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Monday, September 22, 2014

Beauty Test Kitchen: Hair Essentials

Hey readers!!

Last week was a whirlwind with our latest issue release! Thank you so much for checking it out and if you haven't you can read it here. Today, I am bringing to you a round up of new hair products we've been testing at the Halfstack Office. These are products focused on healthy hair and styling.

The Rozge Grow Fast shampoo and conditioner have been helping me with growing out my hair since I have had cutters remorse from my last chop this past spring. GrowFast™ Shampoo and Conditioner promote the growth of hair. Infused with peptides and vitamins that help strengthen hair shaft and prevent dryness and breakage. Safe for all hair types, GrowFast™ adds body and a healthy shine to hair, while conditioning and strengthening hair to improve manageability. I found that the shampoo and conditioner tended to weigh my hair down. So, if you face the same issues as me with my naturally oily hair, I would suggest using the product no more than 3 times a week. I definitely have noticed growth + a quarter of an inch. My hair grows incredibly slow, so I am just trying to be patient, but some is better than nothing and my hair definitely feels stronger!

The next product I am highlighting are these fun pop in pieces from hairuwear. Who remembers my red head days from back when Halfstack first launched? Well, enjoy below!

Anyways, as beautiful as that red was, it did a number on my tresses. So, I took a break from coloring all together. But, these pop in colors are a fun way to do something different. They are real human hair so you can use hot tools on them.  Check them out here.

Alright, so the next items we highlighted were the fortify vitamins and shine serum from Gloss & Toss.  It literally is celebrity shine in a bottle. Created by stylists to the stars - Billy Lowe. Make sure you check out his interview with us on the site this week! What I liked most about this product was that it is specially formulated to give shine without leaving that residue that weighs your hair down!

Finally, I shared the Wet Brush, Shine Brush and Rusk hair sprays. Seriously, if you have a rat's nest in your hair in the morning (Keeping it real my friends) the wet brush is going to be your bestie. The super flexible bristles help detangle hair easily and painlessly. Love it! Well, my oldest loves is most since she pretty much kidnapped it from me. The Shine brush has a combo of the flexi bristles with boar's hair bristles that help disperse your hair's natural oils to give your mane that shiny lustrous look. Now, Rusk products are quick dry, humidity resistant hairsprays. The texture spray is perfect if you are like me and need to tease hair a bit to add body. The freezing spray is perfect for quick styling. It dries fast and both smell really nice unlike most chemical smelling sprays.

Hope you enjoyed the roundup this week! Remember, if you like what you see (including all my funny faces I tend to make when I talk...) please subscribe! Leave a comment if you want us to review other products or even have other suggestions! Thanks for your support!
Jen Lezan
Editor in chief

Gia Ventola: Whispered Beauty- NYFW Highlight

Halfstack's NYC based writers: Meaghan Elder & Cindy Arroyo

 bring to you a highlight from New York Fashion Week.

Up and coming designer Gia Ventola showcased her first collection for SS15 this New York Fashion Week. With a flawless mix between hand-crafted jewelry and the luxurious clothing collection, Gia makes a statement. Gia Ventola got her start after attending Parson’s The New School of Design in the late 90’s. Although worldwide success was not immediate for Gia, for years she worked alongside many celebrities such as Britney Spears, Oprah, Cher, and Destiny’s Child. After appearing in magazines, news articles, fashion websites and radio and television shows Gia decided it was time to give it another go. So ,18 months and a lot of hard work later it was time to debut the collection.

When you first walk into the showroom on Spring Street, you’re greeted by the utter elegance of the collection. Gia Ventola, former Olympic trained field hockey athlete, introduces the collection with pride and honor. With a pleasant balance between night and day looks, natural fibers, and black and white shades, the collection has many interchangeable features. Whether it be the unique jewelry, detachable silk collars, or even the garment being reversible, the diversity does not go unnoticed.
“It’s all about individuality,” Gia mentions while admiring her accomplishments that fill the room.

All Images Courtesy of Gia Ventola

Her signature (an O with a slash through it) has been made a statement throughout the collection. Not only in the jewelry but within the clothing as well. Each zipper pull has its own small O dangling from the slider. Even the closures on her blouses and dresses incorporate the O designs. With inspiration from her athletic background, Gia also designed unique, shoelace-like accents on each garment.

Not only does each piece have its own personality, but the versatility is endless. Most garments, as previously mentioned, are reversible (yes reversible!) and can even be worn, so-called, backwards. . Tops can be worn with or without the collar, inside out or even backwards. With a color story of blacks and whites, many of her pieces can be instant classics. What modern day woman doesn’t want a closet full of items that can so easily be mixed up and changed around?

Whether you have a formal cocktail party or are just headed into the office for work, this collection holds everything you need for a day-to-day basis. With mixes of silks, chiffons, satins and charmeuse fabrics, this collection radiates elegance. Double-sided, hand pleated silk accenting garments, and hand fraying amongst the collection really accentuates that the beauty is in the details. Gia, having 20 years of experience in the industry, knew exactly what she wanted from this collection; timelessness. As she explained how she wanted each garment to be something her customer would keep in her closet forever, never going out of date or style, you could look around and fully understand and relate.

Having worked with Destiny’s Child, Britney Spears, Nicole Kidman, Pink, and many others, her years of experience have paid off.  Gia gave us some insight on what it took to bring this collection to life, explaining that all the prints were hand drawn by her and the jewelry pieces were hand made. Little things such as that is really what makes you appreciate fashion and why we are crazy enough to pay the prices we do. We are paying for quality, such as the finest fabrics that Gia used, we are paying for one of a kind pieces and we are paying for appreciation.

For this collection, Gia really wanted to do something that was perfect for her. Something she truly understood and appreciated herself.

Customers in the past have repeatedly told her they were only interested in her designs, so she really strives for something that is 100% her own. Finally being able to show her collection for fashion week, was a dream come true for Gia. And one much earned. Whispered Beauty explains who I AM. Each customer, each consumer, each lover of fashion can experience who they are through her outstanding designs.  “I AM who I am meant to be.” Gia Ventola has climbed to the top. Without hesitation, she has made her mark. Watch out, because we have a fierce, and empowering new designer on the market.

About Meghan:

About Cindy: 

Calvin Harris - Lollapalooza After Party Reminscing

The summer wouldn't be complete without Lollapalooza. It will no doubt go down as one of the best in recent years. One of the most memorable acts to hit the Lolla stage was Calvin Harris. He not only had festivalgoers at Lolla dancing but he kept it going at his official Lollapalooza after party at Studio Paris

**Above Image Courtesy of Jon Mathias**

This excited editor had a chance to witness the DJ mastermind that is Calvin Harris at the Official Lollapalooza After Party and by no means did he disappoint. From the retractable rooftop at Studio Paris showcasing the Chicago Skyline, to the crazy light show, it had all the makings of a superstar performance. Celebrities even made appearances to party with what is undoubtedly the "it" guy in music right now.

Calvin Harris has become one of the biggest DJ’s in the world and has had a whirlwind last two years. Born in Scotland, Calvin Harris began creating his own electronic music in his teens. Eventually, like so many other musicians, he began promoting his music via social media in hopes of catching his big break. Eventually he caught the eye of a representative from major record label EMI in 2006. His keen eye for unique sounds as well as writing and producing made him a force to be reckoned with.

Along with releasing his own album he began writing and producing for artists like Kylie Minogue, All saints and Kelis. Undoubtedly, the 2012 release of his third solo album “18 Months” was his breakout album. The acclaimed album was filled with collaborations with the likes of hit makers like Ellie Goulding, Rihanna and Ne-Yo. He also took the chance and even did vocals for his now infamous track “Summer”. Calvin Harris was making waves and the world was finally taking notice. Not only are fans lining up to see him but other music artists are rushing to collaborate with him. He is by far one of the most world-renowned DJ’s in electronic dance music today and if his airplay isn’t proof enough, in 2013 he was named the highest-earning DJ by Forbes raking in over $46 million dollars.

The amazing space of Studio Paris in downtown Chicago was the place to be for the official Lolla after party. After a crazy set in Grant Park, Calvin Harris partied the night away with a few lucky Chicagoans August 2nd. Calvin Harris hit the Studio Paris stage at around midnight to a sold out show. From the start you could feel the intensity of the crowd. Calvin played all his hits from this summers anthem “Summer” to the ever-popular “Sweet Nothing” and “We found love”. You know you’re a legitimate star when the crowd knows ever word to your songs. And this crowd did. Calvin Harris played homage to his fellow EDM dj’s such as Swedish House Mafia by mixing some of their more popular tracks. The feeling inside Studio Paris was in one word, electrifying. Everyone was having a blast and everyone was dancing. For this huge fan, it was a definite treat to get to see this man live.

While so much music today has negative connotations, EDM, electronic dance music, has taken on a life of it’s own due to its positive and carefree nature. As a self described EDM fanatic, it was amazing getting to witness one of the best dj’s of our time perform the night away under the perfect summer night sky. Calvin Harris is the real deal and if you get a chance to see him live, take it. He’ll be gracing the stage for a long time to come and I for one am very thankful for that and so is the music industry.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Underground's Style Series Turns Premiere Club Into Fashion Hotspot

Chicago’s premiere nightclub, The Underground, became a window to the fashion world with the return of its highly successful Style Series. Guests are privy to a highly stylized fashion experiences in the intimate, exclusive atmosphere that awarded The Underground title of “the hottest club” from Entertainment Weekly. The style experiences were provided by 10 MGMT Talent Agency, a Chicago- based modeling and talent agency, founded by David Sanchez.

A runway cut across the dance floor with eager onlookers on either side, enjoying innovative cocktails by Grey Goose. Actor, fashion stylist, and entertainment reporter, Marcellas Reynolds, opened the show. Originally from the South side of Chicago, his editorial work has been featured in InStyle, British Vogue, and numerous other publications. Reynolds wanted to do this event because he felt it was important to represent Chicago, the Third Coast. He wanted the rest of the world to know our fashion prowess and all we had to offer.

Marcellas Reynolds Reynolds chose the looks from the two local designers, Anna Fong and Sanah Yasin, that lit up the runway. This was designer Yasin’s first show. “Designing is something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said backstage, approving final looks. “I finally decided to dive in.”

Reynolds said fall was all about black with embellishments. The first line up by Anna Fong featured classic lines with modern updates: high to low hems, eyelet fabric, and cut outs. My favorite was a sleek long sleeved black dress with a white collar, the hem dividing like two flower petals front to back. You could easily wear it during the day or turn up the night, forever classy and sexy. The second line was described as American cuts with Pakistani stitching and flourishes. Beautiful oranges and blues floated down the runway, lights catching the silver dragonfly on a girl’s back or the gold decals on another’s shoulders.

Designer Anna Fong with model The designers walked with their models on the runway at the end, something they should get used to with their bright futures. Yasin was very happy with her first show. She loved seeing her clothes up under the lights and looks forward to them being in local boutiques.

Designer Sanah Yasin with model A venue’s essence is integral to an event’s success. You feel you are entering somewhere special as you go down the steps into The Underground. Playboy named it “One of America’s Top 10 VIP Lounges”. Even if you’re not a VIP, you feel like a VIP. The service is warm and personalized. Everyone feels cared for and it sets the energy on fire. It’s one of the reasons celebrities frequent the location. When you expect quality and you’re used to quality, you find above and beyond experiences like the one tucked away in River North.

Friday, September 19, 2014

New Industry Rising Stars: Chicago Playground "The Varsity Collection"

Many fashion designers come from Chicago, but not many incorporate Chicago into their brand. With Rodnell Harris, it is different story. His designs are all about Chicago and even the name, Chicago Playground; the Varsity Collection, incorporates the heart of Chicago into it. So, who this designer that loves Chicago so much that the city is the main source of creativity behind his designs?

Rodnell Harris was born on the West side of Chicago and was a graduate from Farragut High school in 2004. A true Chicagoan from the start he decided to launch the Chicago Playground clothing line in 2008. Many of his inspirations came from when he played basketball in college (in Jacksonville Florida, but hey the line isn’t called Florida Playground). This is where his interest in the designer of the Letterman and varsity jackets grew. Considering himself a visual artist, Rodnell hopes to instill a sense of pride and unity in local communities here in Chicago through fashion.

During Atlanta’s fashion week in 2008, with only a few samples from a previous brand Rodnell created, he realized that becoming a designer was what he wanted to do. After the event, he knew that he could be an asset to the fashion industry by introducing a brand with a positive message and mission behind its designs. Thus, Chicago Playground was created. Rodnell wanted a name that came with significance and a sense of tradition. Chicago is considered a playground in of itself, with all of its attractions and talent in the city. Also, playgrounds bring children together and he wanted a brand to represent unity among the city’s youth and beyond.

Chicago Playground clothing is a brand for all ages and genders. Childrens clothing can be obtained though custom orders. The brand is also looking to collaborate with student athletes and local high schools for an ambassador program in the near future in which students get involved with the brand and Chicago Playground educates them on the fashion industry and the mission behind Chicago Playground; so keep an eye out students!!

Currently, Chicago Playground only offers custom made orders to give clients the opportunity to customize their garments to meet their individual needs. They also present capsule collections of collegiate garments including hooded sweat shirts, signature t-shirts, and baseball calls (all offered in limited quantities). The brand is still in the early stages of creating an e-commerce site and is scheduled to be available in September 2014. Fall seasonal garments are available for order and purchase! Also email rharris@cpg1963.com for a digital catalog! 

At the moment Chicago Playground is focusing on its upcoming student ambassador program and e-commerce launch for the fall. The brand is currently working with local show producers to be featured in upcoming fall runway shows this Fall 2014 season in addition to internal brand representations. So keep an eye out on http://www.cpg1963.com that has many great things happening for a brand that holds Chicago so dear to its heart.

Written by Stella Quimby - Fashion & Lifestyle Editor

Hideout Block Party & A.V. Fest

I will always remember my first car. It was a 1968, fire-engine red, Cadillac hearse that my grandfather bought me. It only got 6 miles to the gallon, so I mainly drove it from home to school and back. Nonetheless, I have wonderful memories of cruising in my car in the fall, listing to Death Cab for Cutie's album, Plans, play from my makeshift CD player/portable boom box, sitting on the passenger-side floor. To this day, I feel a twinge of nostalgia when the leaves begin to change.

On Friday, September 5th, Death Cab for Cutie headlined the Hideout Block Party and A.V. Fest, here in Chicago, IL. This two day music festival also featured artists like The Handsome Family, The War on Drugs, Valerie June, and Hamilton Leithauser.

Singer and songwriter, Valerie June, who graced the stage the Saturday of the fest, sat down with us to talk about making music and embracing times of silence.

Halfstack Magazine: Your music seems to dabble in a few different genres. How would you best describe your style of music?

Valerie June: I call it Organic Moonshine Roots Music. It's just American music in its southern most forms. An American artist that comes to mind when you use the word dabble is Tom Waits. What a dabbler!

HS: What inspires you most when writing music?

VJ: I'm greatly inspired by silence. Silence makes me want to make music!

HS:  How did you get involved with this year's Hideout Block Party and Onion A.V. Fest?

VJ:  I reckon it was my Chicago based booking agency, Billions Corporation, ultimately.  But, I was performing a couple years ago at The Hideout with a band called The Wandering.  After sound check, we went upstairs and I was fascinated by Mavis Staples' throne.  They told me she sat in it at the Hideout Block Party.  I secretly planted a wish in that moment to perform for the block party one day!

HS:  Are there any other artists this weekend you are excited to see perform?

VJ: The Funky Meters!

HS:  You have collaborated with other artists, such as Old Crow Medicine show in the past.  What is your favorite thing about collaborating with other musicians?
VJ:  I love learning how other songwriters receive or write tunes.  It's magical!

HS:  If you could work with any musician that you haven’t yet, dead or alive, who would you aspire to make music with?

 VJ:  Now, I can't tell ya all my secrets!  I have a list, but I learned early on in the wishing game that those things you deeply want that seem beyond your reach, you should treat delicately and rarely speak of while they are in the incubator.

HS:  Your latest album, “Pushin’ Against A Stone’ featured a few other artists.  Who worked on the album with you?

 VJ:  Dan Auerbach [of The Black Keys] and Booker T. Jones.

HS:  You were nominated for a Blues Music Award this year for your album, ‘Pushin’ Against A Stone’.  Can you tell us a little bit about that great achievement?

 VJ: Wow!  I'm honored, but I can't really say much besides HUGE THANKS.

HS:  Other than writing and performing music, what other ways do you enjoy spending your time?

 VJ:  Walking, yoga, meditating, baths; I'm pretty up, so I tend to seek calming adventures!

HS:  What can we look forward to next from Valerie June?

 VJ:  I'm working with the Goddess on the future.  It will be as she wishes to see!'

Make sure you check out the full editorial gallery in the Fall issue of Halfstack HERE!

GAP Southport Styld.by Event

On September 10th GAP outlets nation-wide celebrated the changing seasons with a stylish shopping event.  I headed to GAP Southport, here in Chicago to drool over distressed denim and everything flannel!

The Styld.by event, ran from 6pm to 8pm and included personal styling, sips and snacks, and featured looks styled by The Zoe Report.  To complete shopper's looks, Solo Salon was onsite for braided hairstyles and buns.  Blogger Peggy of Hallways Are My Runways hosted the event, donning a black and white, checkered button-down shirt and slim-fit jeans, all by GAP of course!  

If you missed out on this event, don't worry, keep upcoming Styld.by events on your fashion radar by checking out http://www.styld-by.com/en-us.   I'll meet you there with my favorite, distressed, sexy-boyfriend jeans on!

The Guest: A Modern Genre Masterpiece

The Guest

Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Starring: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

It's been 16 years since genre master John Carpenter made a good movie – and I'm of the minority opinion on Vampires – and 28 since he made a transcendent one – Big Trouble in Little China. What's he done in that time? Some abysmal creative bellyflops, a couple episodes of a horror anthology television series, and generally joining the long list of great filmmakers who fell on harder times, creatively speaking, as they got older.

But that's not true. I don't believe it. Carpenter is not dead. I can prove it. He's on Twitter. No, I have a different theory. The man who made Halloween, The Thing, They Live, and Big Trouble didn't lose his chops and fade into obscurity. He simply took the part of himself that lives and breathes good movies and made it possess the bodies of filmmaking partners Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, whose newest collaboration, The Guest, opens this weekend. And holy crow does that bequeathment pay off handsomely.

But let's back up a second to discuss genre filmmaking. It's an amorphous term. To determine if a movie is “genre” or not, you need to ask yourself some questions.

Are you having fun? Does it make you think too much? Is it a little outlandish? Would your grandparents think it's trash? Would you call it a movie or a film (yes, there's a difference)?

Genre movies are less concerned with making grand statements about the human condition. That's not to say they're without thematic merit, but their aims are wildly different from, say, a Yasujiro Ozu film. Entertainment comes first. Like all well executed films, genre movies require a foundation of characters with discernible motivations, but they require a bit more heave-ho in the way they attack their plots. They need to religiously adhere to the Trey Parker-Matt Stone “but/therefore” rule. Every story beat should go as such: “This happens, therefore this happens, but this happens, therefore this happens.” Don't let any scene end with the words “and then.” This creates a rhythm, a sense of direction, and that direction should be forever forward. Let every scene either inform character or advance the plot – hopefully both simultaneously – and you're halfway to making a great genre picture. It's what is known as a rollicking good time at the movies.

So remember, in cases like these, causation is king. This sounds like alliteration when spoken, so hear me out.

Okay, you still with me? Great.

The Guest. It's superb. That causation thing I mentioned a couple lines up? It does it in spades. It gets going right away with some ominous electronic music playing as the camera follows a jogging David – played by Downton Abbey's inveterate Englishman Dan Stevens, who does what amounts to a restrained Matthew McConaughey vocal impression, and his performance is quasi-McConaugheyan to boot – before a classic jump scare tactic to introduce the title of the movie in retro purple lettering on a black background via a loud music cue and a smash cut.

It spends the next 30 minutes or so setting up the world of the movie. This is important, because for all the pedal-to-the-medal bluster I showed a couple paragraphs ago, you can't get to that headlong abandon without taking time to get to know the people you paid to spend 90 minutes of your time with. You don't need to root for them necessarily, but you need to find what makes them work, and therefore what makes them fascinating.

David rings the doorbell of the Peterson family, explaining he fought in the “Middle East” – the movie is careful not to say which war, for reasons we'll get into later – with their fallen son, to whom he had promised to send his dying “I love you”s to his relatives. Laura (Sheila Kelley), the family matriarch, invites him to stay because she's grieving over her son's death. Her husband, Spencer (Leland Orser), a borderline alcoholic – likely also due to his son's death – is less than thrilled about the move. Their remaining children, a “21 next month” daughter, Anna (Maika Monroe) and a bullied high schooler, Luke (Brendan Meyer) are alternatively skeptical and optimistic about their new family friend.

Things about David aren't completely right. He makes vaguely threatening conversation and sits ramrod straight on his fallen comrade's bed, staring blankly into space.

But damned if he isn't helpful! There he is, working with Luke on his homework and humbly suggesting it's Luke who's teaching him, taking the vacated big brother. He does the dishes for Laura. Over a slew of beers, he listens to Spencer talk about his anxieties about being passed over for a promotion so a 20-something with a degree could take it. And he gives Anna a glimpse of his beefy soldier man physique just out of the shower – Stevens is “doughy Matthew” no more, Downton fans.

David picks up Luke from school and notices a bruise on his cheek. He knows the drill and asks Luke to point out who gave him the shiner and follows the group of movie bullies – make no mistake, these people don't exist in this form in real life – to a bar that doesn't card “if you're on the football team.” He teaches Luke some lessons about standing up for yourself and orders some emasculating drinks for their football player targets. This doesn't go well, David gets wet, and the football jerks get punished, excessively so in the first of several neatly choreographed fight sequences in The Guest.

David clearly knows his stuff regarding violence. He's also not entirely truthful about himself. People start dying around town mysteriously, some of whose deaths lead directly to the Petersons' gain, and Anna decides to check up on her new housemate. A call to an Army information center later and the movie takes a turn toward the wacky and the ultra violent. Since hardly anyone has had a chance to see it yet, I'll walk around where the film goes from here, but it's gleefully fun, with odes to genre greats of all vintages, from the Carpenter classics above (especially Halloween) to more recent fare like 2011's Drive.

Now, I mentioned the vagueness about the nature and geography David's service. This would seem to go against what I said about clear motivations for characters. The thing is, though, where David served in the Army doesn't matter for plot, character, and thematic reasons.

By the point in the movie when he's asked, the audience already knows there's something amiss about David. This sets the expectation that we will learn more about him. We don't need everything up front, and The Guest doles out David's information methodically, piece by piece, sometimes with intentional vagueness. This is not a bad thing because it derives from an inherently mysterious character. He's an obviously withholding individual, with plenty of extra angles to work, and director Wingard lays that foundation well with camera pauses on Stevens's blank eyes and quick glances when confronted by possibly damaging information. It's a deft use of the cinematic medium to convey information without clunky exposition. It's a statement on how our country treats its soldiers, in that they are to be used for our purposes whenever we feel like and then left to fend for themselves after they are no longer useless to the country. This is some fairly heavy stuff The Guest makes light of without hitting you over the head with it.

And when Wingard and writing partner Barrett do get expository, with the use of ultimate exposition machine Lance Reddick (The Wire and Fringe), it's as bare bones as can be, because the audience doesn't need to know how David got to be the way he is, they just need to know why he's behaving this way. That is a much easier and more efficient conversation to show on film. It serves dual purposes, to put the character's actions and motivations in context and in sync, and to cut out the clunky explanation that can, and usually does, take the audience out of the movie. The specifics of David's case don't matter to the problem at hand. Wingard and Barrett know instinctively the necessity of keeping the audience with the movie's characters and in the world they have created. If the viewers don't need to know something, they can fill in the blanks themselves. All they need is to know what sets the conflict in motion and the possible ways to resolve the conflict. And through a plethora of carefully planned setups, Wingard and Barrett are able to knock them down with aplomb.

And it's fun. Much like their previous movie, last year's You're Next, the filmmakers get all kinds of mileage out of character-based humor. A confused stare after a statement like, “Cash is easy to get,” is perfectly timed. A confrontation with Luke's school principal shows the comedic possibilities of litigation threats and fibs about personal identity. Pumpkin carving with David is hilarious, develops his character, and sets up the climax. A thumb's up puts a darkly comic end to that climax. And the final shot is a terrific laugh line despite all the violence, death, and mayhem that preceded it.

Wingard and Barrett are rising stars in the mainstream consciousness, but they're already masters of their domain. If you don't see The Guest near the top of my 2014 top 10 list around the holidays, this will have been a stupefyingly great year for film. As it stands, though, we should already count ourselves lucky to have had a movie this good be released. Go see it. Ensure these marvelous talents get to continue making new genre classics.

Carpenter lives.

Parts and Labor: An Off-Kilter (In a Good Way) Sports Bar

Parts and Labor (2700 N. Milwaukee Ave.) in Logan Square is testing out showing football games throughout September, where you can catch the Bears and any number of other teams with a different ambiance than most sports bars. Halfstacker Rob Samuelson checked out last Sunday's game against the 49ers. Here's his report. Feel free to check out this Sunday's game against the New York Jets at 7:30.

With the windows wide open, Parts and Labor is a bit brisk for an early September day. The floor reminds me of a stroll through Home Depot, all pragmatic gray and rugged. The booths are painted with black and blue Tetris shapes, giant air ducts hang visibly from the ceiling, and behind the bar is what looks like a shrine to Chutes and Ladders – or maybe a morbid ode to those whose lives have been cut short in elevated painting accidents.

My friends have quizzical looks on their faces as we sit on chipped, practical-looking stools in the middle of the establishment. They don't verbalize it, but, “Are you sure we're here to watch the Bears game?” is written in their eyes. Then the menus come.

“Ah, yes, okay, that makes sense,” is now what their expressions say.

Burgers and fried everything abound. And it's cheap. Like, $5 cheap. So inexpensive, in fact, that my friend Tom gets a second burger after he finishes his first, and that was after I watched him eat nachos earlier in the afternoon. The training for that half marathon he ran a couple weeks ago has raised his appetite and metabolism to disturbing heights.

I go a little more gastronomically conservative and order myself a black bean burger and fried pickles. The pickles' crust is golden brown, but they're more goopy and soggy than I expected. This is in no way a bad thing. They taste like pickles should, but more. The juice hasn't been fried out of the equation, thankfully. I'm not a food connoisseur, so I apologize for not being able to explain it right. They were delicious and Parts and Labor puts a convenient bowl of Ranch dressing in the middle to serve as even more taste enhancement.

We got here early because we were hungry and the Bears didn't take the field against the San Francisco 49ers (but really, as we learned during the broadcast, the 49ers now play an hour or so outside of the Rice-a-Roni city, so they should rescind their title) until 7:30. The Green Bay Packers are instead on the giant projected screen. This gives me some observation time.

And the things I observe are out of the ordinary for a bar showing sporting events. They have massive outdoor spaces, far away from the bar's televisions. Stax and Chess Records soul plays on the stereo. Instead of framing signed pictures of former local athletic heroes, Parts and Labor has glossy, coffee-table-book-sytle photographs of machinery. Some look like water pumps, others like parts of the electrical grid. It's a nod to the industrial revolution and blue collar work, the kind done by people who watch these games at bars.

But, this being Logan Square, it's not just blue collar types hanging out. There's one young woman with purple hair and a vest with a cute kitten screen printed on it. I can't tell from afar what kind of beer she's drinking, but it's definitely not a beer with enough capital to sponsor the NFL. I give thanks to the alcohol gods that this is the case and order a Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' to enjoy with my burger and pickles.

Eventually, with the game about to get going, I return to my buddies and put my notebook away. The channel changes to NBC and their Sunday Night Football program, the league's big game of the week showcase. We can see Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth going through their pregame banter. But we can't hear them. Instead, they play the Violent Femmes' “Add It Up,” which has noticeable bad words instead of the easily brushed off addiction metaphors in the football-crowd-approved “Blister in the Sun.” I'm not complaining, because Collinsworth has infuriatingly built a broadcasting career out of doing nothing but calling professional athletes “athletic.” But since we came here to watch the game, I ask if we can turn the TV volume up.

This causes a look of pure “uh-oh” on the waitress's face. She heads to the bar to confer with other employees and the general consensus is a shrug. Looks like we're stuck with our good beers, good food, good company, good music, and
not being subjected to inane Michaels-Collinsworth chatter. This is no tragedy. It leads to a little confusion as to who did things on the field – as someone who's pretty much only a baseball and hockey fan, I can name probably four Bears players – but I'll gladly take the tradeoff. Sure, I'm left asking if players who retired nearly a decade ago still play for the team, but oh well.

The game is a drag for most of its runtime. The 49ers build a sizable lead and our attentions wane. Explaining why The Velvet Underground's “Rock and Roll” is great becomes more important than debating whether Bears quarterback Jay Cutler can earn his newly minted contract.

But then the fourth quarter rolls around and things get fun on the screen. Cutler starts picking apart the 49ers, touchdowns are scored, then the Bears take the lead precious seconds ticking down. My friends and I are shocked. How 'bout that? The clock expires and the Bears have officially come back from 17-0 and 20-7 deficits to win 28-20.

Not half bad all around.

Halfstack's September playlist refresh

Music is at the heart of September’s issue in Halfstack Magazine. To keep in line with this month’s theme, this week’s health and fitness article includes a compilation of songs to motivate you during and energize your workouts:

  • “Levels – Radio Edit” by Avicii
  • “How We Party – Original Mix” by R3hab, Vinai
  • “Bounce – Extended Mix – feat. Kelis” by Calvin Harris
  • “Echo – Original Mix” by BlasterJaxx
  • “Stay the Night – feat. Haylee Williams” by Zedd & Haylee Williams
  • “You Lift Me Up (Live City Remix)” by Mikey Wax
  • “Recess” by Skrillex
  • “One – Radio Edit” by Swedish House Mafia
  • “Up All Night” by Arty & Angel Taylor
  • “Animals” by Martin Garrix
  • “Million Voices – Radio Edit” by Otto Knows
  • “Calling (Lose My Mind) – Radio Edit” by Sebastian Ingrosso & Alesso
  • “Break Free” by Ariana Grande & Zedd
  • “Tell Me When You’re Ready” by Flo Rida & Future
  • “You Make Me” by Avicii
  • “Va Va Voom” – Nicki Minaj
  • “Blame” by Calvin Harris & John Newman

Listen to the full playlist on Spotify at “Halfstack’s September Playlist Refresh” by blohmann8. Jam on.

This Weekend at the Movies: September 19, 2014

The early part of the Fall Movie Season continues to look like a mixed bag in a good way, with movies of various genres opening this weekend. This isn't the comprehensive list, but within the four films previewed here, you're likely to find something that piques your interest.

Opening this weekend, September 19, 2014.

The Guest
Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Starring: Dan Stevens, Sheila Kelley, Maika Monroe

After last year's house invasion horror You're Next, writing-directing team Wingard and Barrett look to be taking the next step to mainstream thrillerdom. In their previous collaboration, they showed an ability to create an uncannily functional movie. Everything that happens is a result of character choices and motivations, and this functionality is something that is sadly missing from most movies these days.

Joining Wingard and Barrett is Dan Stevens, formerly of Downton Abbey, as a southern veteran from one of our country's recent wars visiting the family of his fallen friend. There appears to be more going on, some lies are told, and severe violence looks to rule the day.

20,000 Days on Earth
Directors: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
Writers: Nick Cave, Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
Starring: Nick Cave

“That wasn't the truth.” This is how the trailer for “documentary” 20,000 Days on Earth ends. It's not surprising that Austrailian singer-songwriter Nick Cave would say them. He's a famously slippery showman.

In this film, it appears Cave and collaborators Forsyth and Pollard want to do more than the typical question and answer documentary. There's an effort to include a vaguer sense of the truth, the kind you may be familiar with if you've ever seen a Werner Herzog documentary. Cave wants his audience to share an experience rather than simply hear his thoughts on aging, music, filmmaking, you name it. Those things will be elements, but he wants to put on a show, and he seems perfectly at home with the performative – some might say false – aspects of that impulse.

This is Where I Leave You
Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: Jonathan Tropper
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne

“A bunch of people known for their comedic chops join together to do something slightly more serious.” That would be my tagline and also why I wouldn't make it as a tagline writer in Hollywood. But it's true!

Bateman and Fey are two of the titans of the single-camera wave from the mid-2000s that revolutionized television comedy, making it more cinematic and arguably sharper and funnier. Driver (Girls, Frances Ha) is a major up-and-comer, rumored to be the villain of the new Star Wars trilogy – he's in it for sure, but his role has yet to be divulged. Byrne has been good in everything she's done for a decade or more. Fonda is a legend – anyone who has never seen Klute should remedy that now.

And they play a family dealing with the death of the patriarch. They stay in their childhood home for a week following the funeral and come to terms with it and their own problems. It could easily go off the rails into schmaltz, but the trailer gives some hope that the witty detachment of the leads will keep things grounded.

The Maze Runner
Director: Wes Ball
Writers: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin
Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper

Dystopian fiction tends to catch on with teens, and Hollywood has taken note. The success of The Hunger Games and Divergent series, both in print and onscreen, paved the way for more gray-tinted futurescapes in which young people die a lot for causes that aren't their own. The Maze Runner is the latest in this trend.

Holy moly that's bleak. But it also looks thrilling, with a better budget than the first Hunger Games, and some young actors looking to break out. It looks a bit Lord of the Flies, too, which connected with yours truly as a cranky 15-year-old.

Where's Jimmy?!

Written by: Thom Olson as featured in Halfstack's Fall Issue. Read the entire issue today HERE.

It’s Sunday afternoon and you are at Oak Street Beach. A beautiful blonde comes up and asks you “Where’s Jimmy?” and proceeds to hand you a light blue package. The color is somewhat similar to Tiffany’s iconic little gift boxes. Alas… Tiffany’s is not giving away free samples... though one can still hope.  It is, however, a small sample of a fruit bar. It’s marked vegan. Some might find that word marked on the package a little scary. You either try it or throw it in your travel tote for later. 

Later you happen to be on a mud run. Could it be that running in this madness is the result of a three-martini evening where you placed a bet and lost? Thus… you are running through an obstacle course doused in soggy wet dirt. Or, is this something you volunteered for because you find it “pleasant”? Anyhow, low and behold, you see that same blonde, who hands you another taste of something wrapped in the same blue wrapper.  Exhausted and hungry, you decide to give it a try.  You eat it. OMG, you actually like it.  You ask for another and get a taste of a second flavor. You wolf it down and are on your way. Did you just have your first vegan experience?

After a shower and cozying up with a very large bar of soap, you hop on down to the Whole Foods Grocery store to get something for dinner. Who do you run in to? Yup, you guessed it. Blondie hands you a sample but this time you ask for a couple of the real deal and buy them. You have just bought a Jimmy Bar.

Jimmy Bars are a fruit-based snack bar. Each bar has all natural ingredients. In a rare twist of food packaging, all the ingredients are featured prominently on the front of the package and not in micro type buried on the back. There isn’t anything listed that leaves a question mark in your mind like Maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup or some hydrogenated goo.  You can actually pronounce all the ingredients and see there is a shelf life on the package. It’s not like a Twinkie.  Yes, it is vegan, but that is less scary now. There isn’t a dairy component added to the product nor are there any lactose bi-products added. It is gluten free — not a lot of foods can say that, particularly in the snack bar category.  The funny thing is, though, it actually tastes good without any sugar added. The base of the bar is dates. There are 4 varieties: Chocolate Chip, Banana Muffin, Peanut Butter and Apple. With all that said why are you still intrigued? It was blonde right? Or was it the food? So, you start to do some investigating, as you need an answer to the question.

Who is the blonde?
You might have run into one of the two that man the helm of this healthy snack food ship. The very athletically handsome: Jimmy Simon, Co-Founder of Jimmy Bars OR his lovely niece Ciarra. Ciarra is the extremely cute, collegiate daughter of the other Co-Founder Annette Del Prete. The pieces start to fall in to place as you recognize it. Annette is one of the owners of Fillippo’s Restaurant in Lincoln Park. You probably have been going there for many years either before or after a movie. It’s a staple destination over on Clybourn St. It is kiddy corner from Webster Place Theater.

You recognize the blonde, as you have seen her many times at Fillippo’s, waiting on you. Both businesses are a family thing. This new nutrition bar sprang into existence out of the same kitchen as your homemade pasta dinner. It stands to reason and it is no wonder why it would taste good. The restaurant has been around for over 20 years making your favorite Chicken Valdostana. The restaurant was in the neighborhood before it was a neighborhood. They make their own pasta in house and after a plate of it I asked Annette, “What’s the story?”

A word about Annette… and full disclose here. We go way back. I was a waiter in the first restaurant she managed when she got out of college. Her name was Annette Simon. That’s how we first met. A few years later, I ran into her at Fillippo’s where she was engaged to Fillippo Del Prete. They have since got married and had two kids. Annette is very smart. She knows food and is fierce in business. She is also a serial entrepreneur. She has had four businesses including: the restaurant, a Mexican fast food shop, a wholesale bakery and now Jimmy Bars. Jimmy Simon is her brother and very much like her. He is also a serial entrepreneur. He has had six businesses including a very successful IT development company, an art gallery, a commercial realty business and two paper companies.  He chuckles at doing the same business twice but he said it was fun.

He has lived on both coasts and a couple spots in between before coming back to Chicago to do take on this new venture. They both readily admit to their dad having a lot to do with their self-made state of mind. He was a commodities trader but also an entrepreneur.  He instilled in them the mindset to blaze their own paths. He said there is no pension plan option; one has to build it on-their-own in order to ensure their future. Jimmy (who is very active and very healthy) asked Annette to join him in a new business venture. This time, though,  it would be a retail food item that would leverage her expertise. Her epicurean results are what is currently being sold in over 30 states and Canada. Jimmy Bars are also beginning to ship to the UK and Australia.  It has been a very meteoric rise. They started selling bars just a year and a half ago.

You can read the full article in the Fall Issue of Halfstack Magazine - To read click HERE

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Jason David Frank: It’s Still Morphin’ Time

In late August of 1993, America was introduced to five teenagers with attitude.  Using the power of the dinosaur, these five ordinary teens protected the world from the forces of evil and inspired a generation of viewers to believe that, even if they were ordinary, they could still accomplish extraordinary things.  They were the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.  It was during this time that 20-year-old Jason David Frank got his first taste of stardom.  Joining the series as Tommy Oliver, a young martial artist new to town, Jason quickly captured the imagination of viewers everywhere as he donned green and gold and battled the other rangers, having been put under an evil spell by the show’s antagonist, Rita Repulsa.  As the show progressed, Rita’s spell was broken, Tommy joined the other five rangers in the fight for good, and soon found himself leading the team.

It is now August of 2014 and Jason, now 40, has just arrived in Rosemont, Illinois for the annual Chicago Wizard World Comic Con Convention. Since his start with the Power Rangers 21 years prior, he has played five different rangers as Tommy Oliver and has made more appearances on the show than any other actor while the Power Rangers franchise has endured for over two decades and undergone multiple reincarnations, making it one of the most widely successful children’s television programs in history. Jason is also one of the most sought after celebrities at fan conventions like Comic Con.

We had the unique opportunity to sit down with “JDF” for just a few minutes and get inside the mind of the man behind arguably the most popular Power Ranger of all time.

We first asked Jason what keeps driving him to attend conventions like Wizard World all across the country year after year.  His response was quickly summed up with his two opening words.  “The fans,” he told us, followed by, “It’s the energy from people that keeps me going.”  “I really love what I’m doing,”  he continued.  “It has nothing to do with money.  I never wanted to make this like a job.”  This is evidenced by the fact that, since beginning his rounds on the convention circuit, he has never charged an appearance fee for his services.

After hearing this response to our opening question, we became quite curious as to how one man manages to balance his commitment to the fans with the other aspects of his life like his family, acting career, overseeing his own business, and hobbies which include skydiving, in which he holds a world record.  “That’s definitely hard,” he said.  His secret?  Time budgeting.  Practically every second of every day is accounted for before it even begins.  Through time budgeting, he is able to juggle appearances and running a business while still being allowed time to spend with his family, train, enjoy his hobbies, and still get some much needed leisure time.  He goes on to say, “You just have to strive to be the best you can and you just can’t ever give up.  People are here to see me.  I want to give them my positives and they want to take the positives.  I don’t want to give them my negatives.”  On top of this, Jason is always vigilant of the fans’ appreciation of his efforts.  “The more I see that, the more I want to work and when you see results you want to work harder.”

Switching gears, we began talking with Jason about the franchise that brought him world fame.  “Why do you think the Power Ranger franchise has reached the level of success that it has over 21 years and through multiple generations?” we inquired.  “Personally,” he begins, “my feelings are that it’s colorful, it has Karate, at one point it was like a soap opera (with a continuing storyline), and you can relate to certain characters.  I think the secret is that it’s never changed.  The Shell Monster still looks like the Shell Monster it did 20 years ago.  It’s branded really well for people.  The minute you start changing the brand, people start getting lost.”  He compared it to owning a Porsche.  “The body style never changes.”

Moving on, we asked Jason about his multiple appearances on various incarnations of Power Rangers and his involvement in the upcoming “Ranger War” taking place later this fall.  “It’s something to look forward to.  It’s going to be, I think, epic, but not enough.  I think you all are going to want more.”  He then hinted at a possible, but not yet certain green ranger spin-off sometime in the not-too-distant future.  “We’ll know very soon if that’s going to happen and, if it does, it’s going to be huge.”

With time running short, we had one more question for Jason.  Since we have both been Power Ranger fans since we were kids, we knew we had a unique opportunity to ask a question that has been on the minds of Ranger fans for years.  “Out of the five rangers you’ve played, we’re curious to know, does Jason David Frank have a favorite?” we asked.  “The good thing is there’s no wrong answer to that, because I was all five of them,” he said, “but the green ranger was the first time I was with the rangers, so it’s the one stuck in my head.”  With time now expired, we ended our line of questioning, thanked Jason for taking some time to speak with us, snapped a quick photo with our childhood hero, and bid farewell.

It is clear that “JDF” has no plans to slow down anytime in the near future.  His commitment and dedication to the fans who adore and admire him seems to be all the fuel he needs to stay focused on his goal of bringing joy to the fans whom he credits with bringing him the level of success he has attained.  Between all of his success and the pride he takes in giving back to the fans, it looks like his is a journey worthy of being called “morphenomenal.”

by Andrew Seisser & Justin Williams

A Q&A with M&M of Effortless Extensions

Most women dream about having long flow hair but can never achieve the long locks of their dreams. Whether their hair grows extremely slow or they have too much damage due to color processing and blow drying, sometimes growing out long hair can be really hard.  Yet, lucky for us ladies now a days there are a lot of options.

Whether you want to try to grow out your hair yourself and take vitamins and do conditioning treatments or some may prefer the quick and easy way by getting extensions. When it comes to extensions there are many different kinds out there to chose from. You can get extensions glued, sewn or clipped in. Sometimes those can all be a lot of maintenance or even damage your hair.  That is why Michelle Elizabeth created Effortless Extensions. These are extensions where all you have to do is slip on the extension. That is correct slip on, something totally easy and they come in a ton of different colors, styles and textures so that every women out there could wear them.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle and finding out all about Effortless Extension and starting up a new business.

1. Please explain what Effortless Extensions are? Effortless Extensions are the Ultimate Fashion Accessory!  EE is 100% Non-Damaging, go in and out in seconds and do not connect to the wearers hair At All!  

2. What made you want to start up Effortless Extension? I had damaged my hair after years of Processing, then, after getting a short haircut, I needed something easy and comfortable to use.  When I couldn't find what I wanted I made my own, the Effortless Extension.

3. What obstacles did you have to overcome when starting up your business? For us it was so many different processes, beginning with filing for patents. We had to learn as you go, I spent hundreds of hours researching, and after 10 years I still spend many hours every day continuing to learn.  Knowledge is a powerful tool, so is good social media and networking, a free source such as LinkedIn, Facebook, twitter, etc.

4. What advice can you provide to someone who has an idea or wants to start up their own business?  Make sure you research your consumer base, know your competition, does your product or idea fill a need or do a better job than what is on the market. More doors will Not open than will, be tenacious you can't make someone believe in your idea/product, if you don't!

5. What do you think makes Effortless Extensions stand out from other extensions out there in the industry?  We are the ONLY Patented hair extensions with this unique design!  We have been granted more than 30 Worldwide Patents and we pride ourselves with the Best customer service, Highest Quality materials and construction.

- Written by: Danielle Pulak - Beauty Editor