Friday, July 22, 2016

On the Road: Nova Scotia

Pull up the screen and warm up the projector.  That's right, you're in for a treat: vacation slides from our recent trip to Nova Scotia!  I promise, there's just a few - hopefully enough to give you a taste of the adventure.  Anybody want some popcorn?

We stayed on the Bay of Fundy coast, famous for its high tides:

Nearby Digby promotes itself as the scallop capital of the world.  Images of scallops are everywhere.


 Toilet roll bar frames:

The phone book: 


 Roses at the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens:

A lobster club sandwich at Shore Road Seafood in Hillsburn.  Once I discovered such a thing existed, I declared that I never wanted to leave Nova Scotia again.

 In Canada, you can get free socks with a bottle of whiskey:


And finally, the best reason of all to visit the ocean:

A couple of quick travel recommendations:
  • If you should ever have the good fortune of finding yourself in the charming town of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, the candlelight graveyard tour at Fort Anne is a must.
  • By luck, we encountered First World War Comes to Life: 
"a fully-animated exhibit that explores the lesser known wartime contributions of the Canadian men and women who served beyond the trenches, both at home and overseas. From home front relief efforts and wartime production to frontline communications and medical aid, the exhibit offers a series of dynamic displays and activities for visitors to experience the sights, sounds and smells of a world behind the front lines."
The group will be making stops in Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Montreal later this summer.  For more information, click here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Clone Wars: Altar of Mortis

My friends and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008 (as opposed to the one that started in 2003).  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of the fun.

Episode: "Altar of Mortis"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 3, Episode 16
Original Air Date: February 4, 2011
via Wookieepedia
In last week's episode, Anakin managed to beg off becoming referee for life between the Son (embodiment of the dark side of the Force) and Daughter (embodiment of the light) on the planet Mortis.  Or did he?  As this week's story opens, Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka are heading away in their ship but the Son manages to snatch Ahsoka and hold her captive, forcing a confrontation between himself and the Jedi.

I'm going to break one of my own self-imposed rules with this post.  Up to this point, I've avoided giving away the ending of each episode.  Once we move on to the next installment in a story arc, I figure it's fair game to talk about the end of the last one.  But, on the off chance someone out there is watching along with us, I don't want to spoil anything for the current week.  This week, however, I must.  There's just too much to talk about this time.  And so...


Important note before we dig deeper: as I write this, I have not yet watched the third episode of this three-part arc.  I am sure there are other shoes yet to fall and I know I am making assumptions based on incomplete information.  We'll reassess accordingly next week.

Predictably, the Daughter sides with the Jedi against her brother.  In so doing, she takes a big risk and pays a steep price.  She gives the Dagger of Mortis - a weapon capable of killing a Force wielder - to Obi-Wan.  During the ultimate confrontation, the Son steals it from the Jedi and turns to use it against the Father.  The Daughter sacrifices herself by stepping between them at the last minute.  She dies and the balance of the Force is disrupted, for Mortis and for the rest of the galaxy.  The rise of the Sith, according to the Father, is now inevitable.

While I certainly appreciate the allegorical nature of the Mortis arc, I am not entirely comfortable with this conclusion.  As I have said before, I'm not a huge fan of the prequel trilogy but I do feel the turning of Anakin to the dark side is the part Lucas got right.  In the young Jedi's pride and arrogance, Darth Sidious saw vulnerabilities he could manipulate.  Anakin was seduced by power.  People often are.  To imply it all happened because of supernatural forces being thrown out of balance in a morality play on another astral plane is dissatisfying to me.

The Mortis story would work better, I think, without the explicit connection to the broader saga.  The metaphors would be more effective if the viewer were left to interpret them for him/herself.

And yes, I know we're not quite done with this story yet...


The Son is voiced by Sam Witwer.  Witwer was born October 20, 1977 in Glenview, Illinois.  He briefly attended Julliard before moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
via Wikipedia
Television has been kind to Witwer.  He was Lt. Crashdown on Battlestar Galactica and Davis Bloome on Smallville.  He's gotten a lot of Star Wars voice work.  In addition to the Son, he has voiced Darth Maul for The Clone Wars and Emperor Palpatine for Rebels.  He also voiced an alien in The Force Awakens.  He is a role playing game enthusiast, especially the various Star Wars RPGs. 

If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants today.  Next week: "Ghosts of Mortis."


Friday, July 15, 2016

Family Movie Night: The Incredible Hulk

Title: The Incredible Hulk
Director: Louis Leterrier
Original Release: 2008
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Scratchpad
Our exploration of superhero movies continues with 2008's The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton who also did significant, though uncredited work on the script.  As we join the story, Bruce Banner is hiding out in Rio: hiding from the Hulk that lurks within him and hiding from the military who want to exploit his terrifying powers.  Once discovered, he makes his way back to the Virginia university where the Hulk was created (the origin story was altered a bit for the movie) and Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), the woman he loves.

Hulk is The Avengers' tortured soul and at least potentially the gang's most interesting character.  Banner doesn't want his powers at all but as long as he has them, would want them used for good.  The Hulk, however, while inhabiting Banner's body, exists on the fine line between his host's ability and inability to control him.  I like the Hulk/Banner conflict we see in this film.  The Betty character is crucial to making it work.  He can't make love to her as Banner for fear the excitement will spark his transformation.  As Hulk, only Betty seems able to bring out the gentle giant within him.  Black Widow has taken on this role in later films.

I realize not everyone likes Norton, the Marvel filmmakers included, apparently, as they gave the part to Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers and beyond.  I've always been a fan of Norton, ever since his astonishing 1996 film debut in Primal Fear.  His looks fall short of the traditional leading man but his range is always impressive.  He's been nominated for Oscars three times and an eventual win seems inevitable once the right part comes along.  I like him as Banner.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Clone Wars: Overlords

My friends and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008 (as opposed to the one that started in 2003).  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of the fun.

Episode: "Overlords"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 3, Episode 15
Original Air Date: January 28, 2011
via Wookieepedia
This week, Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka are drawn to a distant planet by a mysterious force.  There, they encounter three powerful beings: the "Father" and his two children.  His Daughter is strong with the light side of the Force, his Son the dark.  Father has his hands full serving as fulcrum between the two and what's more, he is dying.  Word seems to have gotten around the galaxy that Anakin is the Chosen One, destined to bring balance to the Force.  Father is hopeful that Anakin will take his place.

Like so many fans, I grew up with Star Wars.  The first movie came out when I was four years old and the saga has been an essential part of my personal mythology ever since.  And yet, I never really gave much thought to what it was all about, the moral underpinnings of this grand adventure.  Frankly, I was too young to care.  Good vs. Evil was enough for me.

It was, in fact, blogging that brought me to a deeper understanding.  It started with my exploration of Star Trek's original series.  Once the moral landscape of that franchise became more clear to me, I started wondering more about my beloved Star Wars, a story I'd believed to that point that I knew better than Trek.  My curiosity led me to the novelizations of the original movies and with this new lens, I was able to see these all too familiar stories in a new light.

There are many themes in Star Wars but the one that has come to interest me most is, essentially, a question to be answered by each of the major characters in turn:  which side will you choose in the struggle between good and evil, light and dark?  Or potentially even more interesting, will you choose to enter the fray at all?

Take the four human heroes in the original film, the one now known as Episode IV: A New Hope.  The story begins with Leia, who has already answered the question by the time we meet her.  Her devotion to the Rebellion (the light) is total and never wavers over the coarse of the saga.  Obi-Wan is firmly on the light side as well, though it takes Leia's plea for help to draw him back to the fight.  Luke is new to the game and in his eagerness for adventure, is easily won over to the cause.  Han Solo is Star Wars's Mercutio, unintentionally the most interesting character.  Han takes some convincing.  He certainly develops loyalty to his friends quickly but self-preserving instincts prevent him from giving over completely.  I think this question of dedication is an essential element of the original film's enduring appeal.

As the story grows, the conflict between light and dark becomes more complicated for Luke.  The climax of his story comes when he is forced to choose between joining the Emperor or destroying him.  Will he use his extraordinary powers for good or for evil?  It's a question powerful people in our own world face continually.  Too often, they choose the dark side.  Our world would be a different place if that were not the case.

Luke chooses the light.  When Anakin's story begins in Phantom Menace, we, the audience, already know his own choice will be different, even if we don't yet know the particulars.  The dilemma Anakin faces in "Overlords" is, in essence, the dilemma of the Star Wars saga.  The Father implies that the importance of his role extends far beyond his own family.  He is essentially offering Anakin the power of a god.  What will Anakin choose to do?

We've got two more episodes to find out.
via Wookieepedia
The Father is voiced by Lloyd Sherr.  Sherr was born February 28, 1956 in Los Angeles.  He has done quite a lot of narration work for History Channel series, including Modern Marvels, Command Decisions and Engineering Disasters.  He took over the voice of Filmore in the Cars franchise when George Carlin died.
via Pixar Wiki
If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants today.  Next week: "Altar of Mortis."

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Mock Squid Soup: August 2016 Blog List

MOCK! and The Armchair Squid are proud to present Mock Squid Soup: A Film Society!

This month, everyone gets to throw a movie of their own choice into the pot.  The week before our gathering, on Friday, August 5th, everyone is invited to post three clues about his/her movie for others to guess.  Our next regular meeting is Friday, August 12th.   No need to sign up twice.  I'll use the same link list for both.  If you are interested in joining us, please sign on to the list below.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Mock Squid Soup: Age of Ultron

MOCK! and The Armchair Squid are proud to welcome you to Mock Squid Soup: A Film Society, meetings on the second Friday of each month. This month, each of us is choosing another society member's movie to review as listed in The Mock Squid Soup Film LibraryAvengers: Age of Ultron was first reviewed by MOCK!.

Title: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Director: Joss Whedon
Original Release: 2015
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Amazon
As I mentioned in last month's Ant-Man post, this was one of two DVDs Mock gave me to watch as homework the week before we went to see Captain America: Civil War.  Overall, I enjoyed Ant-Man more but I was glad to have watched both.  Civil War would have been more difficult to follow otherwise.

Growing up, I wasn't so into superheroes.  They were okay but Star Wars and D&D were much bigger parts of my life.  Getting to be friends with Mock changed all of that.  The man lives and breathes comic books, especially Marvel and especially The Avengers.  Partly out of curiosity and partly in an effort to know my new friend better, I asked to borrow a stash of comics.  He enthusiastically obliged and I have been playing catch up ever since.

We went to see the first Avengers movie together - midnight showing on the first night.  I didn't enjoy the film as much as he did - full disclosure, I fell asleep - but I felt honored to ride shotgun for his personal pilgrimage.  I haven't done such a good job following the movies since, thus the last minute cramming.

Meanwhile, my daughter has, at age 12, unexpectedly caught the superhero bug.  She is partial to the X-Men but is curious about all of them.  So now I'm working on catching her up with the movies, too.

Okay, so back to Age of Ultron.  Upon discovering a new trinket with artificial intelligence, Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) and Bruce Banner (Hulk) plug it into one of Stark's projects.  In so doing, they accidentally create a sentient being, Ultron, who demolishes Stark's A.I. buddy J.A.R.V.I.S. then sets off to destroy all of humanity.


All the Avengers from the first movie are back: Iron Man (played by Robert Downey, Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).  They gain some new personnel in the movie, though that would be spoiling (except to say that two of the newbies joined the gang in much the same way they did in the comic books back in the 1960s - yeah, I did my homework! - booyah!).  A few internal storylines are introduced, too: a growing affection between Banner and Black Widow and a growing family for Hawkeye.  His wife, Laura Barton, is played by the uber-talented Linda Cardellini - always happy to give a shout out for Freaks and Geeks alums.

I'd say I enjoyed Age of Ultron more than the first Avengers movie.  Black Widow and Hawkeye got much needed development and I enjoyed all of the new characters.  The depth and personality of Marvel heroes has been a major selling point of the franchise for over half a century and the best parts of the movies honor that tradition.  There is a lot more story to follow but I managed to keep up.  Ultron (James Spader) is not as good a villain as Loki (Tom Hiddleston) but that's a high bar to clear.

Trivia challenge again for August!  Pick your own movie to share.  Post three clues on Friday, August 5th.  Post your reveal and review on Friday, August 12th.  Meanwhile, please visit my friends today:

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Family Book Swap: The Big Short

Title: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
Author: Michael Lewis
via Wikipedia
My wife and I have resumed our annual summer tradition of a family book swap.  The Purple Penguin has her own reading agenda for the summer so she's not participating this year.  I gave my wife Foundation by Isaac Asimov.  Her Goodreads review is here.

Her book for me was The Big Short by Michael Lewis, the story of the subprime mortgage crisis told from the perspective of the few in the financial world who saw it coming.  My wife and I saw the excellent film based on the book during our visit to Washington in December.  I am also already a fan of Lewis's work having read and thoroughly enjoyed Moneyball (review here).  As such, I was delighted for the excuse to read The Big Short.

In his book Polysyllabic Spree, British author Nick Hornby offered a marvelous review of Moneyball: “I understood about one word in every four of Moneyball, and it's still the best and most engrossing sports book I've read in years."  That's a fair summation of my feelings about The Big Short.  High finance talk loses me in a hurry.  As much as I love numbers, the stock listings never drew my attention the way the sports page did.  Of course, all of the jargon surrounding the mortgage crisis is more esoteric than most, by design.  We peasants on the street were never meant to understand.  Those who control the information control the world - until they lose control, that is.  Then we're all screwed.

Lewis does his best to explain it all, though the film did it better so I was glad to have seen it first.  Even so, the book is brilliant.  Lewis's genius as a writer is character development.  The heroes of his tale are a few hedge fund managers who saw the madness and fragility of the subprime market and boldly bet against it.  All of them are wonderfully drawn.  My favorite is Steve Eisman, played by Steve Carell in the movie.  He's a misanthropic wacko with a gift for seeing through bullshit.  His attempt at playing golf in chapter 6 is not to be missed.

The crazy part about following this story either in print or on screen is the realization that in rooting for these guys to be right, you are rooting for economic catastrophe.  It's not a good book to read if you want to maintain a positive outlook on humanity.  You will laugh and you will learn.  Just don't go into it hoping for reassurance.