Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Clone Wars: Grievous Intrigue

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: "Grievous Intrigue"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 9
Original Air Date: January 1, 2010
via Wookieepedia
Jedi Master Eeth Koth is taken hostage by General Grievous.  Obi-Wan, Anakin and Adi Gallia set off to rescue him, though it quickly becomes apparent the whole kidnapping was just a ploy to ensnare Kenobi.  Basically, the story is straight forward Jedi vs. Sith with a reminder of the personal animosity between Grievous and Obi-Wan.

There is, however, an interesting wrinkle worthy of note.  While Grievous is in contact with the Jedi via holo-transmission, he lords over a seemingly inert Koth, exhausted by the torture his captor has exacted upon him.  However, Koth manages to communicate his coordinates through hand gestures.  This is the first and, as far as I can tell, only appearance of a Jedi sign language within a canon story.

As noted last week, The Force Awakens has definitely raised the bar for future Star Wars stories.   The new movie has also brought me to reevaluate the place of The Clone Wars within the franchise.  At its best, the series provides much of the personal intimacy that was lacking in the prequels.   It rests on the timeline between movie episodes so it does nothing to alter the broader narrative.  Instead, it provides richer context for a time in the galaxy's history when the Jedi were still powerful, if threatened.  Koth's hand signals, for instance, are a subtle but meaningful enhancement of Jedi culture.

However, Star Wars often struggles to break away from its basic story structures.  I have discussed the tendency toward formula with The Clone Wars but even the new movie adheres a bit too close to A New Hope for my comfort.  How many times are our friends going to have to destroy a Death Star?  The new characters offer exciting possibilities going forward.  If Episode VIII comes off as an Empire Strikes Back rehash, I will be miffed.

That said, let's be clear: I can't wait to find out!

*****
via Wookieepedia
Eeth Koth is an Iridonian Zabrak from the planet Nar Shaddaa.  He was first introduced in The Phantom Menace, in which he was played by Hassani Shapi.  In The Clone Wars, he was voiced by Chris Edgerly.
via Disney Wiki
Edgerly was born August 6, 1969 in Silver Spring, Maryland.  He and his family moved to Savannah, Georgia when he was two years old.  He graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism.  Beyond Star Wars, his television voice credits include Hot in Cleveland, The Simpsons and Wolverine and the X-Men.  His video game work has been more extensive, including several Lord of the Rings titles in which he is the voice of Aragorn.

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: "The Deserter."

 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: January 2016 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, January 29th.  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, December 25, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: December 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: I Am a Cat
Author: Soseki Natsume
via Goodreads
Merry Christmas!

I Am a Cat, originally syndicated, was the breakthrough publication for Soseki, one of modern Japan's most influential writers.  As the title implies, the story is told from the perspective of an unnamed house cat.  For most of the narrative, the cat is eavesdropping on the conversations of his master, Mr. Sneaze, a rather fussy English teacher.

Japan was in a state of rapid transition in the early 20th century, rather too rapid for many people's tastes.  In 1905, Japan shocked the world by besting the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War, unexpectedly emerging as a global power.  While the victory was a source of great pride, many traditionalists were none too happy about the increasing Western influence over Japan.  The discussions among Sneaze and his quirky friends revolve around these concerns.  And of course, there is that ever-present theme of nearly all Japanese literature: the inherent loneliness of modern life.

As my wife recently observed, I'm not a huge fan of wordy books.  People just sitting around talking isn't what I seek in an absorbing read.  I Am a Cat can be slow-going along those lines but it definitely has its moments of both profundity and humor.  Soseki's description of the board game Go, for instance, is wonderful.

The best passages are the ones about the cat himself, though those are few and far between.  Cats are a popular subject in Japanese art, often appearing in woodblock prints, the better ones reflecting a genuine love and appreciation for the animal.  We own two cats and are thus well acquainted with their peculiarities.  One paragraph provides a delightful recounting of the narrator cat chasing his own tail, referring to it as "Great Tail Gracious Diety."  If there had been more about the cat and less about the humans, I'd have enjoyed the book more.  Even so, it's a worthwhile read.

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 January's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is January 29th.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Clone Wars: Brain Invaders

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: "Brain Invaders"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 8
Original Air Date: December 4, 2009
via Wookieepedia
The five-part Geonosis story arc concludes with "Brain Invaders."  The zombies from last week were caused by brain worms that enter the body through the host's nose.  [Ewwww!!!!]  After the military victory on Geonosis, the Padawans Ahsoka and Barriss are sent on a mission to deliver medical supplies to Mace Windu on Dantooine.  Unfortunately, one of the clone troopers accompanying them is already carrying a brain worm and once aboard, it lays eggs.  Trouble's a-brewin'!
via SGCommand
Kevin Kiner is the music composer for The Clone Wars film and TV series as well as Star Wars: Rebels.  Obviously the music for all three draws heavily upon the John Williams classic scores but the music for Star Wars's animated universe has its own distinct flavor.  Kiner was born September 3, 1958 in San Bernardino, California.  He has also composed for Star Trek: Enterprise, Stargate SG-1 and numerous films.  Just as with the voice actors, he has video game credits as well.

Ah yes, the new movie!
via Wookieepedia
Heading in, I would have ranked the first six Star Wars episodes thusly:

1. V: The Empire Strikes Back
2. IV: A New Hope
3. VI: Return of the Jedi
4. III: Revenge of the Sith
5. I: The Phantom Menace
6. II: Attack of the Clones

Obviously, I am biased toward the originals, particularly the first two films.  Return of the Jedi is good, especially for completing the Empire story, but Lucas bobbled the ball a bit with the Ewoks.  As much as I would love to have loved the prequels, I sure didn't.  They do help in fleshing out the Star Wars universe and certainly provide substantial backstory but they lack the personal intimacy of the originals.  So naturally, I went into The Force Awakens as I imagine most devotees did, with hope that it would pick up where Jedi left off, almost as if (sorry) the prequels had never happened.  No less than the vitality of the mythology I have treasured since age 4 was riding on the outcome.  No pressure.

As of this writing, I have seen The Force Awakens once but I'm already eager for further viewings.  The visual presentation is outstanding.  Director J.J. Abrams deliberately avoided the CGI so prominent in the prequels in favor of the earthier feel of the originals - an excellent choice.  Music and sound, always the greatest strength of the franchise, are rock solid.  The acting, particularly for the new characters, is, if anything, an upgrade.  From a purely technical standpoint, this would have to be the finest Star Wars movie to date.

The real question, though, is story.  The originals succeed because they focus on the exploits of a small band of adventurers.  The prequels stumble because they try to do too much, taking in the grand sweep of political and economic forces rather than allowing us to fall in love with new characters.  Clearly, Abrams got the memo.  The new tale brings back old friends - it's largely a Han Solo story, thank goodness - and also introduces a new generation about whom I'm eager to learn more.

I am reluctant to say more.  Too easy to spoil things for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.  There is so much to discuss but I'll wait for now.  Except for this...

5 stars out of 5.  Part of me wanted to wait until a second viewing to give it a 5 but who am I kidding?  The movie does not disappoint.  I would rank it third on the all-time list.  The bar for new Star Wars stories has been raised significantly, a fact not lost on me as I continue to explore The Clone Wars.  More on that next week.

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: "Grievous Intrigue."

 

Friday, December 18, 2015

On the Road: An Elemental Thanksgiving

His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that
Nature might stand up
And say to all the world,
"This was a man!"

- Mark Antony, eulogizing Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

Humblest apologies for not reporting on our marvelous Thanksgiving holiday sooner.  We spent the holiday in Worcester, Massachusetts with our dear friends, English Prof and The Playwright.  Our hostess, drawing inspiration from the poem "Four Elements" by Anne Bradstreet, proposed a multi-course meal celebrating fire, water, earth and air.  While she and my wife worked their usual magic in the kitchen, the purple penguin supplied artwork, The Playwright and I the soundtrack.  The highlights...


Roasted pumpkin soup with roasted poblanos


*****


Lobster with hollandaise, cucumber and Asian pear


*****


Root vegetable gratin with sauteed oyster and hen of the woods mushrooms



*****

Goose



*****

Our amazing meal ended with the perfect synthesis of all elements:


Pumpkin, pecan and apple


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Clone Wars: Legacy of Terror

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: "Legacy of Terror"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 7
Original Air Date: November 20, 2009
via Wookieepedia
The Geonosis story continues, this being the fourth or a five-part arc.  This time Luminara is captured by bug-like zombie creatures.  Obi-Wan, Anakin and accompanying clone troopers set off to rescue her.

As you've no doubt heard, this is a big week for the Star Wars franchise, indeed for all of geekdom.  Episode VII hits theaters in just a few days.  After a 32 year wait, we finally get a sequel to Return of the Jedi.  The media blitz has been masterfully executed.  Box office records will be shattered.  But will the new movie - not to mention the next four over four years - be any good?
via Star Wars Fanpedia
George Lucas, of course, is the genius whose quirky $11 million film transformed the industry 38 years ago.  He was born May 14, 1944 in Modesto, California.  He's a junior college success story, attending Modesto Junior College before transferring to USC.  The University of Southern California was one of the first to have a film major.  There, he met one of his most important collaborators: Steven Spielberg.  Together, they helped usher in a new age of world cinema.

There's never been a better time to be a geek than right now.  Scifi and superhero stories are flooding screens large and small.  In some ways, it feels as if all of it - Marvel, DC, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Hunger Games - has been building up to this week.

Make no mistake, this is George Lucas's week.  While he has had no official creative control over The Force Awakens, it is his vision which has brought us all to this point.  JJ Abrams is a talented director, to be sure, but the faithful will eviscerate him if he strays too far from Papa George.  None of that New Vulcan crap he pulled with Star Trek will be tolerated here.  If the promotional material is any indication, the new movie at least looks right.  It feels more personal and intimate than the prequel trilogy.  All of the ads reassure us that the current guardians are taking good care of our dear old friend.  I, for one, am hopeful.

Thank you, Papa George, for all of it.

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: "Brain Invaders."

 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: January 2016 Blog List

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

Next meeting is Friday, January 8th.  As announced last month, the plan for this month is for each participant to pick someone else's movie from our ever-growing society library.  I maintain a list of those movies here, also to be found on my page list as "Mock Squid Soup Film Library."

The signup list:




Friday, December 11, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: Rudy

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.  Last week, society members posted three clues as to their chosen film for the month.  Today is the big reveal.  A reminder on my clues:

- My film belongs to a genre that inspires eye rolls from my wife.  Interestingly, her home state has been the setting for a disproportionate number of the genre's finest examples, including this one.  Perhaps her disdain stems from the very fact that she hails from a place where people take the subject matter of these movies far too seriously.  For example...

- My wife went to a Catholic high school.  One of the nuns - the typing teacher - would lead students in prayer for the success of a certain group of young men each autumn weekend.  These young men are also the subject of my movie.

- The lead was a reasonably successful child actor but my film represented his breakthrough as an adult.  He was just getting started.  A few years later, he would be cast in an important role in one of the most successful franchises in the history of cinema.

Drum roll, please...

Title: Rudy
Director: David Anspaugh
Original Release: 1993
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Rudy is the based-on-actual-events account of Rudy Ruettiger, a runt of a football player who scratched and clawed his way onto Notre Dame's varsity squad.  Anspaugh and screenwriter Angelo Pizzo are the same creative team who brought us Hoosiers, arguably the seminal inspiring sports movie.  As discussed in my clues, my wife, an Indiana native, is not a fan of such films.  She doesn't care for sports much to begin with and certainly has little patience for their overly inflated importance in society.  I understand and appreciate all of this.

But I still love these movies.  I am certainly willing to concede that both Hoosiers and Rudy are sappy and predictable.  However, I would argue for both as exemplars of top-notch film making, particularly in their use of setting.  1950s small town Indiana lives and breathes in Hoosiers.  In Rudy, both the protagonist's native Joliet, Illinois and the University of Notre Dame are rich characters, vital to the narrative.  The last movie the school's administration allowed to be filmed on campus was 1940's Knute Rocke, All American which celebrated the university's storied chemistry department.  Just kidding, that one was about the football team, too.

The acting's pretty good, including a few stars on the rise.  In addition to Sean Astin (the future Samwise Gamgee) in the title role, Jon Favreau plays D-Bob, Rudy's pal and academic savior, and Vince Vaughn plays Jamie O'Hare, an underachieving tailback.  The veterans are strong, too.  Ned Beatty is Rudy's father.  Father John Cavanaugh is performed by Robert Prosky, a fine actor I once saw play the role of the Stage Manager in Our Town at DC's Arena Stage.

So, if you're a sucker for inspiring sports movies, Rudy will not disappoint.

Next meeting is Friday, January 8th.  I'll post January's blog list tomorrow.  For January, pick another society member's choice from our ever increasing library to review.  Today, please visit my fellow cinephiles, listed below:


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Clone Wars: Weapons Factory

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: "Weapons Factory"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 6
Original Air Date: November 13, 2009
via Wookieepedia
The narrative intent of "Weapons Factory" is clear: juxtapose the Anakin-Ahsoka relationship with a more normal (read: healthier) Jedi-Padawan relationship.  Luminara and her protege, Barriss Offee join the assault on a Separatist droid factory.  Ahsoka and Barriss are sent on a dangerous mission to plant explosives while their masters divert attention. 

Throughout the story, the two elders exhibit different levels of both trust and attachment towards their apprentices.  Sometimes the Jedi way can seem a bit cold-hearted in its caution against emotional involvement.  But Luminara expresses deep compassion for her Padawan, though it is tempered by an appreciation for life's realities.  In essence, she is prepared to let go, when and if necessary.  We see that Anakin's affection for Ahsoka or Padme or even R2-D2 is not the problem.  His weakness is his belief that he can and should protect everything he holds dearest at all cost.
via Wookieepedia
Barriss Offee was first introduced in The Approaching Storm, a novel tie-in to the release of Attack of the Clones.  She is a Mirialan, the same species as Luminara.  She holds a special role within the Order, that of Jedi healer.  In the film, Barriss is performed by Nalini Krishan.  In The Clone Wars, she is voiced by Meredith Salenger.
via Wikipedia
Salenger was born March 14, 1970 in Malibu, California.  At age 15, she had her first starring film role as the title character in The Journey of Natty Gann.  At 17, she was one of River Phoenix's many love interests in A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon.  In 1992, she graduated cum laude from Harvard with a degree in pshychology.  In addition to her continuing acting career, she works as a mediator for the Agency of Dispute Resolution in Beverly Hills.

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: "Legacy of Terror."

 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: December's Three Clues


Today, for this month's edition of Mock Squid Soup, all society members are invited to post three hints about their film choice for the month.  All are welcome to guess, of course.  My three clues:

- My film belongs to a genre that inspires eye rolls from my wife.  Interestingly, her home state has been the setting for a disproportionate number of the genre's finest examples, including this one.  Perhaps her disdain stems from the very fact that she hails from a place where people take the subject matter of these movies far too seriously.  For example...

- My wife went to a Catholic high school.  One of the nuns - the typing teacher - would lead students in prayer for the success of a certain group of young men each autumn weekend.  These young men are also the subject of my movie.

- The lead was a reasonably successful child actor but my film represented his breakthrough as an adult.  He was just getting started.  A few years later, he would be cast in an important role in one of the most successful franchises in the history of cinema.

Any guesses?  Society reviews will be posted next Friday, December 11th.  See you then.  Meanwhile, please visit my fellow cinephiles today:


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Clone Wars: Landing at Point Rain

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: "Landing at Point Rain"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 5
Original Air Date: November 4, 2009
via Wookieepedia
Due to a poor Internet connection, I will keep this week's entry brief.

In "Landing at Point Rain," our Jedi friends lead an attack on a droid factory on Geonosis.  The story is essentially one long battle sequence, not really my thing.  Obviously, Clone Wars and, for that matter, Star Wars are going to involve a battle or two but if that were all there were to the saga, it wouldn't hold much interest for me.  Plus, once again, there is Anakin's and Ahsoka's apparent callousness to the fact that their own clone troopers are dying around them while they crack wise and compare kill tallies, a la Legolas and Gimli. 

Even though this episode wasn't my favorite, there are a few nice moments.  Anakin leads a crew on a mission to disable a shield generator in order to make way for an aerial assault, foreshadowing Return of the Jedi.  Also, Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi brings a welcome bit of perspective to Anakin and Ahsoka at tale's end.

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: "Weapons Factory."

 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: December 2015 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, December 25th.  I realize people may have a few things going that day so I'll keep the list open through Saturday, the 26th.  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, 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."


Friday, November 6, 2015

Squid Bakes: Oatmeal Raisin Scones

Sunday morning was rainy, good weather for baking.  Lots of demands on kitchen time, though.  My wife and daughter made granola bars for the NaNoWriMo club at school, plus my wife cooked ribs for dinner.  Late morning was the best window for baking.


My recipe for oatmeal raisin scones came from How to Bake by Nick Malgieri.  It called for using the food processor, usually not my favorite.  They're easy enough to use, of course, but they're such a pain to clean.

Malgieri advises against adornment but my wife preferred hers with butter.  We did have an interesting discussion about the proper pronunciation of scone.  It's "skoʊn" in American English but more commonly "skɒn" in British English.  

Fall rolls quickly once we pass the foliage peak.

Monday, October 26th:

Saturday, October 31st:

 I leave you with a couple more seasonal treats:



Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Clone Wars: Holocron Heist

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: "Holocron Heist"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 1
Original Air Date: October 2, 2009
via Wookieepedia
As advertised, the first episode of The Clone Wars's second season is a good old-fashioned heist story.  The cat burglar in this case is Cad Bane, a bounty hunter last seen springing Ziro Hutt from the clinker. (Editorial note: I mistakenly wrote that last week's episode, "Hostage Crisis," was the first of a new story arc.  Humblest apologies.)  This time, he's breaking into the Jedi Temple to steal a holocron, a holographic chronicle of secret Jedi knowledge.  Bane has some help: Cato Parasitti, a changeling bounty hunter and Todo 360, a helper droid.

"Holocron Heist" is also an Ahsoka-is-learning-the-wrong-lessons-from-Anakin episode.  Failing to follow orders has gotten the Padawan in trouble with the Jedi High Council and her penance is library guard duty at the Jedi Temple - good thing, as it turns out, in light of Bane's plans.  Next week's episode continues the tale, for real this time.
via Wookieepedia
Todo 360 is voiced by Seth Green.  Green was born February 24, 1974 in Philadelphia.  He got an early start in the business, getting his first film roles at age 10.
via Buffyverse Wiki
Whereas many child actors crash and burn as adults, Green has had a remarkable career.  While there have been live action roles in such high profile projects as the Austin Powers movies and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, he's made his biggest splash in animation.  He is one of the main cast members of The Family Guy.  More significantly, he is the co-creator, director, writer, executive producer and frequent voice talent for Robot Chicken, now in its eighth season.

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: "Cargo of Doom."