definitely be stocking up on accessories, boots, and layers at Target! 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

John Hodgman: 2 Shows, 1 Night at UP Comedy Club

John Hodgman will perform two shows Tuesday October 21st, 2014 at Second City’s UP Comedy Club. The first show, “I Stole Your Dad,” will cover how to dress young and hip, obsolete technology, Downton Abbey and many other subjects. The second show, “Vacationland,” discusses with summer and death.
If you’re a writer, Hodgman’s career is one to admire and be inspired by. Before he became a regular on The Daily Show and was the PC in the “Get a Mac” Apple commercials, Hodgman was a writer, humorist, and literary agent. His work has been featured in McSweeney’s,The Paris Review, The New York Times Magazine, and “This American Life” on public radio. He put together a book of fake trivia, The Areas of My Expertise, including secrets of the Loch Ness Monster, which nine US Presidents had hooks for hands, and a list of over 700 hobo names. His next book, More Information Than You Require, helped readers survive a terrier infestation, win at crab racing, and learn over 700 mole man names. He went on the Daily Show to promote his books and was asked back, as the Resident Expert solving all of John Stewart’s problems. He thought they were being polite, but he’s been there over seven years. His final book, That Is All, completes the trilogy of Complete World Knowledge. It came out just in time for the end of the world as we know it that didn’t happen.
Hodgman also has a weekly podcast, Judge John Hodgman, available on maximunfun.org where he listens to real life disagreements and weighs in. He put together the shows based on material in the books as well as tells stories he’s experienced. He gets to be himself, he told Theatre Talk on CUNYTV. He is not a character on stage.
John Hodgman performs this Tuesday, October 21st, at Second City’s UP Comedy Club. For more information and tickets, visit johnhodgman.com or upcomedyclub.com

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Halfstack Highlights - Meet Brede Baldwin

A couple of weeks ago, Halfstacker Cora Vasseur introduced us to up and coming singer/songwriter: Brede Baldwin. He's a 15 year old who is passionate about music, grateful for his opportunities and has a boat load of talent! Today, we share with you Cora's up close and personal chat with Brede about his journey so far on our most recent episode of Halfstack Highlights. This kids is going places and it is inspiring to hear from such a talented young individual with his priorities straight, dreaming big and making it happen.

Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Listen and subscribe via iTunes.

If you liked the interview - make sure to listen to this podcast to hear more from Brede Baldwin. And if you have not checked out or subscribed to his youtube channel, you can do so here and check out the video below to hear a great cover from this young crooner. Also, make sure to keep up with him on facebook and twitter to stay up to date on the projects he is working on!

The Daily Om: The Benefits of Meditation

The act of mediation dates back thousands of years and is still practiced today in various forms. Some of the more commonly known forms of meditation include Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga, as well as guided and mantra. Further, it is commonly agreed upon that long-term meditative practice fosters such benefits as reduced stress, improved mood, as well as improved cardiovascular health. It is also suggested that people with greater meditation experience have better emotional intelligence as well as less perceived stress and negative mental health (Chu, Li Chuan).

However, you don’t have to become a yogi in order to achieve better health. In fact, performing a few simple exercises throughout the day can lead to improved mood, memory, and everyday functioning; as well as reduce fatigue, depression, and confusion.

To unleash your inner yogi, start with these brief exercises to practice and experience mindfulness:

Deep breathing. Deep breathing techniques are as it sounds. Focus your attention on your breath, consciously slowly inhaling and exhaling. The process will force you to slow down and empty your thoughts, if only for a minute or two.

Body scanning. When performing a body scan, concentrate on how each portion of your body feels, working your way down from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes. The practice reveals where tension exists in the body and then allows you to fully relax.

Mantra. Mantra meditation requires you to repeat a particular word or phrase you find calming. By focusing all of your attention on the words, the mind is able to release itself of the worries and anxiety it may feel, and as a result, allow the rest of the body to unwind.

Focus on love & gratitude. If you have a tendency to sweat the small stuff, perhaps focusing on love and gratitude may put you at ease. By concentrating on the larger things in life, such as friends, family, your home, your job, your dog – whatever you love and are thankful for, your mind is then allowed to reconsider what is really important rather than getting wound up over what would otherwise be seen as inconsequential.

Regardless of what type of meditative practice you try, first seek out a quiet setting where you can be comfortable. Once you have pinpointed your location relax your breathing and focus all of your attention on your practice.  Simply repeating these exercises 3-4 times per week can help you reap the benefits that yogis, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi practitioners have experienced for thousands of years.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Some Movies to See This Weekend, October 17, 2014

It's another eclectic (eccentric?) weekend at the movies, with the wide releases covering as huge a range of interest and audience as possible, and the latest acting showcase from one of cinema's best premiering at the Chicago International Film Festival. As usual, this isn't a completely comprehensive list of everything you can find, but you're likely to find something of interest when you look at a marquee this weekend.

The Book of Life
Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez
Writers: Jorge R. Gutierrez, Douglas Langdale
Starring: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum

This is the big time animated family release, featuring the voices of big time stars and showcasing a big time adventure. In a faux-stop motion CGI style, a lovesick young man (Luna) has to return from a party-filled afterlife to reunite with the woman he loves (Saldana) and save his town from destruction at the hands of other supernatural beings.

The trailer features two frustrating modern crutches, a dated pop culture reference (Biz Markie's “Just a Friend”) and the use of “Seriously?” (see also: “Really?”) in place of a constructing a true punchline. Pet peeves aside, there's some pedigree here, with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) producing a fairy tale that is refreshingly non-Anglophile in origin. Luna and Saldana always do strong work, and Tatum's dopey charisma is palpable even in animated form. You're probably in good hands here, especially if you have kids in your life.

The Best of Me
Director: Michael Hoffman
Writers: J. Mills Goodloe, Will Fetters
Starring: Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato

The latest from the Nicholas Sparks adaptation factory, The Best of Me spans two decades in the lives of a pair of high school sweethearts torn apart by drug-related prison time. They reunite 21 years later, looking absolutely nothing like their high school selves – the Bracey-Marsden age-up is particularly mystifying – to give it another go despite some big life obstacles.

Sparks adaptations are overwrought with schmaltz, but sometimes they can work – The Notebook is a fairly strong melodrama – plus Monaghan and Marsden (Mr. Liz Lemon himself) have done strong work elsewhere. This fulfills the romance portion of the weekend bill.

Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LeBeouf, Logan Lerman

The grim, horrific nature of war is on full display in this men-on-a-mission film from End of Watch writer-director David Ayer. I wouldn't count on much uplift here, despite the premise taking place at the very end of the European theater, with our heroes on the cusp of their most triumphant moment.

Ayer is working in John Ford-Sam Peckinpah territory here, with camaraderie, duty, violence, and masculinity being the driving forces. Brad Pitt does his gravitas thing as a tank sergeant and the no-way-he's-possibly-22-years-old Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) continuing his progression toward leading man status. Despite its gritty violence, this is likely to get a big Oscar push, so you can probably expect to be seeing it mentioned a lot in the coming months.

Two Days, One Night
Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne

A woman (Cotillard) on the verge of losing her job has to make a frustrating, demeaning choice to visit her coworkers, one-by-one, over the course of a weekend in order to convince them to give up part of their salary to leave her position off the chopping block. They have already voted on pay raises for themselves at her expense, so she's in a precarious, frightening spot.

Coming off The Immigrant earlier this year, the already great Cotillard (Inception, Rust and Bone) is at the height of her skills as an actor, able to turn desperation into strength and tenacity. It's a theme that has followed her throughout her career, and she is able to make broken characters become something more than victims, avoiding easy sympathy-only pathos and creating rounded, human people. And she gets to do it again Sunday at CIFF.

Chicago International Film Festival Celebrates 100 Years of Chaplin

The Chicago International Film Festival got commemorative last night by bringing Charlie Chaplin biographer David Robinson for a discussion called “Centenary of the Tramp,” about the 100th anniversary of Chaplin's entrance to the filmmaking industry.

Robinson, author of Chaplin: His Life and Art, which formed the basis for the 1992 biopic starring Robert Downey, Jr., gave a collegial lesson, PowerPoint and all, about Chaplin's early life and his first forays into the movies. He showed rare slides of a young Chaplin on the London stage, as a young side character in Sherlock Holmes stage shows, as a prestigious West End actor at the age of 16, and others before he left for America in 1913.

Robinson knew his venue, though, and quickly moved to Chaplin's early film career, with some slides of his first screen appearance in Makinga Living, as a 25-year-old Keystone Comedy Company player in 1914.

As it's impossible to talk about Chaplin without discussing his Little Tramp character, Robinson focused the rest of his talk on a more important anniversary, the 99
th of the Tramp's first screen credit, in Kid Auto Races at Venice, which Robinson screened for the audience.

As a film, Kid Auto Races at Venice is nothing fancy, which Robinson admitted before showing it, but it's a fascinating historical document nonetheless. Chaplin's Tramp look is basically fully formed, but his mannerisms are not quite to where they would be. He's more restrained, less fluid than he would later be, and his antics are subdued, with the entire plot of the six-minute short revolving around Chaplin trying to hog the camera from a group of newsreel cameramen at a children's boxcar race. It's silly but obviously an early attempt at something that would be important without being important in any way beyond historical firsts.

It turns out that first showing of Chaplin's signature creation wasn't a product of months of hard work and character building, but rather something he pulled from the top of his head when asked by the studio to create a comedic character on the fly. He went to the wardrobe department and pulled out the “baggy pants, tight coat, small hat, big shoes” before applying his goofy mustache and eyebrows, Robinson said, which were all an attempt to make the youthful Chaplin look much older.

Robinson said the character wasn't the “lovable” person he would later become in films like the romantic, sentimental City Lights. In his earliest appearances, the Tramp was actually sometimes a villainous man, and oftentimes not even exactly what one would consider a tramp, that poor, ragged vagabond guy.

“Tramps don't usually give tips,” Robinson said after he showed a clip of a drunken Tramp at a country club bar. He also sometimes rode a motorcycle, had upper crust friends, and a comfortable family life, depending on which early short films you watch, Robinson said.

But, Robinson said, one primary theme remained true of virtually all of Chaplin's Tramp pictures: He was “always struggling to belong to conventional society.” Regardless of his starting point in his films, the Tramp was always something of an outsider, a goofball that can't quite crack social norms.

Robinson ended the night with a showing of one of Chaplin's earliest directorial efforts, The Immigrant, which showed off his technical chops and the lovable, destitute version of the Tramp character we recognize. The short mostly takes place on a boat to American shores, and the camera wobbles back and forth as the “waves” hit the boat, nauseating the passengers, including one bearded man who is perpetually on the verge of vomiting on Chaplin. The dining room aboard the boat is a masterful set piece, a possibly hydraulically lifted room – some sort of physical manipulation is being done to it, whether it's mechanical in nature or not – that allows Chaplin to roll all over the floor, toss about atop other passengers, and have a bowl of gruel shift from the Tramp to his nauseated friend and back again. It's a beautiful, vibrant piece of technical filmmaking from a director known more for his acting and sentimentality than anything.

And now we get to be excited every year, because for a long time to come, each calendar shift will mark a new 100th anniversary for the Tramp.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Halfstack Beauty Test Kitchen - The at Home Facial

In this episode of Beauty Test Kitchen - I am rounding up some products for an at home facial! It's easy to do and effective and you don't need to break the bank going to the spa when you can give yourself a facial at home!

All you need is a cleanser, a facial scrub, a towel, hot water and a facial moisturizer!

Watch our video for a guide on how to go about completing the facial at home and check out the products that we mention below. Some of these items are on the more expensive side, but as I mentioned in the video any moisturizer, scrub and facial cleanser you have at home will do - these were just some great products we were testing out that we actually thought worked really well.


Products highlighted in this episode include:

Goldfadden MD Moisturizer - www.goldfaddenmd.com - There are two types of moisturizers highlighted, the lightweight version for day time: Vital Boost Moisturizer. Vital Boost delivers hydration, antioxidant protection and a brightening glow to all skin types. Skin boosting and rejuvenating Vitamin D maximizes the skin's immunity, provides powerful antioxidant protection, improves elasticity and promotes a more youthful complexion. What I loved most about this is that is so lightweight and is oil free which is perfect for my sensitive skin! The second is the Wakeup Call Overnight Regenerative Facial Treatment. I love this stuff. I put it on at night before bed and my face feels awesome in the morning after I wash it off. It helps with spots and makes my skin feel really fresh.

Amala jasmine hydrating face polish - This is a great face polish/scrub for those of you looking for some hydration. It's has a beautiful smell and despite it being a scrub, it isn't like your scrubbing rocks on your face. The polish really does a great job at retexturing dry, dehydrated skin. The whole plant ingredients soothe and hydrate while removing dead skin cells.

Boscia Tsubaki oil infused Face Powder - This is another scrub that is gentle on your face, but packs a powerful punch when it comes to exfoliating. This comes in powder format so all you do is add water and you are good to go. It is gentle enough for everyday use and for all skin types, Tsubaki Oil-Infused Exfoliating Powder removes debris and oil from pores and skin’s surface while providing long-term deep-hydration and antiaging benefits. The grains of this powder are dried and then coated in Tsubaki Oil.

Equitance Brightening Collection - This collection focuses on beauty both inside as well as out. At the heart of the collection is the key in supporting skin’s vitality and radiance. So they utilize formal made from precisely balanced herbal ingredients. This helps in terms of keeping skin healthy and glowing. The kit incorporates toners, facial washes, moisturizers as well as supplements that give you the vitamins needed inside for healthy skin on the outside.

If you enjoy these videos, please take a moment to subscribe! You can also let us know what you are interested in seeing or hearing more about in the comments section! 

Maybe Sunday - Local Love

As Kickstarter Alums, all of us at Halfstack know what it takes to have a dream and chase after it! Which is why we are always so excited to share local people and brands doing big things and following their dreams. Our mission, after all, is to share the love and get these up and comers to attention they deserve! So, without further ado - meet Maybe Sunday. Maybe Sunday is a recently launched, Chicago based brand brought to us by two Alumni from SAIC - Jason Guo and McKenzie Thompson.

Maybe Sunday makes fully printed apparel for the active lifestyle. Their first collection includes hats, scarves and shirts with creative, bright and on point printed photo imagery. They are taking "street style" to the next level with their fun and spunky product range which highlights everyday, mundane and pop culture items like gumballs and gummy bears in an interesting manner on shirts, hats and scarves. They use Italian inks on Korean fabrics which showcases vibrant colors and clear imagery. They are a brand that is as devoted to making clothing that not only looks good, but feels good too. As serious as their product development techniques are, the line is as fun as can be!

All photos courtesy of Maybe Sunday, Shot by: Aric Crafford

During the past six months the duo has worked tirelessly to finesse the brand’s identity and goals, and to design and produce apparel that is both unique and accessible to many.They also just recently opened up a concept store in Chicago's burgeoning art district in Pilsen. The team is working hard at crafting the brand in real-time and making plans to expand their line and grow.

It is always amazing to see students fresh out of school following a dream. It is even more refreshing to see them staying right here in Chicago to do it and putting in the due diligence to make sure they can see some success. So, make sure you help support your local dreamers and check out their kickstarter page! Remember, any donation amount helps bring this Chicago brand closer to its goals. If you have some time, make sure you check out their pop up shop in Pilsen at: 1711 S Halsted Street, Chicago IL, 60608

You can also check them out on social media here

Twitter: https://twitter.com/maybesunday312

Instagram: http://instagram.com/maybesunday312

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maybesunday312

Jen Lezan
Editor in chief
Halfstack Magazine

Stephen Hunley's Debut Album The Other Side of Never

Stephen Hunley released his first national album, "The Other Side of Never," October 7th, 2014. The Knoxville, TN native’s stylistic vocals and sophisticated fusion of blues, rock, jazz, and soul with a contemporary edge is quickly seeping into the hearts of critics and music lovers.

“We only use twelve notes in the Western world of music, so you can only be so “original,”” Hunley says. “I hope people hear something recognizable, but with original flair.” We do. Stephen Hunley is refreshing and a needed artist. He is unlike other contemporary singer- songwriters. Some performers he’s compared to are Marc Broussard and Jason Mraz. He reminds me a little of John Mayer on "Continuum", but more elegant. Hunley music is sophisticated, but approachable.

As you would add drops of water to scotch to open up the flavors, I feel the album really opens up as it goes along. The whole thing is beautiful in its honesty. That is one thing you will really connect with as you listen. As the third track begins, the album wakes up. I’m rapt and intrigued by his voice and the music. I see this playing in the background at the end of the day as you’re making dinner with friends but also dancing to keep the beat when you see him live. The third track is “Love You in the Dark,” one of my favorites and one Hunley describes as “easy on the ears.” Hunley is described as a natural poet leaning towards more abstract expression. He challenged himself to combine “some of Nashville’s more logical” songwriting techniques. It’s still plenty complex, but maybe also the water that unlocks the flavor profile.

I also really enjoyed “Speakeasy,”” I’m Not Who You Think I Am,” and “Call Me Baby.” They are juicy blues numbers that harken that appropriate in public sensuality that blues does. While he has his “fun” numbers, in “Pictures in Her Mind” he also turns his writing skills to communicate the pain of witnessing addiction and how it affects everyone involved. If you love blues, jazz, and rock or you’re looking for something new and refreshing, check out Stephen Hunley’s The Other Side of Never, available on iTunes and his website.

Stream Oscar Season Now: Snowpiercer Review

It's Academy Awards season. Halfstack's resident film critic, Rob Samuelson, has been hard at work catching up on many of the year's most important movies through on-demand and streaming services.  You all want a great top 10 list, don't you? As a way to join in the fun, read his reviews of movies you can see right now on a variety of platforms. First up, this summer's Snowpiercer, now available to rent on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Writers: Bong Joon-ho and Kelly Masterson
Starring: Chris Evans, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris

Anytime a powerful body starts making claims about the necessity of everyone knowing their rightful place, they should be viewed with supreme skepticism and, sometimes, outright opposition if their policies begin to demean, subjugate, and effectively dehumanize the less powerful. But these policies often spring from the minds of those looking to preserve something about humanity, and in their fear, stress, and yes, sometimes greed, their choices can become hellish. That doesn't mean their initial urge to protect the system was necessarily wrong, but an unquestioning faith in a system or ideology leads one to miss its imperfections and cause problems. Those not in power aren't always altruistic victims, either, often making choices for survival that are contrary to any human decency. And if, by some miracle of chance, the roles get reversed, the allure of power almost always prevails. In Snowpiercer, director Bong Joon-ho – in his American filmmaking debut – explores these themes to their wrenching logical ends, never losing control of any aspect of cinematic storytelling in the process.

In the decades following the worldwide climate collapse, caused by a catastrophic decision to flood Earth's atmosphere with a cooling chemical, what's left of humanity resides on a gigantic train, the Snowpiercer of the title, barreling through an uninhabitable tundra. Like in any social system, winners and losers emerge in this deal. The wealthy, the opulent, the gilded reside up front, with all the markers of high society bestowed on them. Snowpiercer shows how they are probably not bad people, per sé, rather blissfully lucky and unwilling to lose the relatively nice situation they've found themselves occupying.

But they're not Bong Joon-ho's primary concern. He's worried about the lowest ebbs of the order, those at the back of the train, greedily consuming – eating is not the right word for it – bars of gelatinous protein and biding their time to move up in the world by force if necessary, and those tightening their grasp of power at will. The back of the train world is reminiscent of a nightmarish coal mine, dank, frozen, barren yet overcrowded. Worse, the train's overseers, headed up by a gleefully twisted Tilda Swinton, don't show any kindness when these poor creatures get out of line, like opposing the theft of their children for reasons they aren't aware of. Questioning in any way the logic or morality of the powered leads to torture-as-public-service-announcement, a way of saying, “We're in charge – The More You Know.” Limbs are lost, the children are taken anyway, and Chris Evans's Curtis, the caboose's reluctant leader, begins an assault to upend the social order and take control of the train's undying engine.

What follows is one of the most functional films in recent memory. Every train car takes a different shape, the colors and costumes change dramatically, Joon-ho's camera moves more fluidly to take in an aquarium and rigidly in a claustrophobic, yellow steam room when the cronies of power are bearing down on their diminishing rebellion.

But it's not just production design and camera movement that makes Snowpiercer such a strong film from a pure cinema standpoint. Joon-ho has one of the deftest hands in modern movies at dispensing vital plot points. Characters mention a threat, the train's constructor and conductor, Wilford (Ed Harris), but they don't need to explain his role to each other. They already know. In a lesser filmmaker's work, the characters would say something clunky like, “Wilford, the man who built this vessel and has kept us in chains for years.” But Joon-ho understands this is silly and unnecessary. At Wilford's first mention, we get a statement of purpose from Curtis to kill him and a subtle tilt pan up to a Wilford Industries emblem forged on the walls behind him. This tells the audience everything they need to know about who this man is, and what he stands for has already been established by the brutality of his army. It doesn't talk down to the audience with momentum-crushing exposition, but it realizes it's also not the type of movie that can thrive by willfully obscuring information from the audience, either. Joon-ho finds the perfect use of his visual medium to explain who the MacGuffin-villain is. It is the simplest, most efficient way to impart these useful messages and it almost never happens in movies. This should be taught in introductory film classes.

Joon-ho's staging and fight choreography changes throughout the journey, too, never once relying on a trick multiple times. There are blunt object brawl-a-thons, gun fights, stabbings, a bit of parkour, and one central set piece in the middle of the train involving an army of ninja-reminiscent men donning night vision goggles and cutting the lights. Besides the stunning technical nature of the fight sequences, this violence always derives from or informs character motivation while working as their own miniature narratives. Losses are cut, eyes are kept on the prize, order is instilled, and personal spite enters the equation multiple times to raise the stakes higher.

Evans's superhero film background has prepared him well for those fight scenes, but where he truly matters to the film is in his quiet moments. He's wracked with guilt over the horrific things he did as a younger man, the ways he pushed aside his basic humanity for sustenance. The rage in his eyes can almost scorch through the final door to meet his adversary. But it's not just rage at Wilford. It's a cancer inside him, growing because he allowed it. He had the chance to say no to his urges and keep his dignity and goodness intact, but the situation corrupted him. He is livid at himself and the world for what those two entities combined to make him do.

But even the darkest of pictures need some levity. Swinton is the perfect slippery public face of the Snowpiercer, always looking for the positive, propagandized spin on things to keep the caboose people in check. The noises that come out of her when things startle her are hilarious, and her constant clumsy self-preservation provides many of the film's laughs. Ditto Kang-ho Song's drug addict security expert and his daughter (Ah-sung Ko), who can't stop sniffing noxious bits of what amount to large wads of gum while performing dangerous, complex tasks, always asking for more as a pat on the head for a job well done.

If there is one qualm with this film, it is the unnecessary clairvoyance angle Joon-ho takes with Ko's character. She can see the future but is unable to stop it, noticing several threats before they arise and then watching in horror as they commence anyway. A supernatural subplot doesn't make much sense here, given the hard sci-fi trappings of the setup. It doesn't work and it isn't integral to these characters reaching the engine room. The movie could have cut these mentions of her powers, lost maybe two minutes of screen time, and been just as functional in the end.

But that minor quibble aside, Snowpiercer is an extraordinary piece of cinema. It's gorgeous, with unending innovation in mise en scéne, framing, and camera movement. It wrestles with some of the biggest themes we have to contemplate in society – how to treat each other and what is fairness – and lets these themes embody actors perfectly suited to personify them. Bong Joon-ho is a modern master.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month - Product Roundup

As you all most likely already know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  According to webMD - In its early stages, breast cancer usually has no symptoms. As a tumor develops, you may note the following signs:
  • A lump in the breast or underarm that persists after your menstrual cycle. This is often the first apparent symptom of breast cancer. Lumps associated with breast cancer are usually painless, although some may cause a prickly sensation. Lumps are usually visible on a mammogram long before they can be seen or felt.
  • Swelling in the armpit.
  • Pain or tenderness in the breast. Although lumps are usually painless, pain or tenderness can be a sign of breast cancer.
  • A noticeable flattening or indentation on the breast, which may indicate a tumor that cannot be seen or felt.
  • Any change in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of the breast. A reddish, pitted surface like the skin of an orange could be a sign of advanced breast cancer.
  • A change in the nipple, such as a nipple retraction, dimpling, itching, a burning sensation, or ulceration. A scaly rash of the nipple is symptomatic of Paget's disease, which may be associated with an underlying breast cancer.
  • Unusual discharge from the nipple that may be clear, bloody, or another color. It's usually caused by benign conditions but could be due to cancer in some cases.
  • A marble-like area under the skin.
  • An area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.
Due to this, it is so important to get an annual mammogram and take time to become familiar with your body! Also, remember this doesn't just affect women, breast cancer can and does affect men. It is important to educate yourselves on the stats and also it is empowering to see companies doing their part by donating to the cause. Which is why I wanted to round up some of Halfstack's favorite brands that are doing some good and participating in BCA Month. Check out our curated round up below. 

One of my favorite go-to products is Palmers Cocoa Butter Formula, which is some of the best skin therapy product on the market! I tried out some of their BCA branded products this month and not only do they smell great, they did wonders on my dry patches on my knees, elbows and beat up hands. The skin therapy oil is amazing to use at night! Just slather it on and, add some gloves to cover up your hands and when you wake up in the morning, your skin feels amazing.

The brand will be going “pink” once again for National Breast Cancer Awareness month: donating 15 percent of the sales price (with a minimum donation of $100,000) from specially-marked bottles of its core Cocoa Butter Formula products to Susan G. Komen® beginning October 2014 through June 2015.

Chicago based , The Lynn Sage Foundation, an organization committed to finding a cure for breast cancer, and more than 150 Chicagoland establishments are helping to raise money for In Good Taste℠: A Breast Cancer Research Initiative. You can check out a listing of partnerships that the LSF has with some of Chicago's finest establishments on their website here. When you dine at participating locations, donations from designated food or drink items or $1/check will be donated to the Lynn Sage Scholars Program at Northwestern University.

Chicago lifestyle brand, PRSVR, recently expanded to a new location and in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month are releasing a Flamingo Work Boot. It's more than celebrity fashion, it's Fashion with a Focus, it is part of the Pink Foot Forward campaign.This year, their high-end sneaker gets the charitable treatment.PRSVR has pledged to donate 20% of each sale of the Camouflaged Flamingo Pink Work Boot to organizations including Bright Pink and Men Against Breast Cancer.  The Camouflaged Flamingo Pink Work Boot will be available in Boy's/Men's sizes 4-15, and may be purchased via www.prsvr.com and at various retailers nationwide. 

Julian Chang has teamed up with BCRF for the entire month of October where anything pink purchased from JulianChang.com, is 20 % off - the proceeds (money saved)  will be donated to Breast Cancer Research Foundation by Julian Chang.

Emi-Jay - 20% of all profits will go to benefit the charity, Bright Pink, a national non-profit focused on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women. Emi-Jay was created by teenage entrepreneurs Emily and Julianne. Inspired by their passion for fashion, the two young girls set out to create quality, modern day hair ties.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, the fashion jewelry site SterlingForever.com is donating 25% of proceeds on the following pink accessories to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Inni, our favorite nail wrap, has designed five exclusive charity nail wraps that promote breast cancer awareness through the signature pink ribbon motif. By donating as little as $5 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation through www.inni.com/bca (charity webpage launching later this week), consumers will receive the INNI Breast Cancer Awareness nail wrap design of their choice. 
**People may also go to the main Inni nails website (www.inni.com), search using the term BCA to choose a design, and put in the code BCA at checkout to contribute $5 (or more) to the Breast Cancer Research foundation.

The online clothing & accessories e-retailer UniqueVintage.com  is donating 20% of the proceeds from their "pink" collection of items to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. 

During the month of October Lemon will be donating 25% of proceeds from this style to Lolly’s Locks (an organization that provides high quality wigs to cancer patients who cannot afford them).
Made from lush fabrics and durable leather soles these hand knitted slippers are perfect to wear while lounging.  Accented with feminine lace detailing and a pastel pink hue these slippers also make the perfect gift.  Featuring non-skid silicon grips this style retails for $40

Dr. Michael Brinkenhoff, an ophthalmologist for over 30 years, was moved by his beautiful wife Gayle to create a groundbreaking cosmetics brand, RevitaLash® Cosmetics.  Gayle became the inspiration for Dr. Brinkenhoff to innovate, create and deliver a collection of trusted cosmetic products that could help renew natural beauty. In fact, Gayle is credited with naming the brand, RevitaLash, once explaining the products revitalize the mind, body and spirit. Through philanthropic endeavors, the company proudly continues its focus on responsible and compassionate business practices, donating to non-profit breast cancer research and education initiatives and giving back to the community from which RevitaLash Cosmetics was born.

Looks for Less Fall Digital Edition - Animal Instinct

Leopard print never really goes out of style, and rightfully so. Leopard print can be such a fun print to play with and always adds an extra punch of style to an outfit. Once again it was seen in many designer shows. It showed up in everything from handbags to dresses and coats and even shoes. My favorite way to wear leopard is on a pair of heels. It a no fuss way to wear the trend while still making an ultra chic statement.

THE LOOK: 1. Balmain RTW 2014  LOOKS FOR LESS: 2. Free People Out of Africa Cardigan in Snow Leopard Combo 3. John Zack Shift Dress in Leopard Print 4. ASOS Daisy Pony Effect Sneakers 5. H&M Pencil Skirt

- Teresa Espinoza - Fashion & Style Editor