A Visit to Disneyland’s Club 33

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This past year I had a supreme honor and opportunity I never thought I would have. Visiting the Happiest Place on Earth with some friends we all were given the chance to dine at Disneyland’s most coveted restaurant: the illustrious Club 33. It’s a place some Disney attendees don’t even know exists. And those who do, know that being able to dine there is rare and special. It’s a place that was originally formed for Walt Disney to entertain VIPS and dignitaries in the park, away from the hustle and bustle, to relax with fine food and elegant decor. Now it’s a Club that has a limited members list, with the chance for non members to attend based usually on knowing someone who is.

I knew this was probably a once in a lifetime occurrence so myself and my friends soaked up everything and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The service was impeccable, the food divine and the entire atmosphere grand and yet intimate. Club 33 is indeed a beautiful place and I will always cherish that I was able to attend, and with people who are so dear to me.

 

 

Our lunch consisted of 4 courses. Here was our menu.

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I ordered the Steak Tartare of Filet Mignon, the Tricore Salad, the Grilled Angus Filet Mignon, and Chocolate Profiteroles. To say the food was delicious is an understatement. It was delectable and one of the best meals I’ve ever had. We were celebrating my Friend’s upcoming wedding, so also they treated us to an extra dessert of delicious beignets.

 

And in between courses and after lunch we were able to take as many photos as we wished. And I certainly was inspired! The décor alone was lovely, but the view onto New Orleans Square and the Rivers of America on gorgeous wrought iron balconies was just exquisite. You already feel special when you are there, but this made it feel even more so.

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Of course, a visit to Club 33 wouldn’t be complete without getting a few souvenirs to commemorate the occasion. Even the bag the purchases come in is pretty and fancy. I picked up what was called a paper weight, but something I have hung up on my wall, along with a lovely key chain.

 

 

If the chance to attend Club 33 ever comes your way, do not hesitate. It’s a special experience and I know I will always be grateful I got to visit, even if it was just once.I will cherish this day always!!

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2018 Year in Review: Favorite Films of the Year

With Awards Season in full swing and many “Best Films” of the year being shared, here at The Girly Nerd, it is high time to share what were my favorite films in 2018. And there were an abundance of amazing ones. Common denominators certainly were abound: Netflix, post apocalyptic drama, super heroes, the return of the rom-com, welcome and meaningful diversity, and the beauty of stories and recapturing our childhoods and what truly matters. Without further ado here are my favorites for 2018, with some special acknowledge of standout performers and outstanding directors.

10. Dumplin’ dumplin_004.0

Dolly Parton once said “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose” and that is definitely the mantra that Dumplin’ employs so beautifully as Willowdean, the daughter of a former beauty queen, along with some fellow “revolutionaries” join their local pageant to prove a point about what pageants are, only for everyone involved to discover something profound about themselves and life. Dumplin’ is about embracing who you truly are, learning to forgive and not to judge others, and living and loving your best life, brought to life with great humor and heart.

9. What Still Remains what-still-remains

An evocative, thought provoking post apocalyptic drama, What Still Remains examines an extreme but profound “what if” scenario. What if you were living in a desolate world where so much of the population was gone and some that remained were lost in the most inhuman way imaginable. Would you in turn lose your humanity, in order to “survive” or would you maintain it because losing that would be equally devastating- because essentially you would be losing yourself. In this story that is what Anna encounters, when fellow survivor Peter brings her to his village which seems welcoming but underneath it all, does what cults do- twist religion and abandon the concept of free will and choice. Led by a nuanced and often chilling performance by Colin O’Donoghue, we see with Peter how the charismatic can be hiding something truly sinister within themselves (and casting someone as striking and charming as he is talented as O’Donoghue is brilliant), as well as the devastation of dark choices that cause us to lose our own humanity and try to take away those of others. Perhaps their world is bleak, but we must never lose ourselves or hope that something brighter is within reach.

8. Black Pantherblack-panther-movie-characters

The world of Wakanda is an extraordinary one and I have no doubt that most who were captivated by this world, found themselves chanting “Wakanda Forever” as the credits to Black Panther rolled and beyond. We first met the new king of Wakanda T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War and right away were drawn into his story and fine character. But Black Panther not only expands his story but the entirely of this world with even more remarkable characters, my personal favorite being T’Challa’s sister, and true genius Shuri. The accomplishments and exemplary thing about this film are two-fold. Not only is the story engrossing, acting wonderful, aesthetics gorgeous, and themes resonant, but we see representation with real, full and non stereotypical characters. This should be and hopefully will begin to be commonplace. But above all Black Panther is simply a wonderful and captivating film. A comic book film it may be with extraordinary circumstances, and heroes and villains alike. But at its heart, it’s resonant story about integrity and honor and learning how the world and the motivations of others are more complicated than we perhaps thought.

7. A Quiet Placejohn-krasinski-a-quiet-place-1200x675

Can you imagine a world where sound was your damnation? Where if you make any kind of loud noise, your life will most likely be lost, hunted down by a monster? That is the haunting concept of A Quiet Place, which is an extraordinarily artistic and evocative take on the classic thriller, post apocalyptic world. In truth, this film is about the power of love between family, most especially that between parent and child.  Anyone who is a parent is no doubt deeply moved by this tale of a family in a desolate world where sound, and the monstrous creatures that attack when they hear it, is their daily enemy. One of their children is deaf, and that combined with their necessary situation, provided such an effective usage of sound and sign language. When we are in young Regan’s perspective the film is almost completely silent to represent her point of view and it is truly affecting. The anxieties of the family are high when the birth of another child is imminent and they are separated. Not only on the edge of your seat in the traditional thriller way, A Quiet Place accomplishes what many films of the same nature do not. It deeply moves us. Director John Kraskinski said this was a love letter to his daughters, and with his on and off screen wife Emily Blunt, they created a story of true love, sacrifice and hope abound with the significance of always striving to learn and invent, and most especially to not just listen with our ears, but with our hearts and minds. A Quiet Place is a quietly profound film.

6. Crazy Rich Asianscrazy ricj

Funny, sweet, hilarious and another welcome and profoundly diverse film, I could not say it better than the wonderful Michelle Yeoh about what this films accomplishes so wonderfully, “To be represented- we’re not just a token for diversity. Real representation means you have a meaningful character with hopes and dreams and in Crazy Rich Asians that’s what we all have.” Diversity is not a trend, and something that should be done haphazardly or without much thought. It should be done, (and is in this film it is) in a beautiful and meaningful way. The world is a large place and everyone should be able to see themselves at some point on screen in a significant way that has us crying or laughing and having that moment of true recognition. What is also special about Crazy Rich Asians is that it’s about both diversity and universality, and it’s a celebration of that. We have seen this kind of romance story before with love having to overcome class differences, and pressures from family. What’s different is who is portraying these characters. It’s both specific in culture but also universal thematically. It’s about family, love and traditions that are specific to the Asian culture but can be relatable to all. But even if it weren’t it still would remain praiseworthy. Crazy Rich Asians is the type of film that I truly love and hope to see more and more in years to come.

5. Avengers: Infinity Waravengers

A film that is the culmination of over 10 years and 18 films is bound to have a great deal riding on its shoulders. And the first part of this climatic cinematic event, in one of the most spectacular cinematic universes of story and character was just that- absolutely spectacular! Marvel is most certainly a master of creating dynamic films filled with real emotion and amazing action, and with so many characters filling the screen, the task of balancing all of them, giving them sufficient screen time, all while managing to create a coherent and compelling story that was 10 years in the making, is indeed a tall order. And boy did they deliver. The first two Avengers films were amazing films, as are so many of the other individual films for every character, but there was something special about this one. What was most compelling was the way this truly centered on the villain- Thanos- as he is hell bent on erasing half of the universe, and like most villains feels he is totally justified.  You feel every moment and are on the edge of your seat, and the film flies by until it reaches the climatic battle which was one of the most, again, compelling spectacles to ever grace the screen- and for one very significant reason. It wasn’t just about the amazing effects and cool imagery. It was because it felt human. And when Thanos wins with a snap of his fingers of that coveted Infinity Gauntlet, we felt the depth of this “victory” down to own very souls.

4. Mary Poppins Returnsmp retirns

Magical, colorful, a feast for the eyes and ears, and a wonder for the heart and soul, Mary Poppins Returns accomplishes something that seemed impossible. It created a new and wondrous version of the practically perfect nanny and her adventurous and wise ways, infused with heart, poignancy and above all, magic. And I will be perfectly honest- when I first heard about the film I was adamantly against attempting to recreate the perfection that is the 1964 classic. But as time moved on and I saw who was involved, from the top notch casting of Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, to director Rob Marshall who has proven to immensely talented at bringing musicals to life with vitality with Chicago and Into the Woods, and lastly to composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman whose songs for the TV series Smash play on repeat in my home on a regular basis, I went from opposition to cautious optimism, to out right hope and excitement. And that shift in feelings was more than warranted. It may not reach the levels as the original in story and song, but more than succeeds in bringing warmth and heart into characters new and old as well as simply being stunning in its visuals and orchestration.

Emily Blunt more than makes the character her own with wit and cheekiness and the oh so important subtle emotion when dealing with Michael Banks and his children who have lost their mother and may lose their home. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the perfect blend of charming and sweet, much like Bert was with an added depth and connection to Jane Banks that was both unexpected and lovely. Ben Whishaw feels so much like his late father (portrayed originally by David Tomlinson) that it’s uncanny, while Emily Mortimer was a lovely blend of tried and true giggly effervescent Jane and social activist that would make her Suffragette mother proud. The greatest songs are without a doubt, the lovely and soft “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” the rousing  “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and above all “Nowhere to Go But Up” which literally soars and is the film’s, most timeless tune. The cameos by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Landsbury will make your heart happy, the music smile and the story cry. Mary Poppins Returns is magical in every way and shows us that things are never truly lost because they will always remain in our hearts.

3. Sun Dogssundogsjennifermorrison

Some of the finest films are simple stories, well told. Sun Dogs is a beautifully crafted film with moving performances, immaculate direction, and affecting themes in a story that is poignant, humorous and touching all at once. A lovely marriage of story and artistry, this film that takes place in a post 9-11 world, where the earnest Ned Chipley, who has dealt with a mental deficiency since birth, wants more than anything to join the Marines, help keep the country safe, and above all save lives. And when he thinks he stumbles onto a possible terrorist threat, he and a young girl named Tally go on a journey of self discovery, that is often mirrored in that of his parents and indeed the audience. Fine performances by Michael Angarano, Melissa Benoist, Ed O’Neil and Allison Janney, you feel deeply for all of these characters, and will simultaneously laugh and cry. Sensitive issues it may be, but they are handled with tender care and respect. You feel and sympathize with Ned, but you don’t pity him. His earnestness is so heartfelt even when everything is not what it seems. And above all the themes combined with these characters draw you into the story in a way that is truly gripping.

The full length feature directorial debut of Jennifer Morrison (whose talent is superb and surely has a fine directing career ahead of her), the direction of the film is sublime in its subtlety and specificity, visually interesting and reflective of the film’s main themes. (In fact, look out for a more in depth film study on this one soon.) As Morrison said, “Sun Dogs shines a light on the idea that every person has a purpose in life. I believe that we are all misfits in one way or another. We feel misunderstood. We fail. We struggle. We hope. It’s what makes us unique in our search for meaning.” And therein lies the true heart of the film. Through Ned, and indeed all of the characters, we see and can relate to feeling lost or needing someone to believe in us, hold our hand and be there in sincere understanding or compassion. Moreover, the phrase, “Hello, how are you today?” takes on new meaning as we learn that even the simplest of gesture can save someone’s life in more ways than one. We all are searching for that meaning in life and our purpose and in Sun Dogs that is expressed in a truly beautiful and meaningful way.

2. Christopher Robinchristopher robin

Can a film have heartbeat? Does a film have the ability to simply and effortlessly tap into childhood nostalgia and the remembrance of life’s true wonders and beauties in a way that reaches your very soul? In the case of Christopher Robin, the answer is unequivocally a resounding YES!! The Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne, 1977 Disney film, and other incarnations of the classic characters have always held a special place in my heart, but this latest film perhaps made me feel more than all the others combined, as we once again ask, is it possible to say an audible “Awww” throughout an entire movie? The heart of Christopher Robin lies within its ability to tap into feelings beyond comparison, with visuals that are so realistic you actually believe that Pooh and his friends truly are real and have returned to Christopher’s life when he needed them the most, with fine performances by Ewan McGregor and Hayley Atwell as well as the immaculate voice work and artistry  of every single person who brought Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and the rest of the 100 Acre Wood to life.

Visually and thematically, Christopher Robin is brilliant and beautiful in its simplicity, subtlety and unabashed sweetness. With muted colors that reflect the time period, and a subtle use of vibrancy seen in Pooh and his friends and single red balloon, as well as a gentle direction and similar themes to director Marc Forster’s equally stunning Finding Neverland, this film can makes us smile and cry and touch our hearts with its poignant wisdom about life, friendship and family. We all must grow up and mature, but we need not lose that ability to find joy in life’s simplest treasures and never lose our child like wonder. We may be lost but we can always be found when we open our hearts to tthat wonder and joy, found as easily as a bright red balloon in a vast sea of gray. And that is something truly special.

1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society guernsey

Acclaimed author Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic,” and is that ever the case. And although King’s works and Guernsey couldn’t be more different, his assessment is attune to what the book and this subsequent original Netflix film expresses. But Guernsey indeed takes this even steps further in an exquisitely delicate and moving depiction of a group of people who come together under the darkest of circumstances in the shadow of the Nazi occupation of World War II, showcasing the ways they manage to find joy and comfort despite everything. Make no mistake, the fear and loss this society formed out of self preservation experiences is profound, but when a young author connects with this group of individuals young and old, they all find something they truly needed: a collective family who understand the importance and resplendent joy of the written word, and truly human connections.

Guernsey is the type of period movie, so exquisitely filmed that your eyes are in a constant state of awe from the London golden parties to its cobblestone streets. And most especially, you will wish you could transport to every single beautiful local in this seaside British town. Indeed, from the cinematography, to the costumes, to the score, Guernsey is a wondrous delight, while the performances and story, much like Christopher Robin, have the ability to awaken and move the soul in a profound way. For we see how books can bring people together- reach across time and space and not only make us feel, but help us feel connected to others. Isn’t that what the finest books, or films, or music, or art can accomplish- create an unique kind of radiant magic that can help create unbreakable bonds of love, family and friendship. In a world filed with darkness, this is a glowing beacon of light and hope. The Guernsey Society may have created a group to save their lives in the literal sense, but the way it truly saved them can never truly be measured. And that is why this film sits at the top of this year’s finest.

Honorable Mentions: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, When We First Met
Yet to See: Ralph Breaks the Internet, The Incredibles 2

Stand Out Performers:
Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place & Mary Poppins Returns)
Michael Angarano (Sun Dogs)
Awkafina (Crazy Rich Asians)
Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War)
Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)
Lily James (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)
Colin O’Donoghue (What Still Remains)
Ben Whishaw (Mary Poppins Returns)

Outstanding Directors:
Jennifer Morrison (Sun Dogs)
John Krasinski (A Quiet Place)
Marc Forster (Christopher Robin)
Rob Marshall (Mary Poppins Returns)
Mike Newell (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)

2018 Year in Review: Favorite Television of the Year

Getting back into Year in Reviews after a break last year, 2018 in television was one filled with wonder with shows new and old. Some ending, some just beginning to intrigue us, some continuing to delight us after a few seasons. One thing all these have in common is that they brought a lot of warmth, heart, intrigue, tears and happiness to our screens. These are my Top 10 Favorites for 2018.

10. Christmas Made for TV Movies of Hallmark and Lifetimechristmas moviesChristmas films on television have been a staple of the season and more and more seem to be made every year. We know they can be predictable, filled with common romantic tropes, and may be a little corny. But in today’s day in age, these can be welcome and lovely things and that is often what these films provide: sweet and heartfelt escapism wrapped in cozy and festive warmth. In this year’s abundance of holiday fare, 5 in particular stood out.

A Veteran’s Christmas re-pairs Eloise Mumford and Sean Faris who co-starred in another favorite Christmas With Holly. This story follows a Marine recently returning home, unsure of her place and missing her dog who was part of her canine unit, who stumbles into a small town and falls in love with a kind judge and the entire town who embraces her. It’s a tender and sweet story and the two actors play beautifully off each other. And any true dog lover will no doubt shed tears at its happy conclusion.

Christmas Pen Pals stars Sarah Drew and Niall Matter who have a sweet chemistry and play former college sweethearts who both sign up for a holiday Pen Pal project in their hometown. It’s a lovely little story with a very romantic tone and fine acting.

Christmas Perfection with Caitlin Thompson and James Henri-Thomas is cute as can be, romantic and truly, truly funny. For the Captain Swan fans out there, I felt like I was watching a CS AU come to life to a degree so I was in heaven. But even without that comparison, it’s an absolutely delightful gem following a woman who is obsessed with having everything perfect including a little Christmas village she puts up every year. When she and her best friend argue over her need for perfection she suddenly wakes up in her village, where it’s Christmas every day, her parents are back together and everyone is Irish! What follows is pure, silly, but perfect Christmas perfection.

Once Upon a Christmas Miracle is based on a true story of a young woman who needs an organ transplant and miraculously find a donor from a stranger whom she then forms a strong connection with. It’s a sweet and moving story, made ever the more lovely because it’s based on two real people. True kindness and sacrifice can come from anywhere and it’s a beautiful reminder than can restore your faith in the humanity of others.

And lastly, Christmas at Pemberley Manor is a light take on the Pride and Prejudice story made enjoyable by its warmth, sweet take on the classic story and likable actors Michael Rady and Jessica Lowndes. In keeping in the Christmas mood I must also recommend the other past Christmas films with Rady, whom is wonderful in all he does, Christmas in Homestead and A Joyous Christmas. While Lowndes is equally lovely in the ever romantic December Bride which pairs her with When Calls the Heart’s ever talented and handsome Daniel Lissing.

9. Happy TogetherhappyIt’s been a while since I’ve found a comedy that is light and sweet and truly makes me laugh out loud. What I want most when watching a sitcom however is to feel happy watching it, and just like its namesake, I most certainly do. A great deal of this show’s charm is due in no small part to the its leads, the hilarious and charming Damon Wayans Jr. (whom I just adore in everything he does) and Amber Stevens West, an equally funny and effervescent scene partner. The two play a happily married couple who are simply adorable in that they feel like a real couple in their natural chemistry and attempts to seem cool for their house guest, an Australian pop star they open their home up to when he wants to feel normalcy in his life. Rounding out the laughs come from Stephanie Weir and Victor Williams who play West’s parents, two doctors with no filter and a lot of time on their hands now that they’re retired. The show is wacky but heartfelt and always leaves me feeling good. I hope more audiences discover this show because it’s a sheer delight.

8. Fuller Housefuller

Getting back into form, the fourth season of the Netflix family comedy was filled with lots of heart, more wacky adventures from the “She-Wolf” pack, DJ and Steve finally trying to make it work as a couple complete with a fun little musical number (DJ and Steve 4ever!) and hilarity and tenderness with Kimmy acting as Stephanie’s surrogate. Other highlights included Danny going back to Wake Up San Francisco with Rebecca, replacing the egotistical male co-host, Jesse embracing being a stay at home father, and Charlie’s Angels’s themed “70s” cruise on the SS Papouli (a sweet nod to the great grandfather from the original series). What makes Fuller House work is that it does not take itself too seriously, but rather unabashedly embraces its corniness. But what made this season enjoyable was that, like it did in Season 1, when it had its more serious moments, there was so sign of parody or goofiness- in particular when Kimmy gives birth with Stephanie right beside her to welcome her baby into the world, and when DJ’s middle boy Max, known for his one liners and over top antics, shares a very grounded and moving moment about deeply missing his father. Fuller House remains a welcome little gem.

7. The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselmaiselFull disclosure, when the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was released at that end of 2018, I binged watched the first and second season in extremely quick succession, so this praise is a bit about both seasons. Forever a fan of Amy Sherman Pallidino’s Gilmore Girls, I am not surprised how much I adore this similarly fast talking, delightful, colorful and sweet, meaningful and poignant, funny and effervescent, female empowering, and yes completely marvelous, series. Each episode is like stepping into a candy colored, bubbly musical time machine to the 1960s which is fun and lively, but not without turmoil or drama. At times it feels heightened in true Pallidino style, at other times completely grounded in very real, relatable truths about life. The best comedians are ones that observe life and can find humor in the everyday, and that is what Miriam, aka Midge does, who stumbles into comedy after her husband leaves her out of the blue and she learns to picks herself up and discovers even more about herself along the way. She has to fight to be accepted and that is something that a modern audience can still relate to. Led by incredible Rachel Brosnahan, the show’s second season continues on what season 1 so well established, but continues to grow and evolve as Midge struggles in finding her place while not losing what is important to her, while her family is dealing with their own issues that relate not only to Midge but their own journeys in life. It’s lovely and fun, moving and marvelous! p.s can we please bring back the name Midge, because it’s too cute.

6. This is UsThis Is Us - Season 2For fans of This is Us, 2018 will always be the year that finally revealed how Jack Pearson died, and it was as heartbreaking and tough to watch as we imagined. The cause was something so trivial as a malfunctioning crock pot, but the reason was something that is embedded into Jack’s character- putting others and what they care about above himself, even sacrificing his own safety. And the fact that it was delayed, giving the Pearson’s (and the audience) a false sense of peace and relief made it all the more devastating. And it’s the moment that Rebecca’s learns and sees her husband is gone that will remain one of the most heart wrenching (and brilliantly performed of the series). But Jack’s death wasn’t the only thing that was profound about This is Us in 2018. On the contrary, each and every interweaving and multi-generational storyline was captivating to watch, from the beginning of Rebecca and Jack’s love story, to his time in Vietnam with his brother, to Kate and Toby’s journey to have a child, and their individual journeys dealing with job woes and depression, to Randall and Beth’s struggles as they foster a child and begin and end careers, to Kevin’s evolving film career and desire to learn more about his father, and to the mysterious twists and time jumps, the lives of the Pearson family remain ones that are ever relatable and moving.

5. The Good PlaceThe Good Place - Season 2The Good Place is one of the cleverest, funniest, sweetest and most profound shows on television, with one of its finest qualities being that in its absurdity lies relatable truths and complexities about choices, free will, and the human condition- with both characters that are and are not human, which is remarkable. It tugs at our heartstrings and makes us laugh so hard we cry. The cast is absolutely stellar and hilarious while managing to infuse authenticity in the more grounded moments with each other- in both season 2 and 3- especially as this group travels back to earth and must learn about themselves and what it means to be, most especially, an empathetic person. Like Michael Shur’s previous shows, this series, infuses heart and realism, in this case despite the concept, and everyone who watches is all the better for it. The Good Place is utter joy.

4. ManifestManifest - PilotIntriguing, melancholy, gripping, and thought provoking, the comparisons to LOST were inevitable, but let it be said that Manifest is its own show and one that mixes and perfectly balances unexplained phenomena, crime procedural and family drama, matched with an impressive cast led but the wonderful Josh Dallas and Melissa Roxburgh as brother and sister Ben and Michaela Stone, who returned home to a world that had changed so much. Of course we all want to know what happened to Flight 828 that caused them to somehow become lost in time to the rest of the world and lose 5 years. Ben and his son return to a family that grieved and grew and learned to move on, Michalea heartbreakingly returned to learn the man she was planning to marry, has now married her best friend. Ben’s son Cal, who had been suffering from cancer, returns home and miraculously begins responding to treatment. But in truth it’s not just the Stone family drama that leaves us so captivated. It’s also the questions of what caused this anomaly and is there some grand conspiracy behind everything? But most especially one of the most profound aspects of Manifest is that it leaves the audience with the question of “what if?” What if you returned to a world much changed and how to do begin to live your life again where it feels like you have been left behind or no longer fit? And if you are beginning to feel a purpose (which we see in the callings each of the passengers experiences) in a way that cannot rationally be explained, do you follow or fight it? The contrasting perspectives of Ben and Michaela, and the ways they all seem connected showcase these questions beautifully and intriguingly so, and make this show not only one of the best new shows, but best overall shows of the year.

3. A Series of Unfortunate EventseventsThe Netflix original series based on the children’s books of the same name is dark and filled with gruesome scenarios that befall the unfortunate Baudelaire orphans, and yet it remains sweet and touching. If you are a fan of the series Pushing Daisies, you will no doubt enjoy this one as well as it is not only similar in tone and visuals, but it also shares director and executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld. The first season was incredible and so too was 2018’s second season. The highlights of the series include a steampunk-esque visual feast for the eyes, its intelligent writing, which actually gives you vocabulary lessons in each episode in a way that is so entertaining you crave it, hilarious absurdity, and an amazing cast of both leads (led by incredible Neil Patrick Harris and the fantastic group of Baudelaire siblings Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes and Pressley Smith) and guest stars (which in Season 2 includes Nathan Fillion, Tony Hale and Sara Rue.) The story of the Baudelaire children may be an unfortunate one but you will not want to “look away” as the theme song and narrator (the wonderfully sardonic Patrick Warburton) often advises the audience to do. Instead you find yourself deeply invested and rooting for these children who are wise, mature and intelligent beyond their years not only in terms of being well read and clever but emotionally as well. The three all have their special strengths that they utilize as they continuously must escape the clutches of Count Olaf surrounded by people who will not always listen, while trying to maintain their own courage, faith and humanity. The contrast of the absurd situations, breathtaking visuals and profound meaning of this material is astonishing. And having watched Season 3 already, it’s an indisputable truth that A Series of Unfortunate Events will also be on next year’s list for the best in television.

2. A Discovery of WitcheswotchesWith the exception of the show that is at #1 on this list, it’s been a long time, since a series has so quickly and thoroughly captivated me from the very beginning. Between the amazing cast, beautifully locales and exquisite cinematography, there is so much to be mesmerized by. Although I have watched similar media at times, I would never call myself someone who LOVES witches or vampires or the supernatural the way some do, but perhaps that is because, while A Discovery of Withes is undoubtedly about witches, vampires and demons existing right alongside side us who are completely unaware of their existence, in truth these really feel like a metaphor for what every human can experience, relate to, or sympathize with: fear, prejudice, courage, friendship and above all else love. For this show is about learning to cast aside those fears and prejudices and learn that we all equal, because we all can universally understand the desire and right to be accepted and loved. And this series is most especially a love story- a kind of Romeo and Juliet love story between a witch and a vampire, two species who have always been on opposite, adversarial sides, who are instantly drawn to each other and form a unbreakable bond and love that transcends all, and defies obstacles, and proves that LOVE knows no bounds. The love story between Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont is already a beautiful and profound one that I am certain will continue to enthrall in the coming seasons as there will be one for each of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy. Both strong, passionate characters, who are surrounded by equally enthralling characters, Diana and Matthew love and protect each other with and open heart, a mutual respect and admiration, and a strength to overcome all that might separate them, because blood may be crave worthy, and fear may be easier than bravery, but love is what truly satiates every thirst or desire, fuels our inner courage, and ignites our very souls.

1. TimelesstimelessTimeless is a magical show. And although 2018 brought the series to a close, it will live on in a way that is immeasurable. This series is the perfect blend of adventure, history, humor, drama and mystery with amazing characters and relationships. Timeless brings history to life with both well known figures, but also nuances and individuals who are not, illuminating eras and inspiring people, while managing to enthrall its audience, never going for cheap shocks but rather interesting twists. It’s a labyrinth of wonder and the way it continued in 2018 with its second season was the most magical part of television in 2018. Season 2 may have done some things a bit differently with a bit less focus on the “Time Team” unit together on missions, but the individuals highlighted such as Hedy Lamarr, Alice Paul and Robert Johnson, and evolving relationships still remained the heartbeat of the show, encapsulated in the series finale movie where saving Rufus was paramount, Wyatt and Lucy finally came together in love and Flynn went on his incredible final journey of heroics and redemption- all of which were not only captivating but so moving. The show’s ending montage set to Joseph William Morgan’s cover of the song “Time After Time” resulted in many a tear, as we watched the beautiful journey of all of these characters through time: The love, the loss, the strength, the courage, the perseverance, the belief in each other, and the hope for a beautiful future where history is not forgotten, but preserved, and learned from laying the foundation for whatever is yet to be. And above all you see that history is made up not only of events but people. In this case it’s a about professors, scholars, soldiers, scientists, inventors, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons. Heroes.  This moment was a exquisite showcase of what makes this show so profound, special, and above all Timeless.

A Trip to “That’s From Disneyland” Pop-Up Exhibition and Auction

This past week I had the immense pleasure of attending “That’s from Disneyland,” an extraordinary 40,000 square feet pop-up exhibition featuring the largest ever collection of Disneyland memorabilia and collectibles from collector Richard Kraft and his son Nicholas. From now until August 24 you can visit the exhibit in Sherman Oaks, CA for free and marvel at these astounding pieces from attraction posters, paintings and signs, to ride vehicles of such treasured attractions as Dumbo (which once took up residence in the Kraft living room) the People Mover and Skyway, to the 50 foot Sea Serpent from the previous version of the Submarine Voyage. After the exhibit concludes, on August 25 and 26, every item will be auctioned off in person, and via phone and online to the highest bidders. Even if these items are out of one’s price range, if you have the opportunity to visit this you should, especially for those who love Disneyland, nostalgia and a healthy dose of magic. There are plenty of photo opportunities and lots of fun of fun to be had. Lastly, I want to thank Richard and Nicholas for their generosity in setting up this exhibition. As a lifelong fan of all these Disney and a frequent visitor to the Disneyland Park since I was a young child, this exhibition was a true wonder to behold and I found myself amazed, delighted, and often overwhelmed, nostalgic and moved. Just like Disneyland itself, this truly is for the young and young at heart.

Take a look below at many of the items from this collection (including some comparisons from pictures taken during many past trips). This doesn’t even scratch the surface of what is up for auction. And for more information visit ThatsFromDisneyland.com

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Why I’m Thankful for Emma Swan (and Jennifer Morrison)

The crowning glory of Once Upon a Time will always be Emma Swan. The main character of the series, this unique, beautiful, strong original fairy tale creation is their greatest hero, and along with Killian Jones, their greatest character. But even beyond the series, Emma Swan will forever be one of the most remarkable characters of all time, from her profound and moving journey and development, to the impeccable performance by Jennifer Morrison, the resulting gratitude, joy and inspiration is indeed boundless. And she is not the greatest hero or character simply because she’s a strong woman who can equally wield a sword or a gun or her magic- though that certainly is a large part of it. Rather, it is because Emma Swan is a real, well rounded and relatable woman who shows us there’s more than one way to be strong and courageous- physically, emotionally, and through vulnerability with a willingness to completely open her heart. She represents that ideal balance while still remaining ever realistic. And from the brilliantly profound performance and choices of Morrison, to the storytelling and writing, and even the costumes and iconic imagery of her character, Emma Swan truly is remarkable.

It’s easy to be thankful such a character from a storytelling perspective alone, but all the other elements add to the richness of Emma, providing so much, as I said, relatability, inspiration and joy. Her development is so moving and extraordinary. Emma went from orphan, to bail bonds person, to mother, Sheriff, friend, lover, Savior, hero, wife and mother again. Indeed, Emma went from feeling like an unwanted orphan and a little lost girl, unloved and like she didn’t matter and never would, to a young woman opening her heart only to be betrayed, making her grow hardened and jaded. And yet goodness remained, and hope still resided deep within the cracks of her heart, brought to the surface with her heart healing with the love she found with her parents, her son Henry, her friends, her eventual husband Killian, and her own sense of self worth. She didn’t think she could be a mother or open her heart romantically again and yet she found the courage to do so. The world can be cruel but you need not become such. And what is so beautiful and special about Emma is that duality of bringing back the happy endings for others and in the end finding her own.

With her iconic red leather jacket and bright yellow VW Bug she represents color being brought back into the cold, grey world. Her true love brings her son back to life and awakens Storybrooke from its sleep, and her heroics and indeed very being inspires Killian out of the darkness, reawakening both of their hearts from their long, long sleep. She saves others and saves herself, learns to love fully and love herself, her strength only growing as her vulnerability does. She could equally defeat a villain and help inspire and redeem them. Indeed, so many adjectives and superlatives can be attributed to Emma, who is truly a complex and well rounded character.

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Strong

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Brave

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Heroic

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Guarded

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Stubborn

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Kind

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Compassionate

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Sweet

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Overwhelmed

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Vulnerable

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Inspiring

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Self-sacrificing

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Awestruck

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Motherly

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Sassy

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Smart

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Funny

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Forgiving

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Powerful

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Beautiful

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Adorable

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Flirtatious

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Loving

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Blissful

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Affectionate

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Gentle

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Comforting

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Tough

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Badass

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Fierce

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Special

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Passionate

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Happy

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Peaceful

How can one not be captivated by the richness and beauty of such a story- a modern fairy tale character and story that will continue to inspire and delight. Emma Swan also inspires what Once Upon a Time exemplifies: Hope. She is light and the living embodiment of Hope, inspiring it in others, and rekindling it in her own heart when she had long lost it. She continues to be a beacon, now passing that onto her and Killian’s daughter of the same namesake bringing the show, her story and character full circle. It is truly beautiful.

If one is thankful for Emma Swan, so much of that lies within the beautifully brilliant performance of Jennifer Morrison. I cannot imagine another actor portraying Emma, especially with the same amount of depth, beauty, care and understanding that Morrison brought to the role year after year. She showcased all of Emma’s facets of the real and well-rounded woman she is always in such a deep and profound and brilliant way- with vitality, with humor, with softness, with subtlety and nuance, and with strength. For Emma is smart and witty, sometimes sarcastic and funny, sometimes hard and jaded, sometimes lost and heartbroken, sometimes soft and tender. She will wear a leather jacket, jeans and boots one moment, a soft pink dress another, and a beautiful ball gown another- a symbolic visual representation of the fullness of her character. No matter the scene Morrison expressed Emma’s strength, warmth and radiance, through her tears, her smiles, her expressive eyes , and her mannerisms. She spoke the words but also showed us Emma’s soul. I must also note how wonderful McKenna Grace and Abby Ross were as young Emma, both portraying fundamental pieces of Emma’s demeanor, psyche and development beautifully. They both clearly studied Morrison’s performance and did a fine job of maintaining consistencies and expressions, and physicality.

This is reason enough to be thankful, but beyond that, in the case of Morrison, not only did she breathe life into Emma, but did so with such care, consistency and understanding that is truly special. Morrison read memoirs of those who grew up in the foster system to understand their lives and experiences more thoroughly, and developed a special way Emma dealt with food, mimicking the way a child like Emma have to fight for her share in crowded group homes . She would cradle the head of those she loved when she hugged them, much like her father. Her smiles and expressions varied depending on the scene partner showcasing the variances in each relationship. In particular, one of the loveliest consistencies is the way she’d have Emma stand with Killian, her arm around him, often her head on his shoulder, and always with her hand resting over his heart in a loving and even protective manner- all done after his character had his heart taken and then restored by her. All of these consistencies bring beauty and depth to an already grand performance infusing subtleties that only the most gifted would even think of, let alone express so warmly, beautifully and with such reality. She always speaks about Emma’s journey with eloquence and complete and utter understanding. Instead of trying duplicate her words I’ll let them speak for themselves.

“Do you know how strong you have to be, to be vulnerable? I think you have to be even stronger to be vulnerable than to be defensive. And so I see it as an evolution of her strength for her to feel that she has it in her to be this vulnerable, to be this open, to risk getting hurt. I think that takes an incredible amount of strength.”

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“She has grown to a place where she’s capable of being strong and in love. And I think that that is what makes that really special for her. Is that after everything she’s been through and after all journeys that she’s been through and all of the obstacles that she’s faced, she’s surrounded by her family and friends and someone who loves her for who she truly is and she loves him for who he truly is. I think it’s nice that she’s being portrayed as being in a relationship where they know the good and the bad of each other. It’s not just we are happy go lucky and everything is great. They’re very aware of each other’s flaws and very aware of the times they’ve failed. And they accept the broken parts of each other. Just as they accept the healthy parts of each other. I think for her she feels like for the first time in her life she’s in a safe place. She is with someone who is truly her side and truly by their side. And I think that’s ultimately the best happy ending I could imagine for her after everything she’s been through. She started her life completely abandoned and sort of abused in certain ways. So to come to a place where she’s healing from all that, and she’s loved and supported by her family and by her now husband, I think it’s great.”

As is often the case, an actor’s fine work in one thing and can result in seeking out others. A few seasons into Once Upon a Time I found her wonderful work on House and How I Met Your Mother as well as re-watching Star Trek and discovering Warrior. A film like Sun Dogs (a review for this will be on here soon) may have never been on my radar but I’m so happy to be following Morrison’s career and obvious multifaceted talent, and look forward to whatever future projects are on the horizon. She also brought to light worthwhile causes which I was proud to be a part of: Dressember which helps to combat human trafficking, and the “Be the Hero” campaign which benefited research to battle Jacobson Syndrome. And beyond this, Morrison is an inspiring, kind soul that myself and countless others are thankful for- for her kindness, humbleness, and generosity of spirit, beyond her immense talent. I was moved by her words when I had the privilege of attending her panel at NerdHQ:

 

“And I think a lot of the time we like to  categorize things and say it’s all one thing or all another. It’s like if you’re strong then ‘you’re hard and you’re tough and you never cry and you don’t need anyone and you don’t need a man’ and  if you’re vulnerable then it’s like ‘you’re soft and sweet and take care of some guy.’ People like to delineate those two categories.  I’m not all one and I’m not all the other.  I can be extremely strong and really tough and I can stand up for myself and I can take care of myself. But there’s also things that hurt me, there’s also things that make me very vulnerable.  And there’s also  people I care about and I’m very open with them and I let them  close enough that they could hurt me.  I think it’s really important to try to bring wholeness to these characters otherwise you’re setting up young girls to have an unrealistic expectation of what it means to be strong.”

And I was extremely touched by her kind words about my writing for The Nerd Machine- to hear the appreciation, and praise and hear one’s writing called lovely and thoughtful means more than I could ever express. Morrison is an inspiring, lovely, truly nice person and I’m thankful for her being the one to bring Emma to life and everything beyond.

Emma Swan inspires me and I can easily say that she (and indeed Morrison) changed my life. It has not been as dark as Emma’s, but I can most definitely relate to feelings of insecurity, loneliness, and self worth having suffered from bullying, anxiety and other things. Emma is a character for anyone who has ever in some way felt like they weren’t enough- that they were an ugly duckling- to remind us that we were never nothing and that we have the power within ourselves to be the swan. To remember that love and hope spring eternal and that we have the ability to change our lives. Emma inspires the best in us all. To love without limits or walls up, to pull yourself up and fight for your happy beginning, middle and end. Emma Swan is the hero, the woman we needed for this generation and for all time. So thank you Emma Swan and Jennifer Morrison for inspiring us all and being a light in the world.

Bonus: Take a pictorial journey through 40 defining moments for Emma Swan

1. Emma makes a wish to not be alone on her birthday and Henry shows up at her doorgif-02agif-02b

2. Emma and Henry make their first real connection at his “castle”emma henry 6.gif

3. Emma shows what she is capable of when she takes a chainsaw to Regina’s treeemma tree.gif

4. Emma gives Ashley wise advice about lifeemma-speech.gif

5. Emma makes a deal with Gold to ensure Ashley can keep her babyemma ashley 1

6. Emma displays a flicker of hope that her heart could open in a moment with Grahamemma graham

7. Emma helps reunite two orphaned twins with their fatheremma compassionate

8. Emma breaks down after Augusts tells her she is Storybrooke’s only hopeemma angry (2)

9. Emma touches the Storybook and finally believes in magicemma believes.gif

10. Emma fights a dragon to help save Henrygif-16a

11. Emma saves Henry with True Love’s Kiss and breaks the curse on Storybrookegif-17

12. Emma shows vulnerability with her mother after seeing everything she sacrificedemma cry 2.gif

13. Emma finds a kindred spirit in Killian and admits she was once in loveemma was once.gif

14. Emma is set up to take the fall for Neal’s crime and is arrestedemma arrested 1

15. The magic inside of Emma shines through as she says “Love is strength”emma magic1

16. Emma gives an impassioned and inspiring speech about the best way to save Henry Emma Speech 1.gif

17. Emma reveals to her mother how she’s always felt like a lost girl who didn’t matteremma lost girl 3

18. Emma kisses Killian for the first timeemma kisses hook.gif

19. Emma saves Killian’s life, sacrificing her magic in the processcs back to me

20. Emma shares a romantic waltz with Killiancs dance 4

21. Emma witnesses the moment her parnets fall in loveemma watches parents.gif

22. Emma tells Killian Storybrooke is her true home, getting her magic and their way home back. She returns calling her parents Mom and Dadgif-32gif-33

23. Emma opens her heart and kisses Killian after hearing of his great sacrifice of the Jolly Roger to bring her homegif-35b

24. Emma reveals she’s pulling away out of fear of losing Killianemma can't lose you

25. Emma makes a brave, personal stride and asks Killian out on a dateemma asks hook 1.gif

26. Emma shares some childhood mementos for the first time with anyonecs share 1

27. Emma accepts herself as she is and gains control of her magicemma magic 6

28. Emma reveals her true love for Killian and regrets in not expressing itemma guarded 1

29. Emma becomes the Dark One to save everyone in Storybrooke from the darknessemma strong

30. Emma fights backs against the darkness declaring she was “never nothing!”gif-64

31. Emma fully turns into the Dark Swan when she tethers Killian to Excaliburemma dark one 1.gif

32. Emma proclaims her family’s motto marching into the Underworld to save Killiangif-49

33. Emma takes the last name “Swan” as a sign of what she wants to bebaby emma

34. Emma takes a big step in stating her love in a normal, peaceful momentemma love you

35. Emma begins therapy revealing she fears her happy ending is an illusionemma happy ending.gif

36. Emma makes her final transformation into the swan, who is strong and not alone- and never has been- in her song “Emma’s Theme”gif-marianneproject53c

37. Emma marries her True Love Killianemma wedding

38. Emma chooses to be the hero Henry tells her she isemma awakes1.gif

39. Emma has her Final Battle as the Savioremma savior 2

40. Emma has her first child with Killian, naming her Hopecs hope

 

Gif sources: shoedonym, doomsdayy, lumadreamland, onceland, odonowest, captainswanouat, captainswansource, ceeyoutea, onceuponadaily, jemmablossom, swanemma, once-upon-a-captain-swan, someone-like-robsten, killiancomeback2me, dashingrapskillian, emmaswaln, kimidakewooooo, dianasofthemyscira , ohmycaptn, youseetherealme, warriorswan, swanshope, handsomeswan, captainpoe, captainswaan, Joyce Scott, tough-lass, once-land