Tuesday, January 26, 2016

PEW PEW! (My Star Wars Toy Collection)

I was never big into action figures when I was a little kid.  I love dolls and little plastic figurines and I already have a whole collection of those. But as it turns out, in recent months I've caught the bug for action figures, specifically Star Wars ones.

(All photos courtesy of my grainy phone camera)

Sassmaster Obi-Wan
It started last March when I went home to visit my family.  We were cleaning out the garage and going through some toys to give away to some friends of ours.  What turned up among my brothers' old toys were a Clone Wars Obi-wan Kenobi action figure and a super battle droid. I took them back with me to Utah.  I named the super battle droid Buster since I thought he should have a name. 
This is Buster.  I kind of have to bend his middle forward to get him to stand up.
Then in December, for my birthday my aunt got me a bunch of Star Wars stuff, including a set of mini spaceships.  The set she got me included a Millenium Falcon, a First Order TIE fighter, and Finn and Poe's wrecked TIE from The Force Awakens.  Naturally I started playing with them.  TFA was about to come out and I was in a mood to zoom spaceships around make "pew pew" noises.  I even took some fun photos with my figurines.

Finn's stolen TIE fighter crash lands on Jakku
The Millenium Falcon soars over the winterbound
northern hemisphere of the planet Provo
Over Christmas break, I got a little money so I decided to spend it on, you guessed it, more Star Wars toys.  At a Dollar General store I got two die-cast $5 models, one of the Millenium Falcon (because I wanted a bigger one) and one of a classic X-wing fighter. 

The Millenium Falcon crashes on Starkiller Base

Then at Family Dollar I got two more boxes of mini ships.  I got a set with two Resistance X-wings and another First Order TIE.

Poe Dameron's X-Wing

(Also, side note, has anyone else noticed that the Resistance X-wing's are built differently from the classic ones?  The s-foils are cut to fold into a single piece rather than on top of the other)

However, I COULD NOT pass up a trio of Clone Wars fighters.  These included a droid tri-fighter, a clone fighter, and a Jedi starfighter.  

Prequels merchandise restores my faith in humanity
I'm in love with the clone fighter, personally.  I know it's a cheap throwback/forerunner of the X-wing but it's beautiful.

I also got a deck of TFA marked playing cards which I'm going to break in...sometime.  But my FAVORITE thing that I got was a Rey action figure.  The action figure included her staff and satchel, but I actually can't get the figure to carry the satchel so it's useless. 

 I don't really think I'm going to get any more.  I'd love a little BB-8 to go with Rey, though. I haven't really paid that much attention to my action figures since I got them, so I guess it was a phase. But one of these days, though ..."pew pew."

The complete collection

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Lizy Reviews: The Martian (Book & Movie Review)

In my reviews I'm going to be reviving a project I had in Middle School and High School called "The Lizy Reviews." Might as well.  For my first review, I will tackle The Martian and do a combined review of both the book and the movie. It will probably lean a little more heavily on the movie since it's been over a month since I read the book.

A lot of things I do are geared towards jumping on the bandwagon, but what really needs to stop is judging myself afterward.  Considering the amount of time I spend on Tumblr it's not surprising that I ran across gifsets and photos of The Martian a few months ago. I was kind of on the fence about reading the book at all but then a friend told me that author Andy Weir had originally written the book as a blog: as someone who studied digital culture that alone was intriguing.

I've always been a fan of space exploration and astronomy, but I'm more of a stars and galaxies type than a solar system person.  And don't talk to me about going to outer space until our space travel is as good as Star Wars, because I hate rocket ships and space suits.  Mars has always kind of scared me in the sense that it's scary to think about living alone on a dead planet. But on the other hand, when I was a preteen we got the Spirit and Opportunity rovers sending back photos and I ate it up, and there's a part of me that still does.  A book or a movie with these elements is certainly not going to appeal to me, but the popularity of The Martian (and the fact that my current celeb crush was playing a supporting role) was enough that the potential benefits outweighed the personal dislikes.

Matt Damon as Mark Watney in The Martian, via dailydreamerchick.

Duct Tape is Magic

I read The Martian by Andy Weir in December, taking in two to three chapters a night with a cup of hot chocolate and maybe a snack. Let me tell you, The Martian goes great with hot chocolate in winter right before bed.

Pretty much from the get-go, Mark Watney explains the how and why of what got him alone on Mars, what could possibly kill him, and what could help improve his odds of survival.  It's slow and he uses a lot of technical jargon and if you don't pay attention you might miss a lot. Watney writes to get his thoughts and ideas down rather than to tell his story, but I like to think that his log entries in a way helped him to survive emotionally because it was a way for him to vent.  But while writing for what he thinks is a future space archeologist who discovers his remains, Watney does not shy away from poking fun at his own situation. I'm sure I would have kept on reading had the book been entirely Mark's mission log because he is as sarcastic as heck and I love him.  But the change in perspective to Mission Control back on Earth and the Ares III crew was much more engaging.  Besides, he couldn't have gotten off Mars on his own.

Another personal confession: I don't normally read suspense/thriller novels even though I had heard The Martian classified as one.  But for me, The Martian wasn't so much a thriller as it was a story about survival and overcoming setbacks.  Watney would keep having/causing accidents that should have killed him and yet he keeps surviving.  He figures out a way to not die immediately, recuperates and then finds a more permanent solution. Granted, nothing ever really goes quite the way he wants it to, but he makes it work.  The further on I read, the harder a time I had reading because there was no real way of telling if he was going to make it.

Hello There

Literally one of the first things I did when I got back from Christmas break was to go see the movie at the Provo Dollar Theater.  I definitely enjoyed it the first time.  But it was the second viewing at a movie party my apartment complex threw that was a lot more fun.  The first time around watching a movie I find I'm more critical.

I'd definitely advise against parents watching this movie around little kids. There are multiple f-bombs, we get a disturbing scene of Matt Damon/Watney performing surgery on himself and also a brief glance of his butt.  If I'd been in charge there would not have been any of that, but I'm not here to criticize those particular choices.
via deadline.com

And I'm not here to focus on the negative, either.  The Martian is a fun movie.  It's more like a drama than a sci-fi movie, mostly because the action focuses on the interactions between the people. The 70s mix rivals the one in Guardians of the Galaxy and in addition to Watney's humor it lightens up the tone of the film. Now, I wasn't too thrilled with the landscape that they created for the backdrop. Mars is actually a lot flatter, at least from what pictures I've seen.

As far as the adaptation from the book it was as good as they could have done considering how they wanted to tell the story. I'm kind of glad that they cut out some of the mishaps that Watney has on his drive to Schiaparelli. I would have liked more of Watney's funny lines from the book or maybe more of his monologues, since his scenes tended to run a little slower. Seeing the "eureka" moments of the NASA team get acted out was amazing. But what the movie did best was convey the camaraderie and loyalty of the Ares III crew.

I'm not complaining about this but the film focused a lot on Commander Lewis, probably a lot more than the book did.  I was kind of irritated about how they changed the ending at first, but after the second time watching The Martian I realized that they did it to show her character more. There is kind of no escaping Lewis' influence: it was her 70s music that was entertaining and irritating Watney so much.  Watney survived period because of what the others left behind and because they came back to get him.  But Commander Lewis is the incredible, putting Watney and the other members of the crew before herself.  You could easily say that Lewis is a mother figure, but is being a mom a sexist trope? Absolutely not! Groups of grown-ups are families, and to some extent, they need mothers, too.  It's how humans work.  I nominate Lewis for Spacemom of the year, but if she doesn't win at least make her runner-up after General Leia and Maz Kanata in The Force Awakens.

Houston, We Have an Elephant in the Room

Now let's talk about the "real" reason I went to see The Martian: Sebastian Stan as Dr. Beck. I know at some point my mother lectured against watching movies just because of a certain actor but as far as Sebby is concerned I am a lost cause. There's no real escaping the fact that some actors are cast in movies purely because of star power. Sebastian was a good choice based on that strategy.  And he's not bad to look at.  So it's fine with me. The Martian is an important story, let's get important people on board.  (And Seb is a huge nerd in real life, I mean, if you haven't seen his trip to NASA go watch it! FOR SCIENCE!)

Dr. Beck wasn't even mentioned in the book until like page 60 and I started to wonder if they'd made him up for the movie.  I don't remember anything remarkable about the character in the book except at the end it was him who rescued Watney and not Lewis (but as I discussed there's a reason they made that change).  Maybe considering he hooked up with Johansson he kind of comes across as...one of those types of guys, but that's probably more a matter of interpretation.  He's probably not and the romance was just one of those things.

The first shot of Beck in the Hab is pretty cool to watch, but pretty much the first half of the movie after that Earth to Mars and back again.  And then in the first few scenes with the Ares III crew it doesn't seem like he's doing much except...sitting there to look pretty, pretty much.  But the more I saw him on screen the more I liked him.  I liked that they made the romance between Beck and Johansson a little more subtle than it was in the book. 

Honestly if you can't find a better reason to see The Martian than Sebastian Stan that's okay, because this movie is amazing and you should watch it. 

Sebastian Stan as Dr. Beck in The Martian, via Tumblr

Let's not forget about the other actors in this movie. I don't really watch Matt Damon movies a lot. I guess I'm just biased because I read the book but he wasn't nearly as funny or engaging as book Watney.  I knew about Sebastian Stan but I completely forgot about Michael Pena who was in Ant-Man.  Golly, talk about a completely different character! (Martinez cracks jokes too but he's a lot more sober than Luis.)  Not to mention they got Chiwetel Ejiofor who is going to be in Doctor Strange this fall playing Vincent Kapoor.  So we've got Bucky, Luis, and Baron Mordo.  Marvel has officially taken over Hollywood.  And of course they had to leave in Watney's Iron Man reference at the end so everyone watching this movie can roll their eyes. I was hoping they would cut that.

And what about our other Fandom representation?  Obviously I liked Sean Bean better as Mitch Henderson than as Boromir because Boromir's a freaking jerk.  But Bean's Henderson is amazing because he argues passionately for the Ares III crew to be involved in Watney's rescue, in fact I don't remember responding so well to his character in the book.

Let Me English Major the Crap Out of This

Since I graduated from BYU in English literature, let's talk about the themes in the book and the movie, a.k.a. what I got out of it around all of the f-bombs and swearwords and why I think The Martian is important.

Image result for the martian movie
  • Isolation: In the book, Watney doesn't appear to wallow in the fact that he's isolated, and his logs are just him trying to figure out how to survive. Feeling lonely was probably a luxury he couldn't afford. But then again in his waking hours it probably affected him more. In the film, the scene with him walking back to the Hab with no one there and then performing surgery on himself was interesting. He's not so much reacting to his abandonment as to his injury, but as he's operating it is probably just starting to sink in that he is alone, that the only person who can take care of him is himself.
  • Human ingenuity: Knowledge is great. It's when you are facing a challenge that you have the chance to put that knowledge to use and make it worth something. Mark Watney is a scientist, an astronaut, and a botanist. He had to draw on all of his experience and scientific knowledge to keep himself alive. And he did it not by following the rules but by using his knowledge to see each challenge he had from different angles and finding creative solutions. For instance, NASA says fire will kill you, but Mark Watney needed fire to create water for his crops. Watney isn't the only genius in this book. Rich Purnell, for instance, should win the Nobel Prize for coming up with that maneuver to get the Hermes back to Mars.  
  • Agency: Whose responsibility is Mark Watney? Is he NASA's problem? Humanity's problem? The Ares III and Commander Lewis? Or Watney himself? Arguments could be made for all of these parties. In fact all of them are partly responsible. But how do they rise to the challenge of saving a man stranded on Mars? Of course it is more efficient to have a team of experts helping you solve your problems, but Mark survived for like four months without making contact with NASA so he's capable of taking care of himself and they know it. NASA and its bureaucracy are kind of condescending to Watney (and Watney is a little condescending back) and they're all, "you're doing great but we can help you do better, also you need to take fewer risks." Ultimately, the person who determined what became of Watney was Watney himself. It would have been so much easier to give up and die because it was too hard, because the risk of failure was too great, because all he had to listen to was 70s music, and because he kept having problems. I know I could never have survived on Mars. I don't know how to budget or to ration food or to think creatively about scientific problems. (But then again if you're not a super-scientist like Mark Watney you have no business being on Mars in the first place). The point is, Mark Watney literally could have died at any moment during his ordeal--he should have died, multiple times. Instead, however, he chose to use the resources at his disposal to maximize his odds, to do the best that he could even if he would eventually die. He was pragmatic about his chances of survival, but he chose to put his efforts towards fixing the problem instead of moping about it. He never actually writes down in his log that he's making this choice, but he had to make it every single day he was on Mars. In the movie, however, we get Watney looking around the Hab and then saying aloud, "I'm not gonna die here." He put the thing in words. That is the reason this story is important.
Jessica Chastian as Commander Lewis, via basilmarinerchase
  • Loyalty: NASA is working around the clock to save Watney because he is their problem that they need to fix, because having a human alone on Mars isn't a good thing. The fact that NASA and other earthlings are pulling out all the stops to get him home is commendable. The Ares III crew, however, wants to save Watney because he's a member of their team and they don't want him left behind. And Watney returns their feelings. It's implied that the astronauts in the Ares program spend years working together to prepare for their mission. And then the trip back and forth through outer space makes for quality bonding time. When Watney makes contact with NASA, he goes to great pains to stress that it is not his crewmates' fault that he got left behind. He's massively ticked off when he finds out that NASA hasn't told them he's alive. And he's excited when he finds out that they're coming back for him. I get the feeling that Watney doesn't miss the rest of humanity as much as he misses his crewmates because they were his family. And the Ares III team is willing to face great risk to get him back even though NASA and Watney don't want them to get hurt. Not once but twice they announce, "NASA, be advised, X is bad idea but we're going to do it anyway." Because Mark Watney was that important to them.
So that's the thematics of The Martian in a nutshell. It is a great story, whether or not you experience it through the book or the movie or both. There isn't really a villain to this story, just nature and bureaucratic elements. But nearly all of the characters are heroes. The frontier being explored is not scientific but the human, and I hope everyone who comes across The Martian will find that out for themselves.

(All images copyright 20th Century Fox)

UPDATE: Benedict Wong (a.k.a. Bruce Ng from JPL) has been cast in Doctor Strange. Now The Martian is a Marvel party.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Meet the Jedi in Jeans

I've tried to run a personal blog before.  Not surprisingly, I lost interest.

But THIS TIME will be different.

That's what they all say, true.  But it's been my experience, you miss a hundred percent of the shots you don't take. So why not give it another go?

Meet the Blogger

My name is Elizabeth Cole.  The details of my backstory will come out eventually, but for now you should know that I am from Texas with strong ties to Arizona and I currently live in Utah.  I graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's in English (I minored in anthropology). And I'm still in Provo. Yes, it's a crazy town, but it's a better place for me to live and work.

For the record, yes, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a.k.a. I'm a Mormon.  You can view my LDS.org profile here. I do have a lot of political, social, and moral views that you, dear reader, might consider unpopular.  I might not discuss religion/politics/morality so much on this blog but they might still come up. You have been warned.

Me when I graduated from BYU

Another thing: I have Asperger's Syndrome. I was diagnosed at age fourteen after my violin teacher realized I didn't have any friends.  According to my diagnosis I have a milder form of Aspergers: I have all the symptoms but they're not overwhelming.  I don't have (many) sensory/stimuli issues.  I am an introvert and it takes effort for me to socialize. I am very obsessive and I like to harp about my interests to anyone who will listen. I can jog in short spurts but I can't run. And I love, love, LOVE to write.  So be warned, I will try to keep my posts for my blog short but they will get long-winded, even on subjects I'm not nearly as passionate about. I spent most of high school learning to socialize and make small talk.  It's difficult but most of the time it's worth it. Most people who meet me can't tell that I'm different.

My sophomore year of college, I came down with depression. I found out I also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder--not the germophobia kind but I can get stuck on repeated negative thoughts that might translate into behaviors. Thankfully nothing bad happened and I not only fought my depression/OCD but I also graduated from college.  I did have one or two periods when I was suicidal. I am still taking Prozac, which helps keep my thoughts from getting overwhelmingly negative.

If you're wondering about my current job situation, it's complicated. The AS might be part of the reason why. For now, I have a job blogging for a product review website (we won't go into that here).  Notably, I am currently a co-author for The Geeky Mormon with Jake Dietz. The position is unpaid but I love being able to contribute to the discussion on major sci-fi and fantasy topics.

Me as Agent Carter, with added checklist
FanX 2015

My goal in life is to be a fantasy writer. I already have two complete written drafts, one of which you can read on Wattpad. I'd like to be as big as J.K. Rowling--let's face it, who doesn't? But a more realistic goal would be to be a part-time author and parent like a lot of the local LDS authors that I read a ton of, such as Brandon Mull, Shanon Hale, Jennifer A. Nielsen and (my current favorite) Jessica Day George. I am single, so I'm still working on the parent part, too. As far as my dating situation is concerned, I have chosen to take the advice of Peggy Cater and Steve Rogers: I'm waiting for the right partner.

What this Blog is For

With my job situation a little imbalanced, in addition to my books I focus on my hobbies, and my hobbies are, well, fandom-oriented.  My major fandoms right now are Star Wars, Harry Potter, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Lord of the Rings. I also like Narnia, Pirates of the Carribean, Disney, and, right now, Hamilton and Supergirl. Since getting out of college, I have started attending fan conventions and doing cosplay (I am scraping by, technically, since I don't have a job).

I am starting to get around in the local fan community, and with my cosplay and my blogging getting attention and wanting to use those to get my name out there, I am going to use this blog as a hobby blog, and since I want to promote my Jedi in Jeans brand that is the label I will use.

Photo from a recent Scarlet Witch photoshoot.
Photo by Marissa Okolowitz

Here's a rough outline of what to expect:

  • Fandom: I frequently have deep thoughts about films and books and I will share them here if I'm trying to save room on The Geeky Mormon for other stuff.
  • Cosplay: Will include photoshoots and works in progress.  I will focus on my own cosplays but I will sometimes include pictures of other cosplayers around events and conventions.
  • Conventions and Events: Including but not limited to Salt Lake Comic Con, FanX, convention panels, press conferences, movie premieres
  • Books and Movies/TV: I will use this blog as a platform for reviews that won't necessarily make The Geeky Mormon (a.k.a. Hamilton).  TV shows I will likely wait until after the mid-season or end of season.  Currently I'm only watching Supergirl and Rebels. 
  • Faith/Religion: I don't like getting involved whenever there is a huge internet crisis going on in the Mormon blogosphere.  If I have something important to say, however, I will say it.  It would probably be more realistic to say that rather than making entire posts devoted to my faith I would more often integrate my religious views into my other posts. The Provo City Center Temple is gearing up for the open house and dedication so expect to see something about that.
  • Other interests: History, science, travel, family, whatever I think is important to write about.  As a writer, I am a jack-of-all-trades.  Everything is experience.

How the Jedi in Jeans Started

Lastly, a story.  The first day of my first job at BYU, I got to go through the remnants of a clothing swap at the dorms and I could keep whatever I wanted.  One of the few items from then that I've held on to was a knee-length blue knitted cardigan.

That fall, my next-door neighbor had a Star Wars party.  Initially I came as I was because I couldn't think of anything to wear.  But then I remembered something: the cardigan.  It was a perfect Jedi robe.  Underneath it I put my dark blue Disneyland hoodie and I put a Padawan braid in my hair.  Voila! I was a Jedi.  I wore the outfit again to a Halloween party and came up with a character name and backstory. Since the blue robe goes so well in denim, I call myself the Jedi in Jeans.

I have been to Salt Lake Comic Con twice and FanX once, and I've worn the Jedi in Jeans to all three as well as to the press conference in November for the upcoming FanX in March.  It was the outfit I wore a year ago when Carrie Fisher smeared glitter on my right cheek and gave me her autograph. I keep telling myself I'm going to upgrade it or phase it out, but it makes the perfect outfit for when I want to dress comfortably and if I'm going somewhere else later.  The only real change I've made is going from a padawan braid to wearing two braids pulled back on my head: I just felt like I needed to grow up a little.

The Jedi in Jeans meets an old friend at Salt Lake Comic Con FanX 2015

The Jedi in Jeans is an orphaned Jedi Apprentice who fought in the Clone Wars and survived Order 66.  Somehow she came to this planet and made a new life for herself.  I suppose it's an appropriate premise for this blog, since I'm just an outsider trying to make sense of life on Earth.