Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: November 2014 Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, November 28th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us:

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Cepholopod Coffeehouse: October 2014

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Embroideries
Writer and Artist: Marjane Satrapi
via Amazon
As I finished Embroideries and set it down in front of My Wife for her to read, she asked if I liked it.   "Well yes," I responded.  "It's Iranian women sitting around, talking about their sex lives.  What's not to like?"

Marjane Satrapi is best known for the groundbreaking Persepolis, a comic book and film about her experiences growing up in revolutionary Iran (my review here).  Embroideries is also about Satrapi's own family, this time exploring the intimacies of the bedroom.  The typical western image of the Iranian woman has her shrouded in a burka, completely disconnected from pleasures of the flesh.  Satrapi chucks that idea out the window as she and the other ladies in her circle hold forth.

Personalities run the gamut from Marjane's blunt, fearless grandmother to her more naive cousins.  Men, for the most part, don't come off well in the discussion - no surprise.  They're thoughtless, clueless and/or manipulative.  It's also clear they're not welcome to partake in the conversation.  I feel lucky to be offered the fly-on-the-wall perspective. 

The book's title could be taken to refer to the common threads that run through the women's stories.  However, it is also a specific reference to an operation to restore the hymen, thus preserving the illusion of a new wife's virginity - apparently a growing issue in modern, though still theocratic Iran.

As a graphic novel, Embroideries is a quick, engaging read.  The subject matter - handled frankly and humorously - is sure to keep the pages turning.  Those interested in Satrapi's work might also enjoy Chicken with Plums (review here).

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post November's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is November 28th.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Star Trek: For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky

Episode: "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 8
Original Air Date: November 8, 1968
via Wikipedia
This week's episode is a Dr. McCoy story.  There aren't too many of those.  Generally speaking, Bones gets the least attention of Trek's Big 3.  He's the George Harrison to Kirk and Spock's Lennon and McCartney (I guess Scotty is Ringo in this analogy).  While Trek wouldn't be Trek without him, McCoy rarely benefits from the scant character development on offer in the original series. 

In our story, the Enterprise is sent on a mission to stop an asteroid from careening into an inhabited planet.  One small snag: the asteroid has people inside of it! 10,000 years previously, just before their star went supernova, the Fabrini built an asteroid-shaped spaceship called Yonada and sent it off into space, hoping to find a new home.  Our heroes are faced with the dilemma of how to save both Yonada and the four billion inhabitants of Daran V.

Interesting story, yet it's not even the best narrative running through the episode.  McCoy has diagnosed himself with a rare, incurable illness, estimating he only has one year to live.  When he goes down to Yonada with Kirk and Spock as part of the landing party, the high priestess Natira falls in love with him and invites him to live out the rest of his days as her husband.  He accepts, understandably seeking companionship at the end.  "For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky" perhaps translates to "life is lonely but I have known love." 

Obviously, there's more to play out as we all know from future stories that McCoy survives his illness and returns to the Enterprise.  But there are a few memorable scenes along the way.  The love affair moves along quickly but manages to be quite touching at times.  The very best scene, though, is between Spock and Bones.  Spock's human side shines through when he learns of the doctor's illness.   Spock grasps McCoy's shoulder - the gesture begins as physical support but evolves into an expression of compassion.  It's a wonderful moment in the development of a relationship so crucial to the spirit of Trek

via Find A Grave
Kate Woodville (Natira) was born December 4, 1938 in London.  She moved to the States in 1967, the year before her appearance on Trek.  Film credits include The Clue of the New Pin, The Wild and the Willing and The Informers.  She had numerous TV appearance in both Britain and the US.  British credits included The Avengers, The Saint and No Hiding Place.  Besides Star Trek, Woodville had American television gigs on Mission: Impossible, The Rockford Files and Eight Is Enough among others. 

Woodville was in the very first episode of The Avengers and later married the show's leading man, Patrick Macnee.  Her second husband, Edward Albert, was also an actor.  Woodville died of cancer in 2013.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Family Movie Night: E.T.

Title: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Original Release: 1982
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
This week's choice was a controversial one at our house.  My Wife and I have very different feelings about E.T.  For me, it came into my world when escapist fantasy ruled my being.  The idea of an alien from outer space befriending a young boy was powerful indeed.  While I wouldn't say it's one of my favorite movies (in fact, I'm not entirely sure I'd watched it since its original theatrical run), I did feel it was an important film to share with our daughter while she is still, in fact, a child.
via Wikipedia
For My Wife, who first saw E.T. a little later in life than I did, it was the film that turned her off from Stephen Spielberg.  She was old enough to recognize and resent the overt emotional manipulation in the story's final act.  Watching as an adult, I can appreciate her objections.  As E.T. and his buddy Elliott were struggling to survive, I wanted to reassure my daughter that both would be okay.  I resisted, knowing that would compromise her sense of relief in the ending.  I still enjoy the magic of the story and I think my daughter did, too.

I'd forgotten about all of the Star Wars references.  I remembered E.T. running into Yoda on Halloween but I'd forgotten the snippet of "Yoda's Theme" used for that scene.  I had also forgotten the scene in which Elliott introduces E.T. to all of his Star Wars action figures, many of which I had myself.

John Williams won his fourth Oscar for the E.T. score.  The movie won four Oscars in total, also nabbing the top prize for Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects.  It was the highest grossing film of the 1980s and consistently finds its way onto various all-time bests lists.  For all of that critical and commercial success, E.T. never had a sequel - quite amazing considering the era, when nearly all successful movies had at least one.  Even Grease had one, for crying out loud.  One half-expected Gandhi II: Nehru's Revenge. Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison wrote a sequel but Spielberg decided against pursuing it, for fear of corrupting the purity of the original.  E.T.'s species, however, did have a memorable cameo as representatives to the Galactic Senate in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Star Trek: Day of the Dove

Episode: "Day of the Dove"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 7
Original Air Date: November 1, 1968
via Wikipedia
Distress calls bring both the Enterprise and a Klingon ship to Beta XII-A.  The malevolent superior entity that lured them plays puppeteer with both parties, fueling tensions.  The Klingons are brought aboard the ship.  Unwilling to be docile prisoners, they take over engineering.  All the while, the entity allows neither side to gain a permanent upper hand.  In time, our heroes deduce that this evil spirit feeds off of conflict and they can only defeat it by making peace with the Klingons.

Symbolism is heavy-handed indeed.  A memorable exchange during the initial Federation/Klingon confrontation:
Kirk: Go to the devil.
Klingon Commander Kang: We have no devil, Kirk.  But we understand the habits of yours.
Later, Kirk accuses the entity of having meddled in the affairs of others before, a perpetual force of evil in the universe.  Apparently the original script had the Klingons and Enterprise crew singing songs in a peace march.  Thankfully, sensibility prevailed and laughter was used to drive the entity away.

The heavy-handedness aside, "Day of the Dove" is a good episode for the development of the Klingons.  As with the Romulans in "The Enterprise Incident," we have glimpses of better cultural understanding amid the tensions:
Kirk (to Mara, Kang's wife, after Kirk threatens to kill her as a bluff to Kang): The Federation doesn't kill or mistreat its prisoners.  You've been listening to propoganda... fables.
Mara (later, to Kirk): We have always fought.  We must.  We are hunters, Captain, tracking and taking what we need. 
The end, while not hopeful exactly, does offer a possible path to long-term peace.

via Memory Alpha
Michael Ansara (Kang) was born April 15, 1922 in Syria.  His family emigrated to the United States when he was two years old.  He took acting classes as a way to overcome shyness, then fell in love with it.

His long career ranged from Biblical epics to westerns to science fiction.  He played Judas in 1953's The Robe.  He had the lead roles in two 1950s TV series: Broken Arrow and Law of the Plainsman.  He played Kane in the Buck Rogers TV series.  He reprised the role of Kang in Deep Space Nine and Voyager episodes.  Hardly needing to add more to his geek cred, he was also the voice of Dr. Freeze for Batman: The Animated Series and its spinoffs.

While making Broken Arrow, the publicity department set Ansara up on a date with Barbara Eden, later of I Dream of Jeannie fame.  The two were married for 16 years, divorcing in 1974.  Their only son, Matthew, died of a heroin overdose in 2001.  Michael Ansara died in 2013 after a long illness.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Mark Kurlansky

Title: Salt: A World History
Author: Mark Kurlansky
via Amazon
I know salt is important for preserving food.  When I was young, I learned about the Romans using salt to pay their soldiers.  From this, we get the word salary.  I've also seen the movie Gandhi so I knew about his march to the sea to gather salt in defiance of the British Empire.  Before reading Salt, that was about the limit of my appreciation for the role salt has played in human history.  I had read Kurlansky before.  His book Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World is outstanding and, if you should read it, will thoroughly convince you that the fishing industry has shaped the history of the North Atlantic for over 1,000 years.  I'd even given Salt a go before, about nine years ago.  Alas, that was a time when pleasure reading was not a big part of my life so I'd go months without picking up the book at all.  As a result, I didn't make it far.  With my new interest in food books, it seemed a good time to give it another try.

Salt is essential to life but it has not always been easily accessible so its trade has been a major part of economies from the beginning.  Salt covers a lot of ground.  Kurlansky's thorough account hits five continents over thousands of years.  He begins with the mining innovations of ancient China and finishes with the Morton Salt company.  In between, he spends most of the book in various corners of Europe but a few chapters are devoted to the impact on Asia and the New World, too.  Apart from food, salt has had numerous industrial applications over the centuries: making gunpowder, curing leather, mining silver, deicing roads, etc.  Salt use has diminished over the past century but remains essential today.

As with Cod, Salt leaves no doubt as to the importance of its subject matter.  Even so, the text is dense at times and some chapters were tougher to get through than others, slipping into that one-damn-thing-after-another feel that is the peril of any history text.  All I want is high intellectual stimulation with trashy-novel digestibility.  Is that really so much to ask?  I am glad to have finally finished the book.  I didn't enjoy it as much as I did Cod but it's certainly a worthwhile read.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Family Movie Night: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Title: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Director: Henry Selick
Original Release: 1993
Choice: Purple Penguin's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
At its heart, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a very simple concept: what would happen if Halloween took over Christmas?  From that premise, a rich, textured universe was created in which each of seven different holidays inhabit a world all their own.  Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon, sung by Danny Elfman) is the superstar of Halloween Town.  Despite the worship-level appreciation he enjoys in his own realm, he longs for more.  He hatches a plan to kidnap Santa Claus and deliver Christmas presents in his place. 

This has long been one of our family favorites.  We own a DVD copy and there was a stretch a few years back when Purple Penguin was watching it daily.  As it was frequently on in the background, I know the sounds of the film better than I do the sights.  So there are a few details I had missed before this most recent viewing - particularly the door with the fire cracker!  There is a circle of trees in the woods, each with a door leading to a Holiday Town: a pumpkin for Halloween, a tree for Christmas, a heart for Valentine's Day, a shamrock for St. Patrick's Day, an egg for Easter and a turkey for Thanksgiving.  (Rather USA-centric, isn't it?)  I'd thought that was it.  Au contraire!  There's a door with a fire cracker for Independence Day.  Well, what do you know?

One has to appreciate the marketing genius of a movie suitable for both Halloween and Christmas, the two biggest consumer holidays on the calendar.  My favorite scene is at the very end of the trailer:

I can't help being curious about the other Holiday Towns but Tim Burton, the genius behind the whole concept, has always been very protective of this story and resistant to the idea of sequels.  If it ever does happen, I certainly hope Elfman will be brought along for the ride.  Danny Elfman, former front man for Oingo Boingo, has carved out quite a niche for himself in the worlds of film and television.  He has scored nearly all of Burton's films and has worked on many others as well.  He has been nominated for four Oscars.  For all of his success on the big screen, his strongest legacy may be The Simpsons theme song.


My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.