Thursday, August 10, 2017

Show and Tell: August 2017

Note: The bulk of the following article was written weeks ago before being sidelined. Recently there was a loss in our extended family due to a rather horrific accident. This event makes the following abundance of shiny baubles seem a bit less interesting and possibly even tasteless. That being said, I began this site with the intention of it being a fun place to look at different topics, and provide an escape from the stresses of the world, not to go on long winded speeches about loss or the meaning of life. As the recent tragedy effects the time available to work on posts, I'm finishing this one in order to keep the site updated for you fine folks while the family deals with the loss.

Way back when I was a wee lad, mail was an incredible novelty to me. Most kids get very little in the way of mail to begin with but once you factor in a lack of subscriptions, zero pen pals, and nearby relatives that offered up birthday and Christmas cards in person, I swear mail of my own was a yearly event at best. Maybe that could explain why nowadays I occasionally order too many items at once resulting in an embarrassing showcase of materialism or as I like to call it, Tuesday. All things considered, I'd say this makes a fine excuse to revive the long dormant show and tell feature.

In all fairness, such a monstrous bounty all at once was not planed. All these items had different origins be that long gestating pre-orders, late birthday gifts, or board game trades made in an attempt to downsize my collection. Universal law seems to dictate however, that if multiple packages are on route, all shall be delivered within the same day.

The Warlock Collection from Vestron Video collection is one of those items that seems too good to be true. The first film is an over the top mix of adventure, fantasy, comedy, and witchcraft which wormed it's way into my horror loving heart upon first viewing. Problem was the DVD was some hideous, fullscreen only abomination, a mistake I've waited years to see corrected. This set surpasses that meager dream by including the extra nutty second installment, along with a third I've yet to witness. As someone who tends to their horror collection as others would a rose garden, there was always a hole where these films should have been. Now that vacancy has been filled. Time to continue my efforts of convincing someone to release Pin, Split Second, Eyes of Laura Mars, and Full Circle.

Time Stories is one of the biggest titles from board game publisher Space Cowboys. They're one of very few companies to have actually earned brand loyalty from me. Given they're track record it's no surprise. From Favorites like Splendor and Black Fleet to innovative and frustrating titles like Unlock, and even fun shoot the shit games like Hit Z Road, these guys are responsible for some of my favorite board gaming memories. While this is a more complex title, there was no way I'd let one of their productions slip past. The added bonus of trading off two older titles means I'm maybe 1/49th of the way towards my goal of culling an overgrown game collection.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks was part of a duo of late birthday presents. I've heard mixed things about the book, including some complaints that it fails to properly mesh with the timeline of the series while potentially oversimplifying some of the key mysteries. Seeing as I'm no master of the franchise I didn't always catch the inconsistencies with established lore, though a couple still stuck out. What really struck me as unique is that I learned some honest to god real history from this collection of conspiracy theories and spooky stories. It's not unlike the old monster or UFO books I used to scare myself with as a kid, only with a sprinkling of legit educational value.

Then there's records, so many records. Disintegration comes curtsy of my sister as yet another belated gift. Barely had a chance to touch it yet though it oddly ties into current events as Lovesong is supposed to be a primary theme at the upcoming funeral. Certainly a coincidence though it's still strange how events tie together.
The other three LP's come from Collector's Choice Vinyl. One reason for the order was simply to try them out as they had some spiffy pricing and flat rate shipping which is a luxury when it comes to vinyl. The other reason is their exclusive variant of The Fly soundtrack. There is another mass market version but this green black mix was just too spiffy to ignore and at only 750 piece I made sure to jump on it as soon as possible. Part of my plan since getting into records is to enhance different times of the year and horror soundtracks will be a key element in to the Halloween season from now on, a practice that starts right here.
Also in the order are Neon Indian and Big Freedia, each of which are solid albums. So far, my record stash has become an invaluable relaxation tool with one downside. Like any new hobby, there's always that rush of excitement to catch up, meaning it's easy to go overboard. While I am of the opinion that money is better off spent, ya have to draw the line somewhere, which usually comes when you realize half a check went to LP's.

As noted above, I'm finishing this post during a week when nearly every conversation involves death which usually makes people think about their legacy or connections to others rather than mere objects. I've always been materialistic, yet looking at these items I see something more than just the newest acquisitions. Each of these helps to improve upon life, even if just a bit. Really that should be the goal of any purchase. Simply grabbing something because it's neat isn't enough. An item should add to our moods, minds, and relationships. True, these are all just objects, but they're also the tools I use to make life a bit better. And when mortality is the topic of the day, having something to improve our time here is pretty much priceless.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Korean Sentai: Power Rangers Dino Force Brave Episodes 1-6

It's hard to deny 2017 has been something of a rough year for Super Sentai. After Zyuohger managed to display some surprising depth with a solid conclusion, Kyuranger popped onto the scene and immediately started stinking up the joint to the point that I no longer have any interest in covering it. In fact, I recently checked in on the shows progress, and guess what? They've added even more characters to the already bloated cast. Luckily that show isn't the only avenue for fans to get their fix as there are theatrical films, video specials, and something wholly new, a Korean addition to the franchise. Let's see if the land of Kimchi can offer us some salvation from the woes of Lucky and his space goons.

First and foremost, Power Rangers Dino Force Brave is a sequel to Kyuryuger, a sentai season that proved to be highly popular in Korea. The Sentai franchise is called Power Rangers over there, and no I have zero clue what they call actual Power Rangers. However I feel it best to inform you all that I never watched Kyuryuger, so I can offer no real opinion on how this functions as a continuation. Even with some vague knowledge of that season I can only judge this on it's basic merits. To do that we'll have to cover a few production aspects that are odd to say the least.

When it was announced that this series would only be 12 episodes long I figured it was a sensible choice to maintain a low budget and not hold back the premier of the following series for too long. What wasn't made clear early on however is the running time for each episode without ads is about 12 minutes. When you take into account the standard length intros, outros, roll calls and transformation sequences there's maybe 9 minutes of legitimate content per episode.
That low running time per installment means every aspect of the show is very rushed or in some cases nonexistent. Characters are left mostly underdeveloped, fight scenes only get so complex, even some of the common tropes of the franchise are skipped over in favor of the running time. Take for example the monsters. Usually a monsters design designates it's tactics. For instance a spider might tie people up in webbing, a musical critter might attack with sound-waves, you get the picture. Generally the challenge within an episode is how the team learns to overcome said attacks. In this show, monsters may have those design elements yet no time is spent on showcasing unique fighting styles. So everybody simply has punches, kicks, a couple energy blasts, and maybe a sword if they're extra special.
Explain the arm pads then, ya dink.

Production wise the show is a mixed bag. There's a lot of on-location shooting which is nice as the sets all seem rather small and barren. The action sequences shift between quite adept to choppy and uninteresting. Most of the costumes are pretty solid though there is this odd thing where muscle pads are frequently visible. I've even noticed this with the girl and it's always goofy looking. Oh and then there's the robots which are decent looking when it's the standard guys in costumes footage. Then things switch to outdated CG which allows for more intricate choreography at the expense of looking like throw-up.

Let's call that enough on production and get to the story and characters. The story is as straightforward as it gets. Aliens are coming to destroy the Earth by harnessing the power of a giant robot dinosaur, naturally a group of youngsters is imbued with superpowers to strike back against the forces of evil. Our group of dogooders consists of:

Juyong/Brave Red like most red rangers gets more attention than the rest of the cast. Thankfully he fits into the nice guy mold of leaders. He's very upbeat and encouraging of his team, even admitting where they outperform him on the battlefield. Could they maybe launch this guy into space to take over for a certain lucky asshole?
Hyeonjun/Brave Black is your strong guy with a strong sense of justice and a good heart. That's pretty much it for him.
Sechang/Brave Blue is a pop star and supposed ladies man, though he seems far more interested in the smoothness of his skin, creepy.
Pureun/Brave Green is a spoiled rich boy in the midst of learning that money isn't everything. Oddly enough he's the best with guns.
Dohee/Brave Pink is an aspiring nurse and a fairly standard issue girl who does and likes girly things other than the color pink.
Juhyeok/Brave Gold is a later addition. Apparently the long lost brother of Juyong. He's generally standoffish and mysterious. He's a mercenary who works for the villains intially as he seems to have some issue with his brother.
Any job? Go on.

While it may sound like I'm picking this show apart, I'll be honest in that I sorta like it. Not a lot mind you as there are plentiful flaws, I haven't even gone into how awkward it is to have such obnoxiously pretty men in the team, especially during the ending credits dance. But even with everything wrong during these opening six episodes I found myself getting into the adventure. Nothing about the show is particularly deep or interesting. By design it can't be. There simply isn't enough time for deep storytelling or complicated character dynamics. One might even question what was the point of making all these new costumes and robots for so little airtime. The fact is that what is on display here is at least solid. The characters are two-dimensional but they're generally likable. Everything about the show is largely the same, undeveloped but structurally sound.

I can't call Dino Force Brave the saving grace of this years sentai offerings just yet. There's still a whole half of the series that could completely nosedive. For now I'm optimistic that given another shot with some more ambition, this Korean wing of the franchise could one day produce something really interesting. We'll check back with the second half soon.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

CosmicSparky's LP Stash.

Like most anybody from the first world, I began amassing music during my teens, late teens in this case. It wasn't the largest selection, primarily due to my notoriously picky nature, but boy was it ever solid. Of course poverty prevailed and one day those CD's were sold off to a nearby record store that at least had the good form to stroke my ego by praising the quality of my music selection. After that came years of lackluster downloads, and haphazard file organization. I began to miss the days when music was something to take a little pride in, so recently I wondered down the rabbit hole of getting into vinyl records. I'll tell ya, it's not a tough hobby to get started, albeit with a few potential pitfalls and some misinformation floating around. I figured it would be a fine time to start sharing some tips I've learned thus far and maybe start doing some coverage of the hobby as a recurring feature.

When I decided to look into a record collection, few things could have prepared me for the onslaught of crazy I was about to uncover. Turns out a good deal of record collectors are a truly nutty and superstitious lot. Of course like any other group there are some with more sensible outlooks. Still; there's an alarming amount of misinformation and half-truths floating around, seemingly in a sad attempt to keep the hobby feeling like an exclusive club.
Case in point, there are claims that inexpensive turntables will ruin your LP's. This is something of a half-truth. When it comes to those cheapo Crossley players I've heard legitimate, sensible explanations of how they could damage a disk. On the other hand, I've seen those same claims leveled at decent tables simply because they don't cost a months rent. Certainly it's a good idea to get as nice a player as possible but it's still totally possible to spend less than a hundred on a table and be just fine.
Even some positive reviews can make inaccurate claims. For instance, I eventually went with the Audio Technica LP60 as it is supposedly the overall best starter turntable. One favorable review of the item stated a flaw that the arm didn't automatically lift when done playing a side. As you might imagine I waited rather impatiently during my first time and guess what, the arm lifts and returns to it's rest every damn time, so why the misinformation?
Another of the big conflicts among record folk is colored vinyl. Many claim that colored vinyl has inferior sound compared to the standard black. However, I've yet to find anyone attempt an actual scientific test of this theory. Beyond that, the so-called proof of lower sound quality is a hiss, a phenomenon prevalent to all LP's due to varying amounts of static charge which can be taken care of by various means. As someone with a mix of black and colored releases, the most notable difference so far has been due to the audio master used for each release. Even on a single release, static hiss can change from one disk to another. My colored double LP of the Flower soundtrack has very noticeable static hiss on the first disc yet the second is as pure and wonderful as a purring kitten.
The biggest issue with all the different dramatic claims is the added difficulty in sussing out useful and trustworthy information. One area where there seems to be almost universal accuracy is the need for better record sleeves. Even with my fairly small collection I've already encountered several releases with god awful paper sleeves that leave bits of papery shit all over the LP. You can guess how happy the stylus is when it hits those leftovers during play. This is one area where you should totally listen to enthusiasts. A good number of them introduced me to Diskeeper Audiophile Sleeves and no joke, these things are incredible. They cut down on dust and static while making it easier to access all of my disks. A pack of 50 costs about as much as a new record but it's more than worth it.

So let's say that like me you want to get into nice physical music, but can't spend a ton. Let's look at what I picked up to give you an idea of a very basic set-up.
Turntable wise I bought the Audio Technica LP60, that companies entry level model. It's a solid piece of equipment all around, plays well, can handle two different LP sizes and speeds, plus a built in phono pre-amp which makes it crazy easy to hook up to speakers and start listening. There are a few issues however. The unit lacks a volume switch of any kind meaning you must rely solely on speakers with volume control. Also, it lacks most of the customizing options of higher end gear which means if you end up wanting something better you'll have to drop cash for a whole new machine. Honestly I'm enjoying the new hobby enough so far that I almost wished I'd opted for the next model up but this is still a good way to get started and it's easy to get for less than a hundred bucks.
Unless you're the sort who leaves sound equipment laying around, you'll need speakers. All we had in excess were some crazy cheap twelve dollar computer speakers which as you might imagine were horrid. Similar to the turntable I didn't want to destroy my bank account to get decent sound, especially since living conditions prevent complex set-ups and high volume. Thankfully I found out about Edifier. By all indications, these should be terrible. I mean we're talking about hundred dollar electronics straight outta China. After reading and viewing a stream of glowing reviews though I decided to give em a chance. Man have I ever been impressed. Once again, there's certainly a better option out there for someone with more room and cash but for a standard bedroom listener these offer surprising depth and clarity, and I haven't even begin to test the limits of their volume which is supposedly quite high.

Of course none of the means much without some tunes and that's where the real fun, and occasional frustration lie. Few hobbies offer such a wealth of content options from new releases, to rare special editions, and ancient thrift store finds. Yet even with that wealth of choice there's still some releases that will drive you crazy because of limited print runs, or finding out that one of your old favorites never hit the format. Then there's the harsh truth that albums with only two or three songs you love, simply aren't worth the effort. Vinyl is a format that promotes listening to the entire album, so be sure to get stuff that's at least 90% quality tracks.

If you're willing to go through all the work to get the equipment, some LP's, a spot to stash it all, then you get to have the real fun. I won't pretend this is a superior form of musical performance. Files are infinitely more portable and functional, not to mention a high level format like flac could potentially blow vinyl out of the water. That said, there's a comfort to the multiple step process it takes to turn on my gear, get out the Superfly soundtrack and relax. It makes listening to music an event again, and that was something I was really missing. I plan to extend that feeling into major events as well, playing horror movie soundtracks around Halloween or busting out holiday standards come Christmas Eve with the family.

And that's the newest hobby to worm its way into my bank account. I suppose that's the advantage of being a 30 odd year old without kids. I'm allowed to try new things. Plus it makes for a fine way to stay indoors and dodge the heat of summer. From here on out I'll occasionally post reviews on specialty labels, stores, accessories, and the like. Have any of you caught the record bug? Like to share any tips or info for a post? Drop a line.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Threadbare Mitten Film Festival 2016

Ample warning, dear readers. I've worked on this article in fits and spurts for a considerable amount of time, largely because I swear this word file may be cursed. No kidding! In the time I've worked on this article there have been power outages of anywhere from five seconds to over thirty hours, layoffs and rescheduling at work, animal madness, stock tables, and a monster I refer to as Tyrannosaurus Pigeon.
Anyhow, what I'm here to talk about is a new event called the Threadbare Mitten Film Festival that was held just last month in my little hamlet of Charlotte Michigan. Poor thing was saddled with me as the press, but I promised to report on it. This will be more of a disjointed personal take on the experience whereas a more professional take will be written up for Dread Central.

The festival was put together by the group behind last years Freakshow Film Festival in conjunction with the crew that put together the horror short The Third Day. Since I'd covered their previous efforts for Dread Central, I was invited to check out this new endeavor. I guess that counts as a disclaimer which is about as professional as it gets around here.

In all honesty I was fairly nervous walking into this situation. While I am a big film fan who owns enough titles to run my own video store, I find that by and large I don't get along with other film fans. That problem can be further exacerbated if those fans make their own content. Think of it along the lines of having the good sense to avoid musicians. Even if they can actually pipe out good music, it doesn't mean you want to listen to them wax poetically about it. Beyond that I've found that recent years have left me with less patience than ever for art house nonsense. Even so I gathered up my resolve and set out to witness the sights and sounds

The first night of the fest featured an opening party that I missed, followed by an opening selection of shorts and one nearly feature length film at Charlotte's own Eaton Theater. While waiting out front for the show to begin, I made sure to listen in on nearby conversations involving the different fans and filmmakers. Some I noted played the classic role of only touting the most obscure and duchy cinema, while others had only the most basic and disappointing appreciation for movies. Luckily I was introduced to one of the filmmakers, E. M. Spairow who seemed to have her head screwed on well enough. At the very least the poor girl was able to put up with my cynical ass. Talking to her as with any of the creators there came with a certain level of tension since there's always a chance of completely hating their film while they sit nearby. That's a matter for latter.

Anyhow the opening offered some literal jitters when the one and only bit of technical trouble reared its ugly head. For whatever reason, the first batch of short films would all start out fine before eventually bugging out and losing sync between the audio and video. It was the only such incident during the festival however and given that it was their very first showcase it's more than understandable. I've heard of some of the biggest film fests having worse issues even with years of experience. The nearly full film of that night was fine and the night ended decently enough with hugs from a drunken stranger.

The second day was held entirely at the Windwalker Antiques and Art gallery where further films were aired in themed blocks. Having never been to any film showcase at the location I was rather surprised at how decent their equipment was. Both the sound and audio were crisp and clear. Furthermore, this second day seemed to have a larger audience which I'd say is a good sign.

What about the flicks though? I mean this is a film fest, the main reason to check it out is the opportunity to see independent cinema. As a whole, there was a wide selection of genres on display, not to mention more films than I had time or patience for. Let's talk about some highs and lows from the blocks I was around for.

The Best:

Emory Wenden's Fantastical Autobiographical Museum
The grand prize winner was a surprisingly effective little faux-decumentry/drama that I already covered a couple weeks back. Seriously just scroll down if you want to learn more. I think this one has a future for itself,though I'd still like to see the director touch up the ending.

And the Earth Will be Lost to the Flames
Despite what the obnoxious title may have you thinking this was another effective faux-documentry, this time about a friendly neighborhood doomsday sign weaver. Instead of being some crazy old fart of middle aged hippie, the doomsdayer in question was actually a fairly attractive young woman, and a decent actress I might add. The plot has almost limitless potential in regards to whether her beliefs are true, false, and what could come of those outcomes. Sadly being a short means it just sort of peters out.

Girl Meets Roach
Usually I wouldn't take the time to praise what is in truth a pretty basic girl gets over her ex comedy, but after seeing far too much art house fluff it was refreshing to see somethings with characters, dialogue, and a plot. My praise would probably be higher if I were a bigger fan of the genre. It was a solid, if basic little flick.

Both Default and a prior short, Elephant in the Room made for somewhat tense viewing as I was sitting next to the writer/director E. M. Spairow. Both entries featured some of the usual issues associated with short, low-budget filming, but what really worked, and why I'm listing this one over her other entry is that there was such a unique concept here. This is another idea with huge potential. Honestly I could imagine this becoming some sort of over the top dystopian adventure or at least a very bizarre full length dark comedy.

The Worst:

Tyler is such a classic example of arthouse nonsense that if I didn't know any better, I'd swear it was a spoof of indie sensibilities. Absolutely everything, be that the irritating jazz fusion soundtrack, senseless dialogue, or the seemingly pointless story of a woman slowly turning into a gold statue seemed expertly designed to check off each box on the indie short checklist. It was a comfort that no one was sitting close enough to hear my alternating giggles and groans during this lump.

Fish was five of the longest minutes of my life. Imagine an extended sequence of elderly people making gross noises and struggling with the sink, only to wrap up with a sight gag that's visible from miles away. This one had me gripping the seat in the hopes that an old man would just die so I wouldn't have to listen to his coughing anymore. Probably not the sensation you want to create with your film.

The Ingress Tapes
A supposed horror film where a mumbly Brit describes a series of murders he commuted while grainy footage of buildings, train tracks, and reel to reel tape slowly air. You're liable to have a more thrilling time on the toilet.

There's one other flick I'd like to count among the low points of the festival but taking it on would require far more time than we have available right now.

As you can see there were some definite ups and downs to the quality of the films. That's not really the fault of the organizers however as they have to take in enough submissions to fill and fund the festival. And it's not like the terrible flicks don't make for a good story. Thankfully the good flicks were more than enough to make up for the occasional crap heaps.

As for what the organizers were responsible for I gotta say they did a pretty spiffy job. There was only the one instance of technical difficulties, and they were able to stay mostly on schedule with the entire festival maybe running an hour longer than originally planed.
There were plans for Q&A sessions with some of the filmmakers at a nearby coffee shop, though I've not sure if any such event took place. More of the filmmakers seemed to be at the first night events before going back to their own responsibilities the following day. Hopefully this idea can be put into action next year. Maybe a solid block of the festival's programming could be a sort of workshop where tricks of the trade could be shared.

Currently I have no official word about the festival's return, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the group return for another round. I say godspeed to them, it's not exactly easy to have to drive all the way out to the larger metros of Michigan to see some oddball cinema. Having the chance to see this sort of stuff locally is a treat. Plus it gives yet another outlet for up and coming storytellers to find an audience....or torment me with nasty old people noises. For anyone interested in learning more about the festival, you can follow the group at their website.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Lords of the Sith Review

As is usual around my birthday, I recently worked extra hard at wrapping up books, games, and the like in order to feel slightly more accomplished entering into a new age. This practice can be a saving grace for those items that simply took far too long to finish, stuff like Lords of the Sith, A.K.A. The subject of our latest Star Wars book review.
Honestly though, I bought this book back in April, hoping to cut a mad dash through it over an extended weekend. Instead I finished something like three other books in the time it took to work though this one. I suppose you can consider that a spoiler for the final score. Even so, let's take a look at what this novel has to offer.

Despite what the cover and title may lead you to believe, Lords of the Sith is hardly an in-depth look at the grim adventures of Darth Vader and the Emperor. Yes the pair does play a large part within the story but largely this is the tale of an early strike by a rebel cell lead by Cham Syndulla. If that name has you scratching your head as to who that is or why you should care, don't feel bad. Cham is a character that only exists within the expanded universe and only in small support roles at that, showing up a few times during The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. His greater role in the universe is as Hera Syndulla's father and an early figurehead of the rebellion. Think of him as Saw Gerrera but with morals.

So the story goes that Cham's rebel cell is working towards the freedom of planet Ryloth when the opportunity arises to take down not just the corrupt senator Orn Free Taa, but Emperor Palpatine and his evil lapdog Darth Vader as well. To strike at all three villains requires a multi-phase assault on a star destroyer followed by a manhunt through deadly jungle. Also in on the mission are Cham's underlings like his potential love-interest Isval, and a treacherous Imperial Colonel named Belkor Dray who seeks to rise through the ranks no matter what.

First let's talk about what works, and that's most of the primary elements of writing and story-structure. Moreso than even some of the best books in the franchise, the story here stays largely on task, naturally moving from one event to the next. Likewise author, Paul S. Kemp doesn't write anything out of character or out of tone with these events.

There is one odd stretch that largely revolves around Vader and the Emperor battling an army of giant killer bugs that is a little out of left-field. I won't be too harsh on this section however as it the source of some much needed action.

According to the about the author section, Paul S. Kemp is a Michigan boy like me, so I lodge my complaints in the knowledge that he's just a day trip away from kicking my ass. That being said, what makes Lords of the Sith one of the weakest novels I've reviewed thus far is that it is straight-up boring. This is thanks in large part to the subject matter. The events and characters in focus here just aren't interesting and there's nothing surprising. We all know the rebels aren't going to make a dent in the Empire, the villains will survive, Cham will continue to not really matter. And who gives a crap if treachery takes a mental toll on a Colonel we've never heard of before? The whole book is over three-hundred pages of dull events that don't matter.

It's pretty neat that a book that took so long to read doesn't take very long to tear down. I have to post this far down the rankings. It's not the worst written, or worst structured Star Wars novel out there but it is easily the dullest. Let's place it.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka
5. Ashoka by E.K. Johnston
6. Tarkin by James Luceno
7. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
8. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
9. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
10. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
11. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
12. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
13. Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp
14.Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
15.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

That's all for today kiddies. Stay tuned for those film festival reports I promised and a new feature coming soon. In the meantime I have to do responsible stuff like pay my bills and start investing. That's what us old people do.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Emory Wenden's Fantastical Autobiographical Museum Review

A lot has changed in the four years since creating this site. Friends have been gained and lost, finances have increased nicely, I've taken on several new hobbies, purchased my first vehicle. Possibly the weirdest of all to me is the occasions when my writing here or on other sites such as Dread Central (Can't believe I'm allowed to post stuff there) nabs me an opportunity to cover an event. Such was the case last weekend when I was invited to check out the Threadbare Mitten Film Festival. It's gonna take me a couple posts to cover the whole thing properly but today I want to simply cover the grand prize winner.

Emory Wenden's Fantastical Autobiographical Museum is not the sort of film I'd usually go in for. The title alone makes me want to bash my skull against a brick wall in rhythm to death metal in the hopes of casting out whatever hipster demon put those words together. I'll admit I began referring to it as Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium. The trailer, only deepened my worries that it was geared toward the Wes Anderson crowed which made me shudder. Even so, the festival organizers assured me I should check it out, which did little to clear my fears as these folks are much easier on films than I am. Imagine my surprise then when this movie I was mostly dreading that aired at a goofy time on a Saturday afternoon in the back of an art gallery I generally avoid like the plague turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

The basic storyline is one that's fairly unique. A filmmaker receives mysterious packages in the mail intended for his apartment's previous tenant. Eventually the guy and his cameramen travel to meet the sender, a man named Emory Wenden who has converted his childhood home into a museum in which to better understand his life. The vast majority of this takes place in one long take as Emory guides the filmmakers from one room to another, each representing another element of life.

I was largely surprised at how well the film worked. A good deal of this is on the shoulders director/writer/star Devin Cameron whose performance as Emory proves to be pretty endearing. He's an odd character, but one you can't help but root for. He's a proper mix of eccentric yet nonthreatening. All the better is that during his long-winded theories about life and love, he frequently seems on the edge of bursting into tears, adding just the right amount of emotion to the proceedings.

As you can probably guess, this is a difficult movie to discuss in normal terms as it lacks both a traditional narrative, and normal scene structure. It almost comes across as the world's most elaborate vlog, a style that works for and against the movie at different times. Some sequences like the room of love are terrific and speak to the audience as a whole, while others like Emroy going on about philosophy and science on the front lawn come across as meandering and overdone. Sadly with the nature of a one shot film, these scenes can hardly be edited down or else the interplay between everything would be lost.

Before I get to my biggest gripe with the movie, I want to note I think it has some real potential to grow and find an audience. As I made painfully clear earlier, this is the sort of movie I usually roll my eyes at and ignore yet even I found an entertaining and worthwhile time to be had here. I've known others who would be far more open to this thing from the start and would likely embrace it as a little cult gem.

But what about that issue I mentioned? It's something I feel truly damages the film as a whole and could be holding it back from reaching greater acceptance. Near the end of the film, Emory takes the film crew down to his basement for the last few exhibits of his museum. First is a physical representation of his heart, a very touching if somewhat on the nose scene. Next is one of those bits that doesn't work as well, when we're treated to a mathematical equation for life. This bit drags on for two long and pales in comparison to the heart. Finally there's a small model of the house with mirrors around it representing an infinite universe of possibilities. This is where the emotional breakdown we've expected through the entire film finally happens, and since Emory is a likable guy it works, but that's it. Movie's over, with one of the most abrupt endings I've seen in some time.
Now don't get me wrong. An ambiguous and inconclusive ending to this sort of picture is probably more realistic, but that doesn't mean it's appropriate. If this were a more cold and sad story than I'd say sure, go with the sudden ending. Fact is, this is a mostly warm and fuzzy film so wrapping in such a fashion simply leaves a bad taste behind. Not to mention the story begins with a framing bit by the filmmakers which isn't resolved. So not only do we not know what becomes of Emory himself, we're left wondering how this experience effected the two men filming it. A story like this needs a proper conclusion, be it happy or sad in order to properly satisfy the viewer.
Luckily the director has a perfect opportunity to add on to this foundation. All he needs to do is get the band back together and finish the framing device. Maybe have the film crew try to reconnect with Emory months or years later. Maybe they succeed and find him living a happy existence. Perhaps Emory disappears Bid Time Return style. Maybe he never finds an answer to his problems but decides to keep living. Point is, there needs to be an actual conclusion, not just an ending.

I actually had the chance to speak with the director the night before the showing, though I neglected to take the opportunity. Partly because at the time I was dreading the film, but mainly because he was usually in a conversation to begin with and my mother raised me not to butt in. Even then I likely wouldn't have had much to say having not yet viewed the film though now I'd certainly like to ask a few tidbits about production and of course the sudden onset ending.

From the selection of films I saw over the weekend, I can see why the organizers awarded the grand prize to this. It's a rare treat of an indie flick that isn't totally buried up it's own ass with self importance and I could really see it gaining traction with folks less cold-hearted and judgmental than I. If you hear about it showing at a festival anywhere near you I'd suggest taking a peak.

I'll talk about the festival in more detail in an upcoming post, including some bits from a filmmaker I took the time to talk with. I'll also be writing up another post on the festivals horror offerings for Dread Central, I'll let you all know when that's finished. Right now I gotta re-edit and post this thing so my ass can get some sleep.

Friday, June 16, 2017

CosmicSparky Bar Tips. Start-up and Bauchant Review

Here's a little history lesson about yours truly. One day when I was say four or five years old, my father was tasked with watching us kids. Upon my asking for something to drink he gave me some “juice” and oh what “juice” it was. As the night wore on I asked for further refiles of the divine liquid which filled me with an energy I'd never known before sending me into a sleep fit for a grizzly bear. Upon further investigation, dad realized he'd been supplying me with wine coolers all night. Whoops.

From those humble beginnings as a tot I steadily grew my love for booze. Early on it was samples of my brothers wine or Guinness (a beer I loved then yet can't abide now), later it was whatever I could get my mitts on. Upon reaching legal drinking age I blossomed into a full scale beer connoisseur, taking in everything in sight be it import, craft, or Milwaukee swill. There was always a dream to one day have my own stocked bar at home, fit with all the fine liquor a man could ever need. I achieved that dream over a year ago and now I think it's time to start sharing some tips and reviews with you fine people in a new feature for the site.

My first tip about having your own bar is don't freak out about the equipment. Much as drink snobs will demand you only serve certain drinks in an exact glass type, or only shake instead of stir, let's be real. Even if you have the right glass type, it may be dirty, same for your shaker. Not to mention that a glass can't save bad booze, or ruin the good stuff. I advise you just acquire your drinkware slowly. More than anything I recommend buying gift sets when possible. Not only do they cost the same as the booze would anyway, but before you know it you'll be swimming in glasses. I also advise investing in a jigger as shot glasses don't have consistent sizes outside of certain geographical areas.

Secondly the two anchors of your stash should be a good vodka and some decent gin. Both are incredibly versatile, functioning in anything from simple mixed drinks to more complex cocktails which means there's always a use for them. More importantly, you don't necessarily have to break the bank to get a decent bottle. Granted there's tons of them out there but since we're not reviewing them today let's just throw out some quick tips for shopping. If you're looking for vodka and have no clue what you want, try to aim for something Polish, preferably distilled from potatoes. Overall these are smooth, and easy to blend with whatever drink you have in mind and can be gotten fairly cheap. With gin it's best to go English, as a nice London Dry can work wonders even within the twenty to thirty dollar range.

One of the most oddly difficult challenges you'll face when stocking the bar is Rum. By and large, rum drinks are way too complicated, which is made worse by the existence of multiple styles such as white, dark, spiced, and even flavored brands like Malibu. If you feel like you must have one to start with, I'd suggest a white as they usually have more versatility than their darker counterparts. Of course if you simply want to pound it down with Coke, then by all means get something spiced.

My last tip for today which will lead into our review is about the difference between Triple Sec and Curacao.. I won't give you a full lowdown on the difference between the drinks, there are far more knowledgeable folk out there to keep that straight. Most bartending guides will rightly tell you to have some form of orange liqueur on hand as the sheer amount of drinks utilizing them is staggering. Problem is the vast array of brands with significant differences in quality means you can easily lose your mind and overstock the bar with variations of these staples. Often folks will make opt to just get one of the more pricey varieties with either Grand Mariner, or Cointreau, but I'm here to tell you there's a better, less costly option out there. Let me tell you about Bauchant.

Bauchant Orange Liqueur is an orange and honey cognac form France. It's 80 proof (that's 40% alcohol), and unlike it's more popular brethren can be purchased in the twenty to thirty dollar range. Most importantly, it is an outstandingly smooth drink that can blend with nearly everything, helping to remove the need for multiple orange fluids.

I'd never seen the stuff until it recently began to creep into nearby stores and the owner of one such establishment who comes across as some kind of rat pack reject recommended it. His guidance doesn't always lead somewhere good but in this case he was on the ball.
The smell, flavor, and even the color of Bauchant is properly balanced to function in drinks that demand Curacao or Triple Sec. It's also great to play around with recipes in the winter as the honey and cognac give it a slight warming effect.

Honestly I can't praise Bauchant enough. There's a chance of better orange liquors existing on the market, lord knows I wouldn't mind getting the similarly priced Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao. That being said, There's such a fine balancing act of flavor, quality, and budget at play here that I can't imagine a proper bar without it.  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Uchu Sentai Kyuranger Episodes 13-17

Much has been made over the years of that old cliché about teaching a man to fish versus simply giving him the aforementioned fish. The notion is that teaching someone how to accomplish something will lead to a certain level of self-reliance, but in practice this isn't always true. Think of the number of times you've taught elderly family members how to use new gadgets only to have them purge the information over and over again. Even individually we can completely lack the ability to cement certain process or skills in our minds. This foible isn't solely reserved for individuals, just look at Kyuranger for instance. Much like grandma and her DVR, it should have all the skills and knowledge to put on a decent show, yet it fails time after time. I think the missing element is understanding. Sure, Kyuranger has everything it needs to be a fine Super Sentai, but it has no understanding of how to use any of it's elements.

Let's talk about Kotaro, the sky blue ranger who gained his powers just a couple weeks before episode 13, yet at the end of that tale he's sent off to a training camp. Imagine that as a writer you plot out a multi-episode arc to introduce, and empower the 11th member of this team only to almost immediately sideline him. What was the point of even introducing the kid if he's going to spend the next chunk of the series isolated from the group? Kotaro's not the only ranger that will be pushed aside in this article, but that comes later.

That same episode also fails to understand the notion of threat and circumstance. Early on, Hammy is turned into a zombie, causing the team to wonder what best to do with her. Does this virus spread through the team? Maybe turn half the crew into zombies? Nah, about a minute and a half later she's cured and all is well. As for the rest of that episode, I'm not even sure what the point was aside from some forced bonding between Kotaro and Stinger.

The following episode failed to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each character in relation to the missions they undertake. The team was forced to split up, sending one group to infiltrate a prison while the other entertains the warden. One might think this a good time to use Balance and Naga's skills as thieves, or Hammy's ninja training to bust into the prison, yet they're placed on the distraction team so the lucky guy and the cook can bust out the prisoners. Not that it matters as all of these characters we're secondary to a string of flat comedy and a cross dressing dog man.

Episode 15 illustrated a lack of understanding towards character flaws and basic moral lessons. Naga's primary struggle through the series has been in his attempts to understand emotion, the way the writers illustrate that struggle here is by having him suddenly go native on another world for no reason. Seemingly they just forgot he's only supposed to be confused by emotions, not everything else.
Within that same story, the team works on making a girl less shy by convincing her to tell her tribe they're worshiping a monster as a false savior. The Kyuranger's themselves could just as easily beaten the monster down in front of the elders, yet for whatever reason they feel the need to fix some girl since she has the audacity to be shy. They're not even helping with a truly notable childhood problem like a learning disability, they're just badgering a girl for being standoffish.

Episode 16 is that sort of thing that should serve as some kind of cornerstone for a series. It's filled with the kind of developments that can make or break a series by altering character relationships, and increasing the threat level. Of course the writer rush through all of these developments in 20-minutes instead of allowing anything to progress naturally.
After part 13, Stinger and Champ headed off together in search of Sting's brother Scorpio who's the new evil boss of Earth. Turns out this evil bro was also the one who killed Champ's creator and Stinger knew this the whole time, only neglecting to mention it for the sake of drama. Anyhow, the pair splits from the team and we occasionally witness brief bits of their adventure before finally reaching their goal.
Over the course of 20 minutes, the twosome meets and fights with Scorpio, who then reveals himself to be spying on the evil organization Jark Matter from within, Scorpio has some bonding moments with stinger, gets the teams plans to rebuild a legendary battleship, reveals that he's not a spy and turns against Stinger, adds in that he's also going to take over Jark Matter and be the ultimate villain, Stinger can't deal because he's a total pushover, tells Scorpio he might as well kill him, and Champ takes the hit and ends up destroyed, but that's all right cause Stinger's just going to take him back to HQ to get repairs.
Any one of those plot points could have been interesting had they been given time to properly develop. Having each one of them tossed at us in a row accomplishes nothing short of whiplash. Even Champ's destruction fails to resonate since we know fully well he'll be rebuilt, and there was never much of a connection to the character to begin with since at best he got about two lines of dialogue per episode.
On the matter of rangers being intermediately shipped off, there's a problem. It's a passable way of balancing out the vast array of characters, though not unlike the team selection process it's a double edged sword. I mean it's not much of a big deal if Champ or Kotaro get sent packing for a few weeks, but what about when one of the few decent characters has to take a hike? This show's flabby enough without people like Naga or Balance to provide some actual entertainment. Plus I'm well aware we'll never get rid of Lucky in such a fashion, seemingly because we don't deserve good things.

Alright, so episode 17.....well this one was almost good actually. For the first time since this series began it felt like I was actually watching Super Sentai. The focus was on Garou and Balance and mostly stayed on their relationship. The monster was sort of memorable for a change. Of course Lucky got a new upgrade, but even that didn't completely overshadow everything else. My lord there was even some comedy that worked for once.
While I admit this one was ok, it's nowhere near enough to course correct this show. For most other season, this would rank as a fairly forgettable adventure, it's just that so much of this show has been lame that even a slight step in the right direction feels miraculous.

So I've made a decision in regards to Sentai coverage for this site. I will continue offer up recaps and reviews of Super Sentai material but from now on I'll be looking at other series, films, individual stand-out episodes, perhaps even that new Korean spin-off. Kyuranger on the other hand is not something I'm interested in viewing any further. I may pop in a and check on it at a later date but for now there's more than enough material to talk about until a hopefully better show comes along.
What about you fine readers out there? Are there any particular facets of the franchise you'd like me to take a look at? Would you prefer I continues torturing myself with Kyuranger? Any recommendations from the readership are always appreciated so drop a comment.

That's all for today, kiddos. I've gotta be responsible and clean the house before work. Keep your peepers open for some new features starting up soon, hopefully this week. Stay cool.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Guardians of the Whills Review

Last night I had the displeasure of attending a high-school graduation ceremony. Gotta say, it's been quite a while since I've endured such a perfect storm of pomp, empty platitudes, bad music, painfully contradictory life advice, and weak analogies. Still, I suppose it's worth putting up with to see one of your own move ahead into something new, much the same way Star Wars moved onto something greater with the release of it's first side-story film last December. How's that for a lousy analogy?

A common complaint against Rogue One was that the cast of characters were underdeveloped. I found it odd for people to point this out as if it were a new phenomenon within this franchise. Admittedly this particular film did have quite the sizable cast squeezed into one movie, which leaves the heavy lifting of further character development in the hands of expanded universe novels. Today we'll be taking a look at one such novel with author Greg Rucka's Guardians of the Whills.

Guardians is a very short, young adult novel focused on Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus. Formerly guardians of the Jedi temple in the holy city of Jedha, the pair now spend their days protecting their fellow citizens from the hardships of imperial occupation. However the two begin to question whether their efforts are honestly making life better for anyone, yet they lack the power to accomplish much else until a rebel fanatic named Saw Gerrera reaches out to them.

The story plays a fairly subtle game in regards to revealing it's true narrative. Early on I feared that it would meander like far too many of the books we've covered thus far. Thankfully once the primary conflict revealed itself, I found it'd been in place the whole time. Likewise the flow of events felt very natural, never too rushed or forced. For that reason alone I feel it's best to not reveal too much, as the steady flow of events really helps to push the book along, making for a fun read.

Author Greg Rucka has previously proven himself able to properly capture the voices of characters from the screen, his portrayal of Leia in Before the Awakening being the prime example. He puts that skill to great use here, especially when it comes to Chirrut. It's so easy to imagine the dialogue and mannerisms here being delivered by Donnie Yen that it's an absolute treat to read.
That strong use of character voice is all the more important when you consider that this is one of the most talkative books in the franchise so far. Like many young adult books, descriptions of environments are kept light and sparse, leaving those pages to be filled with back and forth bickering. It's good stuff too. The friendship between these two aging heroes feels natural and comfortable, like there's a truly immense shared history between them.

The universe building here is slight yet intriguing all the same. We don't get a ton of information on our leads pasts, leaving room I'm sure for another novel someday. What we do get however is a good look at their life shortly before joining Jyn Erso's mission in the film. Along with that slice of life are glimpses into daily activity in the holy city along with hints of the different religions that worship the force. Peppered throughout the book are various prayers and poems from these sects, including a Sith prayer of all things. I'm continually pleased to see that there's more to faith in this universe than those stuck-up Jedi.

Honestly, I'm having a tough time finding things to criticize here, as Guardians made for such a pleasant surprise. Possibly the biggest flaw is also one of it's largest strengths, which is how streamlined and simple it all is. Unlike Thrawn or Twilight Company, this one doesn't go off on large tangents that add little outside of a page count. At the same time, I would have liked a little more detail on different topics. Still, that's a difficult balance to strike and I think this one accomplished it better than most.

The absolute biggest compliment I can give this book is that it really does accomplish the mission of adding value to what we've seen these characters do on screen. The extra depth given to this friendship, and each individuals outlooks on faith and the universe make their big moments within the film all the more meaningful and compelling.

I'm gonna have to give Guardians of the Whills a huge recommendation. I actually took the opportunity to read this in one day, and all the way through I knew it was easily top five material. Frankly it was good enough that it's casting a shadow over the title I'm currently reading. Don't let it's small size or young adult banner get in the way of reading this one, as it is easily one of the most enjoyable entries in the new continuity

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka
5. Ashoka by E.K. Johnston
6. Tarkin by James Luceno
7. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
8. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
9. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
10. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
11. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
12. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
13.Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
14.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

Before I head out, got a few small announcements to make. There will be some new types of articles and changes to some long standing features coming this month. Recently I've felt like I'm finally getting on top of things so June is going to mark the point of kicking this year in the ass. So stay tuned for some new goodies, along with some work for another site, and of course more Star Wars and lackluster analogies.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Star Wars Smuggler's Bounty May Unboxing: A New Hope 40th Anniversary

Anniversaries are a hell of a thing. They're an understandable achievement when it comes to something like marriage or the continuing existence of a business because it takes work to keep such a venture going for so long. With items like art, an anniversary doesn't seem quite as notable. I mean let's face it, the original Star Wars would still be turning 40 this year regardless of whether or not it spawned a massive franchise. Even so, May marked the four decade mark for A New Hope and Smuggler's Bounty themed itself in kind.
If luck or or decent shipping had been with me, this unboxing would have been written up last week, but alas a combination of DHL and USPS sluggishness held back delivery until a mere hour before work on Thursday afternoon. This gave me just enough time to check on what it is I spend my duckets on before heading out to deal with the world. Was I lucky enough to nab something extra special? Let's dive in and see.

I took this month's photos in front of our entertainment center to give some sense of the massive scale of this box. This thing is huge! A cardboard titan that fuels the imagination as to what treasure could be housed inside. On top of that, is the illustration of Leia, promising the potential of an item commemorating the space princess lost to us back in December. Clearly there was some real potential within this crate, so what's inside?

As always, the standard issue patch and pin come first. Usually I have very little to say on this front but there's no way I can resist pointing out how lame this patch is. It's supposed to be Luke in his X-Wing flight gear but it looks more like some derpy kid dressed up for fun. You know what I'm talking about, your neighbors cousin who would show up every couple of months and couldn't take the hint that you didn't want to entertain him. Now that your mind is swimming with awkward childhood memories, I can at least say the pin is a decent, albeit fairly standard looking Chewbacca.

As always, I tried to blindly pull items from the box in order to sustain the mystery and surprise for as long as possible. Such an attempt proved challenging this time as one giant item dominated over the others. I figured this was the Pop that had already been spoiled to me by advertisements. I'd have to forgo my usual ritual to get this thing out of the way so I flung open the box, and that's when things took a turn for the bleak.

Let's talk about that Pop first. Continuing a theme from the previous Empire Strikes Back box, we're treated to another deluxe Pop. This time it's Luke in his landspeeder. No complaints here as this is a nice item. The paint, detail, sculpt, and size make for a winning collectible. Plus it continues a potential series of deluxe items for the main characters. Most likely, I would have been more thrilled with the item had it not already been spoiled. Still an awesome exclusive all the same.

The rest of the box is where the problem lies. First up is a Pop Home item, Han Solo and Greedo salt and pepper shakers. Now I've previously defended the inclusion of Pop Home Mugs as they have a variety of potential applications be that a drinking vessel, food bowl, or pot for small plants. Salt and pepper shakers on the other hand only have one function and who in this day and age even uses these things when proper pepper grinders are readily available? These were practically designed to show up at yard sales within the next few years.

Next was a little package that I first thought might be a wallet or something similar. Nope, sweat bands......honest to god, fucking sweat bands. Talk about a gross miscalculation of what costumers want from a Funko box. People subscribe to these services because they're into collectibles that can be displayed in some form or fashion. Items like Pops and Dorbz are easy to show off, t-shirts can be kept, hung, worn and still kept moderately fresh, or even turned into a damn quilt down the line. Even those salt and pepper shakers can be showcased in some way. Sweat Bands have no worth as a collectible and they're only purpose as an article of clothing is to become smelly and disgusting before being tossed in the garbage.

So what else was on tap in this massive anniversary box? Nothing at all. What's worse is looking at the outside of the box we were teased with the potential for a Princess Leia item even though she's nowhere to be found. Every single Funko box I've received thus far always includes the character on the box, even if they're just on the shirt. So why hint at Leia, only to leave a surprising amount of empty space inside? There isn't even the usual information sheet about this months items. Just one great Pop and a some junk.

I try to give Funko a boost whenever I can. By and large I like the company and their products. I've largely enjoyed they're subscription boxes as even the weaker offerings tend to have enough quality to make up for any misgivings. I just can't give them a pass here though. This was a poor offering to begin with, made even worse by failing to live up to the potential of the theme.
On a personal note, I'd already been planing to cut off my subscription in the hope of using that money elsewhere (and saving shelf space) so I really hoped to go out on a good note. Instead I'm leaving with a bitter aftertaste. I can only hope that whenever they decide to make a Return of the Jedi box, someone will have the good sense to make a deluxe Pop of Leia on her speederbike to accompany the two guys.

That's all for this month's unboxing folks. Over the Summer I'm planing to try out a couple different services that have caught my eye. Later in the year, I'm actually thinking of trying out Funko's Disney box as there are plans for a Haunted Forest box. For now though I offer the advice to anyone interested in Funko subscriptions that Smuggler's Bounty still fails to be as solid or consistent as the Marvel and DC options. Now you'll have to excuse me, I've got about ten things to do in the three hours before work. Tah.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Canadian Snack Food Part 1

If nothing else, I can say that 2017 has thus far been a year for changes. Most of those have been cosmetic mind you, new carpet, slightly altered work schedules, while others are major shifts like a niece moving away. There's been just enough goings on to make it hard to stay on top of everything and that level of activity requires fuel, so praise be that my sister was kind enough to bring back some snacks from a day trip to the great white north.

Honestly, saying “some snacks” is more than a little deceptive as she brought home a massive haul of goodies for gorging. So much so that even a couple weeks later, I still haven't tried everything. So without further ado, let's dive into part one of the great Canadian junk food sampler.

Doritos Ketchup, Intense Pickle, and Zesty Cheese.

Above all else, I informed my sister that she could gain proper sibling of the year cred if she brought back the three main Canadian varieties of Doritos chips. Given my usual luck I assumed one flavor would go missing in the shuffle, but for once in life I got to have it all, and am largely pleased with the results.
Ketchup chips, despite being a mainstay of Canadian foodstuffs, can still be a bit of a tough sell in the U.S. I've always found them to be delightful but as many like to remind me, my tastes are somewhat abnormal. While a good ketchup potato chip is always a fine snack, these Doritos provide an extra kick. There's so much ketchup flavor at work here, it absolutely coats your mouth, nearly eliminating any moisture within. Suffice to say I was in love from bite one. Sadly these are a limited time item which means it may be quite some time before I can recapture the joy of this little baggie.
Intense Pickle somehow worked it's way into being a full time flavor while failing somewhat to live up to it's name. Oh it's intense, that can't be denied, but not so much with pickle flavor as with vinegar. I can eat a few at a time but these aren't something I'm eager to revisit.
Then there's Zesty Cheese which has the side-effect of reminding me of Trailer Park Boys as the bag really does look like Zesty Mordant (that's Zesty Zesty if you wanna know). After getting over the giggles I dug in to find one of the best Doritos varieties of all time. The flavor here is meant to evoke cheeses like parmesan or romano, and my god are they ever delicious. What's more the flavor only seemed to improve in the following days. It's as if the rode to staleness actually ripens these babies. From now on, any trip up north necessitates a few bags of these little wonders.

Hickory Stick

A frequently touted heavyweight of the northern snack scene, Hickory Stick are seasoned Julianne style potato crisps. If I recall correctly, attempts were made to bring these stateside though I can't imagine how they would have failed. While these seem more greasy than regular potato chips, the seasoning gives em a wealth of flavor, bordering on barbecue with hints of herbs. More than that, the shape demands more attention so one doesn't accidentally shove potato up a nostril. No mindless snacking here. This is a potato snack of sophistication. Very recommended

Hawkins Cheezies

While studying for my shopping list, I found Hawkins Cheezies to be spoken as something akin to a religious experience. These were touted as more than a simple cheese snack, but a way of life. As a man well versed in cheesy goodies I was more than a little skeptical. After all, there's a large quality gap between some run of the mill cheese puff compared with a Better Made Cheese Ball. With Hawkins however, I found something wholly separate from the usual suspects. Upon opening the bag I was assaulted by a dank, foot-like smell, as if someone had hidden a nice chunk of legit cheese in the bag. The flavor followed suit. Indeed, Hawkins taste nothing like the usual Cheeto, Herr's, or whatever brand you call friend. No, these taste like real deal cheese. I'm marking these as a rite of passage for any snack maniac out there.

Crush Cream Soda

Going by the name alone you might not think much of this item, but think about it, have you ever seen Crush Cream Soda? Chances are slim as the company for one reason or another only produces this variety for Canada. Perhaps there's some sort of trade-off however as my sister said she saw no evidence of Strawberry Crush up there. If that is indeed the case then I'd say we got the better end of the deal. Don't get me wrong, this is a pretty solid soda. With it's bright pink coloration and cotton candy leaning flavor, I'd place it above several other mass produced cream drinks. At the same time, even a passable Strawberry sodas are too few and far between to pass up for an OK cream. Let us hope then that her observation was merely a stroke of bad luck.

Firework Oreo (Christie)

Before anybody starts stomping and raving that Firework Oreo are readily available in the U.S. Take note that in Canada, everyone's favorite cookie is produced by a company called Christie, utilizing a slightly different recipe. Having had both versions of this special Oreo I'm not sure I can claim a hands down winner. On one hand I preferred the Christie take on the actual cookie, while I'm fairly sure I prefer the Nabisco take on the cream. Perhaps a team up is in order to produce the perfect take on this classic treat.
As for the actual firework portion of these cookies, it's an alright gimmick, albeit one that doesn't really add much. The taste is pretty much the same, and if you eat too fast, then your saliva won't even break through the cream to activate the popping candy. This is one area where the Canadian version has the upper hand as their cookies allow for better milk absorption, which in turn equals more popping,

That's all the snacks I can report on for now. Gotta get some sleep before work after all. Look for more on my snacking smorgasbord soon, and something else most likely by this weekend. Stay cool.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Thrawn Review

Long ago, when I was but a wee lad spending my nights in the upstairs front bedroom of our old family home, I would occasionally pass the time perusing the built in bookshelf. Seeing as I'd yet to learn how to read, I generally admired cover art and tried to discern the plot lines of the many titles then beyond my reach. One of my favorite pieces to stare at was the cover of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, a title I'd later learn was a high water mark for the old Expanded Star Wars universe. Two elements of that old book cover left me wondering what happened within those pages, one was some old guy with light shooting out of his fingers, the other was a blue skinned man, who I later learned was a fan favorite named Thrawn.
Seeing as I never indulged in Zahn's previous work, imagine my excitement when it was announced that along with Thrawn appearing in the Rebels TV series, Zahn would also write a novel establishing the characters history within the new continuity. Not having gotten to that series yet, this was finally my chance to see what makes this character so special. There was no waiting for a good ebay price on this one, no sir, I nabbed this up quickly, actually interrupting progress on another book. Was it worthy of such excitement? Let's find out.

Despite what the title may lead you to believe, Thrawn is actually a tale of three individuals. One of is obviously blue boy himself, but equal time is spent with young Imperial recruit Eli Vanto. Another large chunk of attention is spent on young bureaucrat Arihnda Pryce. It is through these personalities that the reader is treated to a very cold and calculating look at life in service of the empire, and all of the twisted decisions that come with climbing to a position of power.

It all begins with a group of imperial officers investigating the camp of an unknown alien, only to suffer repeated raids by the being in question. At the forefront of this investigation is cadet Eli Vanto whose knowledge of fringe space gives him a measure of understanding towards what they're facing. Eventually the alien is taken into custody and brought before the Emperor. During this meeting an agreement is made that Thrawn will serve the Empire and educate the Emperor on the dangers lurking withing unknown space. In return, the Empire will aid in the protection of Thrawn's people, the Chiss, from such threats.

From there on it's off to the academy where Thrawn can learn the finer details of Imperial military service alongside Cadet Vanto who is kept nearby as an aid and translator. This relationship is at the heart of the whole novel as the actual plot is a bit thin. After the pair graduates from the academy, it's off to a series of different missions to track down pirates, smugglers, and malcontents. The real meat is witnessing how Thrawn climbs through the ranks while training Vanto to be an equally astute strategist. The reasons for this interest in the boy are kept hidden for quite some time.

Arihnda Pryce's plotline shares the theme of climbing the ranks, though her's is a much less steady approach. Early her family owns a mining facility until corrupt officials steal it away. From then on it's a journey through the world of civil service and political intrigue to strike at those who wronged her and make a name for herself. Arihnda's story is mostly removed from the other two characters, not truly joining up until late in the proceedings. This struck me as very odd until I found that she also appears on Rebels. Without prior knowledge of her on screen prescience, the character came across as being shoehorned in for a higher page count and world building. Perhaps once I catch up with that show I'll find a greater appreciation for her on page antics.

As you can probably guess by now from my general tone, this is a tough one to review. On the one hand the prose is strong with a nice flow and pace. There's some truly interesting developments about unknown space and the dangers found there, and just reading how Thrawn continues to outwit everyone can be a real treat. On the downside it's all a bit haphazard without a strong core narrative to hold it all together. Not to mention that if these cool developments fail to lead to anything worthwhile, well then what's the point? For example, the fate of Eli Vanto sets up a potentially interesting scenario, I won't spoil it for you, maybe he'll show up in of the movies, aged and greatly changed from his experiences, if not then it's just a wasted twist ending.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the issues with this novel is that it's worth is far too reliant on other parts of the universe. The ending is cool yet may lead to nothing, Arihnda's story probably only matters to those who know her from Rebels. There's supposedly a meeting that occurred between Thrawn and Aniken Skywalker that happened sometime in the past, but we either don't get the details, or they were so uninteresting as to slip my mind.

So yes, Thrawn was an odd one. I mostly enjoyed my time with it, yet I sort of resent it for meandering so much and wasting my time when it could have proved to be more efficient and effective like it's lead character. In the end it's going to miss the top five in the rankings by just a slim margin. My advice is that it's a good read for dedicated Star Wars nuts, just not those who only want to read the best of the best. Let's update the rankings.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Ashoka by E. K. Johnston
5. Tarkin by James Luceno
6. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
7. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
8. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
9. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
10. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
11. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
12. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
13.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

If you've noticed that updates have been a little slower lately, that's about to change. Currently I'm in the midst of home projects, longer work weeks, and a new animal addition to the household. Most of the items should be taken care of by the end of this week. After that I've got so much to share with you all, whether that be more Star Wars, Canadian Doritos, or my attempts at model building. See you soon.