Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Once Upon a Time Darkness Fell

So it's been two weeks now since the season 4 finale of Once Upon a Time, and wasn't it a fun episode? With season 4, this show has definitely found its feet again and proved that it can go on for as many more seasons as viewers would like. (If you haven't finished watching yet, note that there will probably be a couple of spoilers in here.)

Season 3 was when they tried out the first half season to do with this set of characters and this plot; second half for this set formula. But this season I think it worked out better. Frozen for the first half and a medley of Maleficent, Cruella, Ursula, and the Author for the second half. I liked the medley: focusing on a few characters keeps you from getting tired of them before the season's over. And yet there was just enough of a tight focus that there was never too much going on at once.

This whole Author plot felt new and original, unlike what we had seen before in the show: early on when it was still being hinted at, I literally didn't know what characters they were going to bring up and how it was all going to work out. Except for all the Pinocchio hints going on: I did hope they were going to bring August back and I was so much more excited than I'd expected to see him again. It was like I didn't know I missed August until he was back. Now if only they could bring back Baelfire, but I suppose they've emphasized enough that that's out of the question . . .

You know what was a really interesting turn of events? All during this second half of the season (and a little in the first half), there was this idea of the villains trying to turn Emma dark. And it never really felt believable: Emma's not holy or perfect, but she's not dark, either. So I think we knew the plans wouldn't work, and they didn't. But then right there at the very end of the season, she becomes the new Dark One. Ohhhh. That was good. I wasn't expecting that. I wasn't even expecting Rumplestiltskin to stop being the Dark One--but both of these turns of events are going to be very interesting to explore next season. Who will Emma be as the Dark One? Will she be wholly evil, or will she still be partially herself? After all, Rumplestiltskin was susceptible to the bad influence of being the Dark One because he chose to be in that position for the power--by killing the previous Dark One, too. But Emma came into this position in order to spare others: it was a selfless act, not a selfless one. So perhaps that will affect how it influences her. And presumably Hook took the knife and will keep her in line (only that sounds all too easy, doesn't it?).

And who will Rumplestiltskin be? I really enjoyed seeing him go back to his evil, in-control-of-everything self from season 1 during this second half of season 4, but I also like to think that he isn't all evil and won't end as all evil, either. So will he finally get a real second chance this time? Are we going to see him reformed into a good person now? What would he be like as a good person? Would it even work within the framework of the show for him to turn good?

Then we have the King Arthur hints. We'll be seeing Merlin, but I would think that Arthur would also come in. We've seen Lancelot before, so why not Arthur? Will Guinevere be in it? What version of Merlin will we see? What will the timeline be? Yes, I am very excited to see what season 5 has in store.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Hillywood Show's Supernatural Parody

There are special moments in the history of The Hillywood Show. They started making YouTube parodies in 2006, they found their special territory with music video parodies in 2009 with Twilight Parody, they started shooting in HD in 2010, and in 2014 they started shooting in 4K, to name a few basic ones. And in May 2015 Supernatural Parody came out and introduced the idea of working with a show/movie's cast in a wholly new (and immersive) way.

I've done it again: I've had the chance to watch some of the show Hillywood is parodying next but have decided not to. If Supernatural is about ghosts and demons, then I think I'd rather not watch. But that doesn't mean I'm not enjoying their video on it. Even to me as someone unfamiliar with the show, this parody shows itself as incredibly special. It's a major moment in Hillywood history. There are the usual great things: the sets, the costumes, the makeup (wow, Hilly keeps getting more and more unrecognizable), the cinematography, the lyrics (whoever sang this cover also did really well), etc. The unique thing, though, is the cast from Supernatural.

Osric Chau had worked with them before on The Walking Dead Parody; now he's back for the show that he is an actor on, along with Rob Benedict. And several other members of the cast have cameos in the parody. It becomes something so amazing that it makes me excited even though I don't watch Supernatural. It's like Hillywood has transcended themselves: they've always been fans for the fans and now they are including the cast as fans. Like when they were doing interviews at The One Last Party and speaking with cast and crew from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, each side mutually excited about the role of the other (in creating either the movies or the videos based around the movies). Special, very special.

And it's also going to be interesting to see how the inclusion of the cast affects numbers. Yes, numbers are not everything, but numbers are still nice. As I write, the parody is already at over 600,000 views, despite having only come out yesterday morning. Will it reach a million by the end of the day? Those are good numbers--this could be another of the videos that really increases viewership of The Hillywood Show.

Oh, yes, and don't forget to watch the two behind the scenes videos.. They're very good.

You know something else? Supernatural Parody has pretty good rewatchability. It's one of those videos that embodies what Hillywood is about: a little silliness and a little fun, but also a celebration of a certain story. Despite what you might call some dark content, it's such a light and bright and even triumphant video. Now go watch it if you haven't already and watch it again if you have.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ghirardelli: Mango Sunset

Has everyone else been having such weird weather? Usually by the end of May, the heat starts to get an edge to it--summer starts to settle in and it gets uncomfortable to be outdoors during the day. But the weather is still nice enough right now to have the door open even in the afternoon--and a couple days ago it was cold and it was raining and are you sure it's almost June?

So I need reminders that it's late spring, nearly summer. Limeade in the refrigerator, cantaloupe for breakfast, and afternoons spent sitting outside reading. Oh, yes, and how about some mango chocolate? I know, I'm not sure if that sounds good or not, either. It's a new flavor from Ghirardelli, Mango Sunset. And it's hard to know what to think of it. You see, I like Ghirardelli, as long as they don't veer away from what they're capable of doing, and what they're capable of doing is making simple chocolate bars, either plain or with very classic flavors (mint, caramel, etc.). Sometimes when they try to get creative, they just show what they're not capable of. And mango chocolate, well, that's not exactly traditional, is it? Hence my worry.

Tearing the seal on the foil wrapper reveals the smell of mango and chocolate together, not exactly something I found exciting. I usually eat mangos plain. And maybe mangos are close to citrus--and I generally don't like citrus chocolate. But what worried me more than the idea of the flavor combination was when I had my first taste and wondered if there was something artificial in there. All the ingredients list says is "natural flavors." And even the flavor description calls it "dark chocolate infused with mango flavor with other natural flavors." Huh. It would seem that mango isn't an easy flavor to get into chocolate without using lots of real mango, perhaps in pieces. But what are those other flavors? There's no mention of what they are--so they must not be included for their own sake; they must be there to try and enhance the mango flavor and its unity with the chocolate. But I just keep getting this weird flavor.

Is it the mango, unexpected in the middle of chocolate? I don't think that's it: the more I taste, the more I grow accepting of the idea of mango chocolate. It's freshness and brightness, orange and yellow, to stand against the deeper red of the chocolate; it works. It's just that other, unidentifiable flavor that tastes strange (I realize that this flavor may in fact be the mango, and if that's the case I would like to see a better representation of mango in chocolate). 

The chocolate itself is a light dark chocolate. I don't think it's a 75%; it's probably more like a 65% cocoa. Probably a good thing that it isn't too dark: this lighter persona better suits the mango. 

So was I right to worry? Yes, probably right to worry. But was I correct in my worry? I'm still not sure. I think this chocolate comes across okay: I'll finish it. It's an interesting idea for a summer chocolate. But I suppose I won't buy it again; I'd rather have one of Ghirardelli's plain Twilight or Midnight bars. You decide if that's a failure or not.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Star Wars Feels Return

Ooohhh, I didn't know what I was missing out on. Did you know? Did you know all the feels that are contained within the novelization of Return of the Jedi? I'd thought--I don't know. I mean, I enjoyed reading The Empire Strikes Back, but this was something different. This was, this was all the power of the film that's created so many Star Wars fans, all put into 230 pages. I can see why Barnes & Noble did one of their leather-bound editions of this trilogy--and not just for the cool cover.

Star Wars is simply such a great story, built on so many archetypes and symbols and universal themes that it rises up to be something incredibly moving. And not only does this book portray what was in Return of the Jedi the film, it amplifies it. There are a few scenes not in the movie and a little extra dialogue that let you take a longer look at character development, as with The Empire Strikes Back. But there was also more symbolic power in this book. There is more emphasis on what the settings mean. You fully get a sense of what it means for Luke to return to Tatooine, and if you'd never pondered the meaning of Endor before you'll get it now. It isn't coincidental or random that it's Ewoks who help overthrow the Empire. And, oh, that scene when Leia is waking up on the Endor moon after she's knocked off of her speeder, it's just gorgeous. The imagery and the themes encapsulated in that one moment are flawless: that's what's wonderful about Star Wars. You can get battle scenes or sci-fi/fantasy settings anywhere, but it's the themes that make it special.

And the confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader, wow, it loses nothing from being translated from a visual medium to a flat page. I'm so sad for Anakin, the path he took when his life could have been so different--but then he does come through in the end and it isn't too late for him, but it is too late for his life. It's terrible, terribly tragic, and beautifully tragic. I didn't know this book would move me so. I'm incredibly glad I've begun this journey into Star Wars books. Next up: a break and then the prequel trilogy.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Watching the Stages

So, Josh Groban's latest album, Stages, has been out for a couple of weeks now and I'm pretty sure I've already listened to it more than the previous album, All That Echoes. Ah, Josh, I've been listening to you for so long that you feel like family (there is a bit of a facial resemblance, too), but I am so glad you've veered back toward a more classical sound again.

I'm not implying that I want to have direct control over an artist's angle or that I think it's wrong if they change that angle: that's their choice, apart from my opinion about what I prefer from them. But I really wasn't a big fan of All That Echoes and Illuminations. That closer to pop angle just wasn't interesting me, and I felt (with my non-musical ear) as though many of those songs didn't show Josh's voice as well as the songs on Closer did (which, granted, not every album a singer releases needs to push them to their heights--if they're releasing lots of albums, then they can also provide something different). But Stages is like a reminder, if anyone needs a reminder, that Josh has a great voice. There's technical achievement and emotional expression.

As I'm sure you know, all of these songs are from musicals. I feel very uncultured to say that I'm only familiar with eight of the fifteen songs on the Deluxe edition. "Pure Imagination" and "All I Ask of You" are kind of exciting to have on there. "Bring Him Home" is amazingly beautiful and heartbreaking; it's a stellar performance and I'd probably call it the best track on the album. The "Children Will Listen/Not While I'm Around" medley worked well, in terms of both sound and theme. Never having heard them before, I'm getting intrigued by "Old Devil Moon" and "Finishing the Hat." On "If I Loved You," Audra McDonald gives beautiful, rich vocals. In the context of the album, "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" becomes a commentary on the temporary state of all people--the listeners will fade, the singers will fade, the connection they had will fade; everything, no matter how big it gets, will end one day. This, too, will end--so hurry, go and get the album so you can listen to it now.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Empire Strikes Back at Me

Wow, has it really been over three months since I finished reading the first Star Wars novelization (read my thoughts about it here), so excited at opening the door to so many new books in this universe? And then I got sidetracked. I stopped to read Divergent, then I was reading some Arizona books, and then there were a couple of things going on that kept me busy. And so only now, three months later, have I finished reading The Empire Strikes Back. I'm just like Luke, feeling so strong and powerful and then being pushed right back to the beginning again.

While I spoke of how it took some effort to get into the first book, The Empire Strikes Back had better writing quality and less often assumed that its readers knew nothing about this universe (which, of course, would have been the case in 1976 when the first book came out--but is certainly no longer the case today even for people who have somehow not watched the movies). So that was less distracting, and I was able to really get into the plot and characterization. I was reliving seeing these movies for the first few times (since I really don't remember the very first time I saw them); it was like everything was new.

Everything was exciting, the battles and the escapes in space, Luke's encounter with Yoda and the Falcon group's arrival at Cloud City. And everything was beautiful again. The descriptions gave just enough to make me see the scenes in the movies, to once again find myself in the ice of Hoth or outside Yoda's cute little hut (I hope Yoda wouldn't be offended by my calling it cute--but, no, he isn't the offended sort), to revel in the pink beauty of the clouds around Bespin.

While after watching the movies several times and several times again you get to know what the characters' motives and thoughts are at different points, still it was nice to see some of it spelled out on the page. The book is technically third person omniscient; most of the time, it's just a narrator telling the events, but often there is a sentence or so saying what a certain character is thinking. I think the droids actually get the longest sections to their own (describing their thoughts, I mean); I suppose that makes sense given their (semi-hidden) important to both the story and the movies.

I was planning on reading something else (right now I have a long stack of things that I really want to read right away) first before starting on Return of the Jedi, but, ah, I think I may have to just move right into that one. Just as I was held back for a moment there, now I'm ready to finish it--like Luke finally taking those final steps.

Casey's Cupcakes: Crownie

I adore the Mission Inn in Riverside. And given its situation on the edge of LA and its surrounding bulk of outlying cities, it makes a perfect stop on the drive home from California back to Arizona. Stop at the hotel for a night, or for a browse through the Mission Galleria antique store across the street, or to get a box of Casey's Cupcakes to bring home (a bag of them is also an acceptable carry-on for the plane).

This box of six had two Cinnamon (the ones on the top left and right corners), two Peanut Butter (on the bottom corners), and their flavor of the month: Crownie. They also had a Mother's Day flavor, something with almond frosting and a layer of raspberry; it was very pretty, but not my flavor preferences. The Crownie has a Ghirardelli brownie on the bottom, plain cake for the rest, and a sprinkle of delicate, shiny glitter on the top of the frosting. That isn't the official description, but I wasn't thinking of reviewing it when I was in the shop, so I didn't make note of exactly how the saleswoman described it. 

Yeah, I know, you can buy Ghirardelli brownie mix at Costco (I don't know if Casey's uses a mix, or buys the brownies from Ghirardelli already made, or makes them themselves with Ghirardelli ingredients), but it's brownie in a cupcake and it's very pretty. I've reviews Casey's cupcakes before, so I won't go into general details, just about the specifics of this flavor. The brownie makes up just the right proportion of the cupcake. It's maybe about a third of the depth, right there at the bottom, so it doesn't take away from the light cake texture that brownies need. It just adds a little more richness.

And look at that glitter. So pretty and tasteful, not overdone. I think it may be a milk chocolate type of frosting with its light brown shade. Sweet enough and not too buttery (I can make buttery frosting at home--I don't need to go anywhere to buy it). Instead of the usual chocolate with the pink Casey's silhouette, the Crownie has its own chocolate circle with a golden crown. Though some of the cupcakes have something different from the chocolates (like the peanut butter cup for the Peanut Butter cupcakes) on top, I think that's the first time I've seen the chocolate circles with a different image.

By the way, I also highly recommend the Cinnamon cupcakes. Along with Strawberry, they may be one of my favorite flavors. Ah, I love this tradition of cupcakes to bring home.