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.