Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: September 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, September 25th.  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, August 28, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: August 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: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Author: Atul Gawande
via Goodreads
Death is inevitable.  That is the one inescapable truth of human existence.  Yet the medical establishment is armed to the teeth with both the tools and the philosophy to prolong life as long as possible, too often disregarding the quality of life it fights to preserve.  Dr. Gawande, a surgeon himself, shines a light on this troubling dilemma.  He exposes the failings of his profession but also the efforts of those who work to provide a more noble, dignified and enjoyable life to both the aged and the dying.  He is not shy about discussing his own shortcomings and how learning about the alternatives has made him a better doctor.

As Gawande points out, most people in the industrialized world do not die abruptly.  Modern medicine is a lot better at fending off the Reaper than it was even a generation ago.  Also, most of us are going to require a significant level of care as we near the end.  Nearly a quarter of all Medicare expenses are paid out in the last year of life.  Yet most people don't devote enough thought to how they want to live at the end.  What makes our lives worthwhile?  What sacrifices are we willing to make in order to live more meaningfully?  At what point does letting go of life become more important than fighting death?

Gawande explores all of these questions in regards to long-term care, doctor-patient relationships, palliative care and other end-of-life choices.  He interviewed experts in pertinent industries but also shares his own experiences, both personal and professional.  The material can be difficult to read at times but that's sort of the point.  As humans, our natural tendency is to live in denial of our own mortality.  We never talk about it.  We never think about it until we must.  By then, we're too often making critical decisions based on lack of information, external influence from doctors and the pressure of the moment.  Meaningful conversations with our loved ones and professional providers are vitally important.  We should have them early, before we are forced to act in desperation.

The book's cautionary tales are brutal but Gawande does provide a hopeful path forward.  Oddly enough, it did not leave me fearing death.  For me, there has always been a comfort in knowing that life is finite.  We have no choice but to make the most of the time we have. 

So, you need to read this book.  Because if you're lucky, you'll grow old.  More importantly, regardless of whether you're lucky or not, you're going to die.  The same is true for everyone you care about.  Being Mortal provides meaningful guidance in helping one another face the inevitable.

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Clone Wars: Jedi Crash

My friends and I are embarking on an exploration of 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: "Jedi Crash"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 13
Original Air Date: January 16, 2009
via Wookieepedia
Jedi Aayla Secura's fleet is under attack.  Anakin and his fleet run to assist.  While on Secura's ship, Anakin is badly wounded.  The ship accidentally goes into hyperspace.  Anakin, Ahsoka, Aayla and their accompanying Clone Troopers are marooned on a remote planet.  There, they meet a village of Lurmen who have settled the planet in an attempt to find peaceful refuge from the Clone Wars.  They are mistrustful of the Jedi, advocating non-violent resistance as an alternative to fighting.

The story presents a moral challenge to the Jedi cause that we don't often see in Star Wars.  I'm hesitant to suggest it but this is, sort of, Star Trek territory.  I like it!  In the movies, we embrace the Jedi because they do cool magic tricks and they're clearly preferable to the alternative.  But they rarely, if ever, get hit from the Left, to borrow from the political-speak of our own world.  A comparable challenge is raised by the Ewoks in the novelization of Return of the Jedi but it was not included in the film.  It's nice to see it included here.

via Wookieepedia
Aayla Secura originated as a comic book character in the Star Wars: Republic series.  George Lucas was impressed and included her in both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  In the films, she is portrayed by Amy Allen.  In The Clone Wars, she is voiced by Jennifer Hale.
via Wookieepedia
Jennifer Hale was born January 30, 1972 in Goose Bay, Labrador.  However, she spent most of her childhood in Alabama.  She graduated from Birmingham-Southern College with a business degree.

Guinness World Records identifies her as "the most prolific videogame voice actor (female)."  The list is lengthy, indeed.  Rest assured, if you've ever played a videogame with professional voices, hers was probably one of them.  The list of television work is long, too.  Among the notables: Spider-Man, Batman, Avatar: The Last Airbender and, my favorite, Ms. Keane, the girls' teacher in The Powerpuff Girls.  She has been married to Barry Oswick since 2009.  They have one son.

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: "Defenders of Peace."

Monday, August 24, 2015

State of the Blog 2015

We've recently made some changes to my daughter's bedroom - nothing much but she's a creature of habit.  It was enough to make her uneasy.  My wife love's rearranging furniture so obviously the fear of change must come from somewhere else...

It's not change that troubles me so much as uncertainty.  I like to have a plan.  I'm open to changing the plan but I still feel better if I've got one.  I know enough about life to realize that an openness to possibilities can lead one in interesting directions.

Such was the case for The Armchair Squid in Year 6.  Last August, I expected to carry on more or less as I had before: two monthly bloghops - one for books, one for movies; a weekly family adventures post on Sundays; finish up Star Trek's original series on Wednesdays, then move on to other things and book reviews as appropriate.  The bloghops are doing well but everything else went out the window over time, though for welcome reasons.  Fortunately, I have friends with good ideas.  Once Maurice Mitchell hinted that he'd join me for an exploration of Trek's animated series, I jumped at the chance.  A few months later, Andrew Leon suggested a similar project for Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Those two adventures took precedent over previous plans.  So it goes.

Now, as Year 7 gets underway, I have a plan for The Squid going forward.  But as always, I am open to changing the plan.  I hope you'll join me.

via Wookieepedia
Tuesdays are for Star Wars, a franchise which has been the dominant force in my personal mythology since I was a tot in 1977.  While I know the movies - especially the original trilogy - quite well, indeed, The Clone Wars is new ground for me.  It's still early days.  We've only just passed the halfway mark of the first season.  All are welcome to join us, of course.  If you're interested, sign up here.

Mock Squid Soup is a film society blog hop, held the second Friday of each month.  I have been very pleased to see this group develop over the past year.  Our membership is devoted.  The basic pattern at the moment is to pick your own movie to review one month, then one of someone else's the following month.  Keen to join us for September?  Peruse the list of movies here, sign up here and post your review on Friday, September 11th.
The Cephalopod Coffeehouse is in its third year.  This one's dead simple: on the last Friday of the month, post a review of your best recent read.  There's still time to jump in for August.  Sign up here and post this Friday.

All other Fridays will be devoted to generic Family Adventures post.  As in the past, travel, movies and food are likely to dominate.

That's the basic plan.  Miscellaneous posts for bloghop signups and book reviews will crop up from time to time as well.  I'll still touch on music when appropriate.

I am continually encouraged and inspired by the many friends I have made in the blogosphere.  I am eternally grateful to those of you who take the time to read and comment upon my humble posts.  I look forward to joining all of you for further adventures in Year 7 of The Squid.

Squiddies 2015

The Armchair Squid turns six years old today.  It's time to hand out some hardware.  And the Squiddy goes to...

Biggest Surprise: Live-Tweeting Star Trek
via Twitter
It was exciting enough to have Spacerguy and Maurice Mitchell join me for an episode-by-episode exploration of Star Trek's animated series.  The real surprise came when Maurice suggested we watch an episode together over Twitter.  Schedules and technology often got in the way of perfect synchronization but it was loads of fun when we managed to make it work.

Biggest Disappointment: Five-Day Power Outage

Due to a nasty winter storm, we lost power at our house for five days in December.  No power also means no heat and - worst of all - no water for us so it's far from a minor inconvenience even in the short term.  It was a long five days, indeed.

Best Read, First-Time Category: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

It's been a good year for books, especially this summer.  I've read quite a few that have made me reexamine my very existence, but none more so than The Omnivore's Dilemma.  All humans are faced with the dilemma.  Since we can technically eat anything, we must find what is nutritious and avoid what is poisonous.  In the post-industrial world, the options are more dizzying than ever.  Pollan's book takes us on an exploration of the various paths food takes en route to our plates.  Awareness of those paths, more than the choice of any one over the other, is our responsibility as stewards of the Earth.

Best Read, Re-Read Category: The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

This book, a favorite from my youth, seems largely forgotten among children's classics.  Back in the day, I learned words like occult, familiar and seance from Snyder's novel.  At its heart, though, it's the tale of a family adjusting to new circumstances, in many ways easier to appreciate as an adult reader.  I'm hoping I can convince my daughter to give it a try sometime soon.

Best Comics Find: Best of Enemies by Jean-Pierre Filiu and David B.

This two-part (so far) graphic novel series provides a 200-year history of U.S./Middle East relations.  Originally in French, the books maintain a remarkable neutrality in examining the issues.  Basically, everyone involved is at fault.

Athlete of the Year: Bobby Moch
via Pinterest
Robert Moch (1914-2005) was the coxswain for the University of Washington's varsity crew that won the gold medal for the United States at the 1936 Olympics.  I got to know Moch and his pals in The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  A coxswain sits at the front of the boat, steering the vessel and calling out the stroke rate for the oarsmen.  Whereas most rowers are long-limbed leviathans, the coxswains are petit.  Moch is a particularly likeable specimen: a strategic genius and a smart ass to boot.

Post with Most Unexpected Consequences: Star Trek: Turnabout Intruder

"Turnabout Intruder" was the final episode of Star Trek's original series, capping a two-year long exploration for me.  In my post for that episode, Maurice dropped a hint that if I were to take on the animated series in similar fashion, he might be willing to join me.  I could hardly resist an offer like that.  The TAS project, in turn, inspired a similar project with Andrew Leon, exploring Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Best Family Adventure: The Green Mountain Film Festival

For the second year in a row, we made an overnight trip to Montpelier, Vermont to cram in as many festival movies as possible over two days.  Over dinner, My Wife claimed the modest adventure as her ideal vacation.  We get to do something we can't at home, in this case watch independent films on the big screen.  We eat well.  Everything is within easy walking distance of the hotel.  I think she's still keen on a trip to Europe someday but it's nice that we can find such a gratifying getaway close to home.

Best Unexpected Benefit of Blogging: A New Purpose for Twitter

I like Twitter.  Though I don't use it as much as Facebook, it feels less manipulative to me.  That said, I haven't always been quite sure what to do with it.  It's great for creating my own news feed and for minimal effort networking but I've never been especially enthused beyond that.  Maurice's suggestion to use it for our Star Trek TAS project, though (see above), opened my eyes to the possibilities of coupling blogging with Tweeting.  I'm not sure where that will lead in the coming year, if anywhere, but it's another tool to keep in the box.

As you may have gathered, Maurice Mitchell has had a considerable influence on my blogging over the past year.  Maurice, in case you haven't heard, is moving onto a very exciting project indeed as editor of the soon to be launched Superman page at  I, for one, certainly hope he will continue to be a presence in the blogosphere.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Family Movie Night: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Title: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Original Release: 2015
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Guy Ritchie's latest effort revives a TV show from the 1960s, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  In the dark days of the Cold War, top agents from the CIA and the KGB team up to combat an evil supervillain.  Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is the playboy, not-particularly-well-reformed criminal American.  Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is the psychotic, physically imposing Russian.  I've never seen the original show but it played an interesting role in Star Trek's history.  William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appeared in a 1964 episode together, their first such intersection.

I judge the film against two separate metrics: spy movies and Guy Ritchie movies.  Ian Flemming was deeply involved in the development of the TV series so similarities with the James Bond franchise are to be expected.  The story's low on gadgetry but there are great fight and chase scenes as well as ample sexual intrigue.  Overall, I'd say The Man from U.N.C.L.E. compares quite favorably with recent Bond offerings.

Bond is a mixed bag.  I've seen them all and would feel I was somehow being unfaithful to the cinematic gods if I hadn't.  But I willingly admit that even the best of the batch rely more on spectacle than narrative substance.  One thing I have come to admire about Star Wars, on the other hand, is the fact that every duel or space battle is infused with story and I feel The Man from U.N.C.L.E. did well along those lines.  The obligatory chase scene to open a Bond film is always fun but the priority is topping the same scene from the most recent movie rather than advancing development.  With U.N.C.L.E., the action scenes were spectacular but also occasionally funny and always meaningful.

Ritchie movies are, if anything, the higher standard for me.  Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels are two of my all-time favorites.  I love his snappy dialogue, innovative camerawork, serpentine storytelling and obvious gift for getting the most out of an actor.  U.N.C.L.E. doesn't quite measure up to the two mentioned above but Ritchie's sensibilities nearly always generate a sophisticated product.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is fun and I'm hoping this is just the first film of many in a series.  The franchise is certainly in good hands with Guy Ritchie.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On the Coffee Table: Ghost Circles

Title: Bone, Volume 7: Ghost Circles
Writer and Artist: Jeff Smith
via Bone Wiki
The wonderful Bone comic book series continues with Volume 7, collecting issues 40-45.  The Bones, Thorn and Gran'ma Ben are reunited but on the run from the rat creatures.  A massive volcanic eruption has covered their world with ash and the lines between illusion and reality are helplessly blurred.  Thorn carries a part of the Lord of the Locust's soul with her, definitely a mixed blessing as it helps her to find a path to safety but, of course, she's cursed.  We get some important back story for Lucius and Gran'ma Ben in this volume and we see the return of one of my favorites: the baby rat creature, Bartleby. 

I find myself increasingly curious about the story's Melville references.  Fone Bone is obsessed with Moby Dick and carries a copy of the book with him everywhere he goes.  At one point in Ghost Circles, he and his cousin Phoney hallucinate that they are Ishmael and Captain Ahab respectively.  The character name Bartleby, of course, is borrowed from a Melville story, too.  I've read "Bartleby, the Scrivener" but never made much headway with Moby Dick.  I tried once while on vacation in coastal Massachusetts but it didn't take.  I don't know if it would add much to my understanding of Bone but the series has renewed my curiosity.

Two more volumes to go!  Next up is Treasure Hunters.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Clone Wars: The Gungan General

My friends and I are embarking on an exploration of 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: "The Gungan General"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 12
Original Air Date: January 9, 2009
via Wookieepedia
"The Gungan General" concludes the story begun last week.  Anakin and Obi-Wan find themselves in a prison cell along with their favorite person, Count Dooku.  The three must work together to escape from Hondo Ohnaka [now that I know, I can't not hear Ricardo Montalban when he speaks] and his band of pirates.   Meanwhile, a Republic ship is on its way with the ransom.  Included in the entourage is... oh, boy... Jar Jar Binks.  More on him in a bit.

As I said last week, this story arc has a lot going for it.  I like the pirates and in Part 2, there is some intrigue within their ranks, only adding to the fun.  I also enjoy the interesting dynamic of Jedi and Sith in temporary, reluctant alliance.  But I still feel like we're stuck in a pattern of prison escape stories.  And let's not kid ourselves.  There are issues with the Gungan.
via Wookieepedia
We need to talk about Jar Jar.  I've avoided the subject but it's time.  Love him or hate him, we all know that for most people it's the latter.  For the faithful, he is the emblem of all that is wrong with the prequels, especially Phantom Menace.  There are those, in fact, who rank him among the worst characters in the history of cinema.  But Papa George, for whatever reason, clearly likes him so on some level, we're going to have to accept him - that weird cousin who makes everyone uncomfortable but it would be wrong not to invite him to the family reunion.  Just keep him away from the kitchen.  And the glassware.  And...

I feel the intention with Jar Jar was good.   Lucas wanted a character who would appeal to kids and who would provide comic relief.  C-3PO's role in Episode I is minor and Jar Jar, to a point, fills the gap.  But, silly as he can be, Threepio falls short of self-parody.  It's nearly impossible to take Jar Jar seriously.  Plus, there are the alleged racist overtones, equating Jar Jar with blackface caricatures.  Both Lucas and actor Ahmed Best deny any ill intent but perception is in the eye of the beholder.

The message of "The Gungan General" is clear: give the guy a chance.  Jar Jar definitely does not start off the episode on a good foot.  His bumbling gets a couple of the good guys killed.  But as Clone Trooper Commander Stone says, "He's smarter than he looks."  Binks manages to devise a few clever and helpful tactics, perhaps reassuring us all that there's hope for the guy in the long run.


Ahmed Best played Jar Jar in the movies and in one previous Clone Wars episode.  But he decided to take a break from the character to pursue other work.  BJ Hughes performed the character for the first time in "The Gungan General." 

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: "Jedi Crash."

Monday, August 17, 2015

On the Coffee Table: Animal Farm

Title: Fables, Vol. 2: Animal Farm
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artist: Mark Buckingham
via Amazon
If you were expecting Orwell, you might be surprised but I wouldn't say you'd be entirely disappointed.  In Willingham's excellent Fables comic book series, fairy tale characters have been run out of their imaginary realms and must make do in the real world.  All those who can't pass as human live on a secluded farm in upstate New York.  But not all is well on The Farm.  While on a routine visit from the city, Snow White and Rose Red stumble upon a political rally in the barn led by the Three Little Pigs - a scene familiar to anyone who knows Orwell's dystopian allegory.  The animals are tired of living in what amounts to a prison.  The social structure is in upheaval and Snow and Rose are clearly in danger.
via DC Comics Database
The story is very compelling and the artwork wonderful.  Of course, half the fun is wondering who will turn up next.  The most welcome inclusion is Kipling's Jungle Book characters.  The rendering of Baghera is especially striking.  If you plan to check out the series - and you should - don't expect your everyday wholesome fairy tales.  Even Once Upon a Time is fairly tame by comparison.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: September Blog List

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

Next meeting is Friday, September 11th.  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.  Henceforth, I will 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, August 14, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: Mr. Holland's Opus

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:

- He says, "I love you."  She says, "I know."  But it's not the one you think.  No Wookiees in this movie.

- A huge variety of music courses through this film.  The most important tributaries are the rivers Beethoven, Gershwin and Lennon.

- One character has hair like the sunset.

Drum roll, please...

Title: Mr. Holland's Opus
Director: Stephen Herek
Original Release: 1995
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Gene Holland is a professional musician.  In 1965, he becomes a teacher, hoping it will allow him free time to compose.  The job is a lot more difficult than he expects but he toughs it out to support his family and, after a rocky start, becomes a master educator.  The film follows the next thirty years of his career.  In addition to the challenges of the job, he has to find a balance between work and his relationships with his wife and their deaf son. 

I love this movie but at times, it can be difficult to watch as a lot of it hits awfully close to home.  As many of you already know, I am a music teacher by profession.  I am by no means a Mr. Holland but it's easy enough to relate to his experiences.  It had been many years since I'd last watched the movie and one thing that struck me this time was the fact that so many of the touchstones of his career are his relationships with individual students.  They, even more than his colleagues, were the ones who challenged his perceptions and forced him to grow as a teacher.  That has certainly been the case for me as well.

I've met a lot of the kids we see in the story: the good-hearted kid who just can't get her head around the notes and the "genius" whose ego is his own undoing.  The girl with a voice that could set the world on fire?  Yup, I know her, too.  For a teacher, your students are the reason you show up everyday.  Sometimes they break your heart.  But every once in a while, if you are lucky, one comes along and changes your life.

It was fun sharing the film with my daughter for the first time.  She is going into sixth grade next year and she's already a devoted band kid.  Plus, she lives with me so she knows a thing or two about the challenges of balancing a teaching career with parenting.  Near the movie's glorious end, she said "I wish this were based on a true story."

As for the clues, you're going to have to watch to understand.  I hope you will.  Keep a box of tissues handy.

Next meeting is Friday, September 11th.  I'll post September's blog list tomorrow.  For September, pick another society member's choice from our ever increasing library to review.  Today, please visit my fellow cinephiles, listed below:

Thursday, August 13, 2015

On the Coffee Table: Jacques Pépin

Title: The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen
Author: Jacques Pépin
via Amazon
Before reading his memoir, I knew Jacques Pépin as a major food television personality but I had no idea of the extraordinary life he has lived.  He has been cooking since childhood.  Even before his first apprenticeship at 13, he had worked for years in his mother's restaurants in and around Lyon.  His extensive, hands-on, classic French training took him eventually to Paris, then New York.  He has been at the nexus of America's culinary evolution since his arrival in the late '50s.

The variety of Pépin's experience is striking.  His early time in professional kitchens reflects the same pirate ship atmosphere one sees in other books but he eventually became the private chef for French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle.  He had an opportunity to cook in Kennedy's White House, too, but instead took a job in the Howard Johnson's test kitchen.  While that seems like a crazy career move on the surface, it put him on the front lines of an emerging restaurant chain industry.  The decision also fueled his insatiable drive to learn - about food, certainly, but also about American culture at-large.

Pépin is clearly a people person.  Nearly every story involves an extensive entourage.  Plus, everyone he knows is passionate about food.  Household names abound in his social circles, including Julia Child, James Beard and even Danny Kaye.

The book is loads of fun.  Pépin has accumulated wonderful stories over the years - many of them quite funny.  It made me hungry, too, and fueled my enthusiasm for cooking.  Once again, I am left fascinated by the idea of hunting for mushrooms - something I generally don't even like eating.  The editing is a little funky sometimes.  I occasionally had to sort out the year of a particular anecdote on my own.  But the man's personal charm shines through.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Clone Wars: Dooku Captured

My friends and I are embarking on an exploration of 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: "Dooku Captured"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 11
Original Air Date: January 2, 2009
via Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Episode Reviews
I have been waiting for a story that sends The Clone Wars on its own path, not necessarily away from the movies but not entirely dependent on the well-established tropes either.  I think "Dooku Captured" may be a first step along that road.  At first glance, the story looks like the prison break scenario we've seen repeatedly in The Clone Wars.  Obi-Wan rescues Anakin from Count Dooku's ship as part of a plan to turn the tables and capture the Separatist leader themselves.  But then, in a welcome twist, Dooku is nabbed instead by a band of pirates who cleverly hold him for ransom from both the Separatists and the Republic, whomever is willing to pay more.  Pirates - now we're getting somewhere.

The seedy underworld is an essential element of the Star Wars universe.  From it, we get bounty hunters, Jabba the Hutt, Lando Calrissian and, most importantly, Han Solo.  It is a world decidedly less prominent in the prequel trilogy than it is in the originals so it's encouraging to see signs of development.
via Wookieepedia
This particular band is led by Hondo Onaka, a Weequay from the planet Srilurr.  "Dooku Captured" marks his first appearance and he promises to be an important recurring character going forward.  With his introduction, I see signs of The Clone Wars series coming into its own.  He is performed by veteran voice actor Jim Cummings.  Cummings's inspiration for the character?  Wouldn't you know it: Ricardo Montalban's Khan from Star Trek.

via Tiny Toon Adventures Wiki
James Jonah Cummings was born November 3, 1952 in Youngstown, Ohio.  Before heading to California, he did a turn in New Orleans, designing Mardi Gras floats, working as a river boat deck hand and playing in a rock band.

Cummings is the current voice for Pooh, Tigger and Tasmanian Devil.  Additional film credits include Lion King, Shrek and The Princess and the Frog.  Of course, there's been a steady stream of video game work, too.  Apart from Star Wars, Disney and Looney Tunes titles, he has contributed to the World of Warcraft, Lara Croft and Grand Theft Auto franchises.

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 Gungan General."

Friday, August 7, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: August Trivia Teaser

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.  I had great difficulty with my clues this time.  It's hard to be coy enough to provide a challenge but leading enough to give you all a chance.  If you've seen my movie, you'll get it.  If you haven't, probably not.  Here are the three clues:

- He says, "I love you."  She says, "I know."  But it's not the one you think.  No Wookiees in this movie.

- A huge variety of music courses through this film.  The most important tributaries are the rivers Beethoven, Gershwin and Lennon.

- One character has hair like the sunset.

Any guesses?  Society reviews will be posted next Friday, August 14th.  See you then.  Meanwhile, please visit my fellow cinephiles today:

Thursday, August 6, 2015

On the Coffee Table: Ameen Rihani

Title: The Book of Khalid
Author: Ameen Rihani
via Amazon
As discussed in previous entries, poetry is the heart of the Arabic literary tradition.  Even a work of prose such as The Book of Khalid tends more towards lyrical rhapsody than compelling narrative.  Ameen Rihani's 1911 novel is generally considered to be the first by an Arab-American.

Khalid and his faithful friend Shakib emigrate to the United States, then return to Lebanon.  Their story provides perspective on the New York immigrant experience as well as the rapidly changing Arab world of the era.  With the repressive Ottoman Empire in long, slow decline and the dilemmas presented by Western influence, Khalid's world reflects centuries' old cultural conflicts still alive and well a hundred years later: East/West, New/Old, Science/Spirit, Muslim/Christian, Heart/Soul.  Rihani's language is genuinely stunning.  If all one wants is to lie back and marvel at its beauty, there's plenty to enjoy.

But it's not what I want.  I wish to be so caught up in a book that I forget I'm reading.  I long to be transported, rather than dazzled.  I willingly concede The Book of Khalid's great literary merit.   But I'm glad to be able to move onto something else.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What Is Star Trek's Animated Series?

via Memory Alpha
For the most part, Star Trek's animated series was true to the content and spirit of the original show.  Franchise creator Gene Roddenberry still had creative control.  He had D.C. Fontana, a Trek veteran, leading the writing team and most of his cast back to perform the voices.  What was new was the capacity of animation to expand the universe the stories could inhabit.  No longer restricted by the limitations of special effects, Roddenberry encouraged the entire writing staff to take full advantage of the possibilities.  The result was broader landscapes, stranger aliens and story settings that would not have been possible with live action.  The budget was limited so the animation is not always of the highest quality, even by the standards of its era.  But the show maintained a sophisticated look nonetheless.

Another benefit of an animated show was the opportunity to exhibit the vocal talents of the original series cast members, particularly a select few further down the chain of command: Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) and, most of all, James Doohan (Scotty).  Roddenberry knew from the beginning that he had a vocal talent on his hands with Doohan, a veteran of radio dramas.  In his audition for the original Star Trek series, Doohan offered several different choices for the accent of his character.  The actor himself is Canadian.  In addition to his performance as Scotty on TAS, he supplied the voices for the vast majority of the supplementary male characters.

The female characters were split between Barrett and Nichols.  Barrett got more of the work early in the series, particularly computer voices.  Nichols got more later on, probably in part because Barrett had a baby in 1974.  I like Barrett's voice well enough but Nichols was the true star.  Hers is a lilting, lyrical singer's voice, one that could be warm, ethereal, sexy, sensual, mystical, nurturing.  Given her obviously superior talent, why didn't she get more of the work?  Well, Barrett was married to the boss.

The canon value of the episodes is frequently debated but during the 1970s, they were the only new Trek stories on television.  Perhaps they were enough to turn a few kids on to the originals, helping to build the audience for the movies, the first of which would hit theaters in 1979.  They're certainly a lot of fun for those of us already converted.


Time to hand out the hardware...

Favorite Episode: "Yesteryear"

Our visit to Spock's childhood, "Yesteryear" has a strong legacy in the canon.  The 2009 Star Trek reboot film used many of the elements of this story, even specific lines of dialogue.   Just as important to me, the character of Thelin, Spock's replacement in an alternate time stream, displays the graceful generosity that represents the very best of Trek

Least Favorite Episode: "The Practical Joker"

TAS's worst episodes really aren't that bad.  In "The Practical Joker," the ship's computer plays tricks on the crew.  The basic concept is fine but a few of the scenes run too long.  For the sake of the exercise, I had to pick a clunker.  "The Practical Joker" gets the nod.

Favorite New Character: Agmar

Agmar is a Phylosian, a plant-based intelligent life form encountered by our friends in "The Infinite Vulcan."  He's essentially a walking, talking dandelion.  He's a fine example of what one sees a lot in TAS: a strong story element in an otherwise weak story. 

5 Must-See Episodes

I allowed myself 10 with the original series but with only 22 TAS episodes in total, 5 would provide a reasonable sample tour for the novice.  All are from the first season, listed in order of original broadcast date:

"Yesteryear" - See above.

"The Lorelei Signal" - Other episodes have stronger stories but "The Lorelei Signal" contains my favorite scene from the series.  As the Enterprise floats across the screen, we hear Scotty singing a Welsh ballad from the captain's chair. 

"More Tribbles, More Troubles" - One of several sequels to TOS episodes.  Cyrano Jones is at it again, peddling his furry critters.  The episode also marks the first of two TAS appearances by the Klingons.

"The Survivor" - A shapeshifter story, long a Star Trek staple.  Ted Knight guest stars.

"The Ambergris Element" - Perhaps the best example of a story made possible through animation.  Our heroes visit the underwater world of the Aquans.


I am so grateful to my friends for joining me in this adventure, both on our blogs and on Twitter.  I might have worked my way through TAS at some point of my own but it was loads more fun with company.  I look forward to future endeavors!

Maurice Mitchell

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Clone Wars: Lair of Grievous

My friends and I are embarking on an exploration of 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: "Lair of Grievous"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 10
Original Air Date: December 12, 2008
via Wookieepedia
Phew, not a jail break...

Last week, Separatist leader Nute Gunray escaped Jedi imprisonment.  Now Jedi Kit Fisto and his former Padawan, Nahdar Vebb, head off in pursuit.  The trail leads them to General Grievous's castle.  The inevitable confrontation is steeped in significance for both sides.  GG, after numerous embarrassments, is eager to get back in the good graces of his master, Count Dooku.  Meanwhile, Vebb is eager to prove he has the skill and bravery to match his new status as Jedi Knight.  Foreshadowing is nearly always dripping from the walls in The Clone Wars and "Lair of Grievous" is no exception.

via The Clone Wars Wiki
Kit Fisto was first introduced in Attack of the Clones.  He was originally intended as a Sith character but ended up with the good guys in the end.  He is a Nautolan from the planet Glee Anselm, a water world.
via The Mortal Kombat Wiki
In The Clone Wars, Fisto is voiced by Phil LaMarr.  LaMarr was born January 24, 1967 in Los Angeles.  A graduate of the Yale Drama School, LaMarr is an accomplished improv actor.  At Yale, he was a co-founder of the improv troupe Purple Crayon.  After graduating, he became a member of the Groundlings.  He was also one of the original cast members of MADtv.  Film enthusiasts would recognize him from the vital yet regrettably brief role of Marvin in Pulp Fiction

LaMarr's voice work dates back to high school when he performed a role in the Mister T cartoon.  He played the title role in Samurai Jack, John Stewart/Green Lantern in Justice League and Hermes Conrad in Futurama.  In the new Star Wars series, Rebels, he plays Bail Organa.

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: "Dooku Captured."

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: August 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, August 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: