Friday, November 27, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: November 2015

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works 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: Julius Caesar
Author: William Shakespeare
via Amazon
I first read Julius Caesar in high school as I'm sure many in the English-speaking world do.  In American high schools, one typically reads one Shakespeare play in each of the four years.  Everyone gets the Big 3: Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet.  The fourth varies.  Some get Othello.  For my wife, it was The Merchant of Venice.  At my school, it was JC.  While I've seen many Shakespearean plays performed that I've never read, JC is the only one I've read but never seen performed.

Julius Caesar is an unusual play, particularly for Shakespeare, for the fact that the title character is not the clear protagonist.  Most of the story focuses instead on Brutus, Caesar's trusted friend and adviser, the very Brutus who led the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar.  Brutus is, in turn, an unusual protagonist for Shakespeare in light of his altruistic motivations:
"If then that friend [of Caesar's] demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more."
Even Brutus's antagonist, Mark Antony, describes Brutus as "the noblest Roman of them all."

In fact, much of what makes Julius Caesar such a fascinating story is the moral fluidity of the five principals.  Caesar is killed not for what he has done but for what he might do with his considerable power.  Brutus is forgiven for cold-blooded murder because his heart was in the right place.  Cassius seems to be on the right side because he's on Brutus's side but he is motivated by self-interest.  Antony and Octavius oppose Brutus but theirs is easily portrayed as the more justified cause.  Good stuff, Bill!

For our English project in high school, my friends and I made a parody film in which the reindeer assassinated Santa Claus.  I got to play Rudolph in the Brutus role.  I still remember the essay question from the exam: "Explain the differences between the death scenes of Cassius and Brutus."  At the time, I came up with something about Brutus being braver because he threw himself upon his own sword rather than having someone stab him.  Now, I see it differently, taking note of the fact that everyone Brutus asks to run him through wouldn't do it.  Even his own slave loves him too much to do more than hold the sword for him.  In suicide, Brutus is a martyr rather than a coward.

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 December's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is December 25th.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Clone Wars: Senate Spy

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: "Senate Spy"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 16, 2009
via Wookieepedia
The secrecy of the marriage between Anakin and Padme is severely tested in "Senate Spy."  Against Anakin's wishes, Padme agrees to spy on an old boyfriend, Rush Clovis.  Senator Clovis is suspected (correctly, as it turns out) of collaborating with the Separatists.  As he still carries a torch for Padme, the Jedi Council see her as the most likely candidate to gain his confidence in order to learn more.  Anakin, the jealous secret husband, tags along for protection so one never gets the sense that either Padme or the marriage is in any real danger but it's easy enough to sympathize with the inherent discomfort of the situation.
via Wookieepedia
Clovis's Separatist contact is Neimoidian Senator Lott Dod.  Dod first appeared in The Phantom Menace, played by Silas Carson and voiced by Toby Longworth.  While he didn't appear in any other films, this is the first of six appearances in The Clone Wars.
via Wikipedia
In our series, Dod is voiced by Gideon Emery, born September 12, 1972 in Windsor, England.  His family moved to South Africa when he was four.  A stage career led to stand-up comedy which led to television.  He moved to Los Angeles in 2003 in order to pursue a career in film.  He has appeared in such films as Last Resort, Takers and Moonlight.  Voice credits include television, video games and audiobooks.

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: "Landing at Point Rain."


Friday, November 20, 2015

Family Movie Night: The Peanuts Movie

Title: The Peanuts Movie
Director: Steve Martino
Original Release: 2015
Choice: Purple Penguin's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Peanuts Wiki
As soon as we saw the trailer for the first time, my daughter made it clear that we would be seeing this movie in the theater.  She is a devoted fan of the Peanuts gang and knows the source material well, pouring over her collected treasuries of the old comic strips frequently.  I wrote about my own love for Charlie Brown & Co. here.  The film arrives during a celebratory year for the franchise: 65th anniversary of the comic strip and 50th anniversary of the first TV special.  As enthusiasts, we were prepared for the technologically updated animation.  The big question was whether or not the spirit of the comics would be respectfully maintained.

The 3-D graphics are a considerable 21st century upgrade but the filmmakers sensibly resisted high tech updates within the story.  The Brown family still has a rotary telephone and Snoopy still pounds away on a typewriter.  No Twitter-speak, either.  Lots of classic story elements are revived: the kite-eating tree, the psychiatric help booth, the Little Red Headed Girl, the World War I Flying Ace, etc.  Our favorite characters are all well-preserved.  Charlie Brown is still the lovable loser constantly outclassed by his own dog.  Behind it all, sweetness lingers.  It's a simpler life in Peanuts World.  But even a simpler life can be frustrating and lonely.

So yes, spirit intact.  The story's ending veers in a decidedly new age direction.  I'm okay with it but I can certainly imagine that some purists might object.

The music was great.  All of the Vince Guaraldi classics were revived.  I'd have loved a rousing rendition of "Happiness" or "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" but it wasn't to be this time.  

The opening weekend was a success: $44 million in gross revenue, coming in second behind Spectre.  The two films have revived what had been a weak year and season for the industry.  A sequel certainly seems in order and would be most welcome at our house but at the moment, Fox only owns the rights for one film.  So if there is another, it could be a while.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Clone Wars: Children of the Force

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: "Children of the Force"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 9, 2009
via Wookieepedia
To me, the horrible fate of the Jedi younglings is the most heartbreaking part of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.  Any story threatening children is sure to inspire intense emotions and "Children of the Force" is no exception.  The holocron Cad Bane stole contains a list of the Force-sensitive children of the galaxy.  Darth Sidious is out to kidnap them for his own evil purposes.
via Behind the Voice Actors
Voice actor Jameelah McMillan performs three different roles in this episode, including computer voice duty.  She is Mahtee Dunn, the Rodian mother of Wee Dunn, a kidnapping target.  Bane hypnotizes her and tricks her into believing he must take the child in order to protect him from impostor Jedi.
via Wookieepedia
Later, McMillan is RO-Z67, a nanny droid in Sidious's employ charged with the care of the kidnapped children.
via Wookieepedia
The Clone Wars was a good gig for McMillan.  She performed in six episodes in total.  Her on-screen career includes the feature films Buds for Life and The Man Who Couldn't.

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: "Senate Spy."


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: December 2015 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, December 4th, everyone is invited to post three clues about his/her movie for others to guess.  Our next regular meeting is Friday, December 11th.   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, November 13, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: Maleficent on a Train

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 Library.  I actually watched two of my friends' films this month.  Maleficent was reviewed first by Toi Thomas, Strangers on a Train by Birgit.

Title: Maleficent
Director: Robert Stromberg
Original Release: 2014
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Maleficent re-imagines the story of Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of its perceived villain. Angelina Jolie stars in the title role. The film is certainly impressive visually, even scoring an Oscar nomination for costume design.  Acting is a mixed bag.  The women are pretty good - especially Jolie - but the men are sub-par.  The real question, though, is the effectiveness of the new story angle.  Some of the tactics are half-expected, such as establishing Maleficent as a betrayed and violated woman out for justifiable revenge.  But the more complex strategy is more satisfying, enough so that I won't spoil it here.  I don't feel a strong need to watch the movie again, though I have a feeling we will.  I would recommend it to anyone with a love for fairy tales. 

Title: Strangers on a Train
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Original Release: 1951
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Hitchcock was a genius, of course.  Strangers on a Train exhibits all of his hallmarks, too: long shadows, unusual camera angles, a director's cameo and the perfect plan gone horribly wrong.  Two men meet on the train from DC to New York, a route I've traveled many times myself.  Guy is a tennis pro, Bruno a high society heir.  Each has someone in his life he would just as soon have out of the way.  Bruno suggests they murder on one another's behalf, then presumptuously carries out his end of the deal. 

It is not my favorite Hitchcock.  I am partial to Vertigo and Rear Window.  But I enjoy it for the Washington, DC footage - excellent use of vertical lines.  Plus the trees around the Tidal Basin are noticeably smaller.  They're grown a lot in 64 years!  The glimpses of an earlier era in tennis are fun, too, back when the US Open was played on grass in Forest Hills.  If I were to watch it again, I'd keep an eye out for all of the doubles planted in the film: two taxis, two drinks ordered as doubles, Hitch carrying a double bass, two boyfriends for Guy's wife, the prominence of spectacles, etc.

Trivia challenge again for December!  Pick your own movie to share.  Post three clues on Friday, December 4th.  Post your reveal and review on Friday, December 11th.  Meanwhile, please visit my friends today:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Clone Wars: Cargo of Doom

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: "Cargo of Doom"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 2
Original Air Date: October 2, 2009
via Wookieepedia
In "Cargo of Doom" Anakin and Ahsoka run after Cad Bane who stole a Jedi holocron in the last episode (review here).  But the roles of cat and mouse are a bit fuzzy as the bounty hunter also requires the help of a Jedi to unlock the contents of his stolen treasure.  It's a strong development story for all three characters and the relationship between master and Padawan.

Bane's Separatist contact is Nute Gunray, a character first introduced in The Phantom Menace and the only villain besides Palpatine to appear in all three prequel movies.  He is the trilogy's great, evil ultra-capitalist.  Like Jar Jar, the character came under criticism for perceived racial stereotypes, Asian in this case.  The name is a combination of Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan, in part a jab at the former President for the co-opting of "Star Wars" for his missile defense system without George Lucas's permission.
via Wookieepedia
Nute Gunray was voiced by Tom Kenny.  Kenny was born July 13, 1962 in Syracuse, New York.  In high school, he became friends with comedian Bobcat Goldthwait.  Goldthwait would later cast Kenny in a couple of his movies: Shakes the Clown and World's Greatest Dad.
via Wikipedia
Kenny has what is most certainly one of the best jobs in animated television.  He is the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants.  Among many other roles, he voiced the Mayor in The Powerpuff Girls and the Ice King in Adventure Time.

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: "Children of the Force."