Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Clone Wars: Mystery of a Thousand Moons

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: "Mystery of a Thousand Moons"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 18
Original Air Date: February 13, 2009
via Wookieepedia
Initially, this episode and its predecessor, "Blue Shadow Virus" (see review here), were aired on the same night, back-to-back.  Unlike a lot of multiple-episode story arcs we've seen so far, this one ended well.  The virus from last week is released.  Padmé, Ahsoka and several Clone Troopers are infected.  Anakin and Obi-Wan have 48 hours to travel to another planet for the antidote (a classic Star Trek set up, actually).  Unfortunately, Iego, the planet in question, presents complications of its own.  Many have visited the planet but no one in recent memory has made it back out alive.  Must channel Eagles for a moment...

You can check out anytime you like,
But you can never leave.
via Wookieepedia
Among many freaking out over the conundrum is Typho, Padmé's bodyguard.  Typho is, in fact, the one who located the sources for the antidote.  Typho was first introduced in Attack of the Clones, in which he was played by Jay Laga'aia.  In our series, he is voiced by James Mathis III.
via The Avengers: The Earth's Mightiest Heroes Wiki
Mathis was born November 28, 1974 in Brooklyn, New York.  In addition to extensive voice work, he has made live action guest appearances on shows such as ER, Judging Amy and Monk.  Beyond Star Wars, he is best known for his work on The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, for which he supplied the voices for Black Panther, Bulldozer and King Cobra.

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: "Storm Over Ryloth."

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: October 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, October 30th.  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, September 25, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: September 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: Seabiscuit: An American Legend
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
via Wikipedia
I think of Seabiscuit as being a recent publication but 2001 was 14 years ago.  It was the rare sports book that transcends genre, setting a new standard for a thoroughly researched, fully engaging non-fiction work, easily accessible to someone who knows nothing about the sport in question.  A publishing sensation, it vaulted from the New York Times bestseller list to the big screen.  The film, starring Tobey Maguire was a critical and commercial success in its own right.  I finally got around to reading the book this month.

Seabiscuit was one of the most famous racehorses in American history and easily the most famous who never won a Triple Crown race.  In 1938, according to Hillenbrand, more newspaper space was devoted to this extraordinary thoroughbred than to President Roosevelt.  He was a late bloomer, too old for the Kentucky Derby by the time he came into his own, yet he bested every major rival of his era, most famously War Admiral, 1937's Triple Crown winner.  Underestimated by the eastern establishment, Seabiscuit put California racing on the map and was the perfect underdog symbol of a depressed nation in desperate need of inspiring heroes.

The horse and his supporting cast are vividly drawn.   Larger than life owner Charles Howard contrasts with trainer Tom Smith who spoke only when absolutely necessary.  Jockeys Red Pollard and George Woolf are both daring and more than a little crazy.  The stallion himself, though, is the star - proud, fiercely competitive and displaying evidence of a playful sense of humor.  Early temperament issues were subdued by expert handling, his success as much a product of nurture as nature.

I grew up in Maryland, one of the most important horse racing states in the country.  Yet I've never been to the track nor placed a bet on a horse.  But off and on, I've been drawn to the sport as a casual fan.  The Black Stallion movies certainly fueled my imagination as a child.  Hillenbrand balances the excitement and the dangers of racing well.  Horse racing was a far more popular sport in the age of radio than it is now but the jockeys were also more vulnerable. Pollard himself was instrumental in establishing the Jockeys' Guild, essentially the profession's first labor union. 

There are many interesting parallels with Daniel James Brown's chronicle of the University of Washington crew of the same era, The Boys in the Boat (my review here).   Both books examine sports more popular in the '30s.  Both address the bias of East Coast media against West Coast teams and athletes - a perception still alive and well in 2015.  Seabiscuit and the Washington crew employed similar race strategies, letting others set the pace before pulling ahead in the home stretch.  Each book references the subject of the other.  The Boys in the Boat makes several references to Seabiscuit's celebrity and Hillenbrand's book acknowledges the inspiration Tom Smith drew from the Washington crew's strict diet in guiding his horse's eating habits.

Seabiscuit is easily enjoyed by the non-fan, I think.  I have yet to see the movie, though My Wife and I did watch the excellent American Experience documentary profile.  The book has certainly piqued my own interest in the sport, particularly the 20th century's two most celebrated champions: Man O'War (Seabiscuit's grandsire) and Secretariat.

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 October's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is October 30th.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Clone Wars: Blue Shadow Virus

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: "Blue Shadow Virus"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 17
Original Air Date: February 13, 2009
via Wookieepedia
Biological warfare rears it's ugly head in "Blue Shadow Virus."  Dr. Nuvo Vindi, in the employ of the Separatists, has weaponized a disease once eradicated throughout the galaxy.  Padmé and Jar Jar stumble upon his lab and become his prisoner.  Obviously, Anakin, Obi Wan, Ahsoka and company must rescue them and neutralize the weapon.
via Wookieepedia
It's time we discussed Padmé in greater depth.  I've never been quite sure what to make of her myself.  Leia's description of her to Luke in Return of the Jedi - "Kind, but... sad" - is one of the more beautifully human moments in the entire saga.  Padmé is not the adventurous type, preferring the quieter, more subtle arts of diplomacy.  She has badass capacity, as we saw in "Bombad Jedi."  But in stories like "Blue Shadow Virus," she is a mere damsel in distress.  The genius of Leia, particularly in the original movie, is that she is both at the same time.  I don't feel Star Wars has ever quite managed that with Padmé.  She's different from her daughter and that's as it should be.  Still, I'd like Padmé more if she had more of an edge to her.  Perhaps she needs to be as close to pure good as possible to contrast with what Anakin will become?

Padmé is an occasional side character in The Clone Wars - not much time for development.  Even so, I'll be interested to see what new insights these stories might bring regarding her.
via Wookieepedia
Padmé is voiced by Catherine Taber.  Taber was born December 30, 1979 in Georgia.  In addition to all of the cartoons and video games one normally sees on a voice actor's resume, she has had a couple roles in live action films: The Girls' Room, Just Like Heaven and The Morningside Monster.

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: "Mystery of a Thousand Moons."


Friday, September 18, 2015

Family Movie Night: The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

Title: The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Director: Mami Sunada
Original Release: 2013
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
via That Movie Guy
Studio Ghibli films have been the great pop culture revelation of my parenting life.  My Wife and I watched Spirited Away without my daughter but we have discovered all of the others together as a family.  The lush, hand-drawn animation, the sophisticated stories and strong female protagonists have provided wondrous inspiration. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness provides a glimpse into the creative workings of the operation.  The documentary follows producer Toshio Suzuki and directors Isao Hakata and, of course, Hayao Miyazaki over the course of a year as the studio struggles to finish two major projects.  Both The Wind Rises (directed by Miyazaki) and The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Hakata) were initially scheduled for release on the same day.  But due to the two directors' differing work habits, things didn't quite work out that way.

I'm a sucker for any exploration of the creative process, especially when I already have tremendous admiration for the creators and their work.  It's wonderful watching hand sketches come to life.  Miyazaki, not surprisingly, is an eccentric and enigmatic character.  He reveals his story generating process to be decidedly non-linear, with little regard for narrative coherence.  He says that underlings have confessed to him that they don't entirely understand his stories and admits that he himself isn't quite sure what Spirited Away is about - rather shocking considering that it's easily his most critically revered film.

One expects a certain level of deifying from those who work for and with Miyazaki.  While everyone in the movie obviously respects and admires him, there is also evident fear.  We never hear reports of outright cruelty but he's clearly a demanding boss.  One animator says that most people don't stay with the studio long - even the most talented find the old man hard to take after a while.  The camera's perspective, though, is more forgiving.  It's hard not to like Miyazaki.  But then again, I don't have to work for him.

The film provides a deeply loving view of the Ghibli movies and, tangentially, the city of Tokyo itself.  Both the city and the country are near and dear to my heart so I'm grateful for the brief visit.  It's not a particularly kid-friendly documentary.  My daughter's patience was tested by the end.  But it was lovely for My Wife and me.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Clone Wars: The Hidden Enemy

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: "The Hidden Enemy"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 16
Original Air Date: February 6, 2009
via Wookieepedia
There's a traitor in the clone trooper ranks and Rex and Cody are out to find him. Obi Wan and Anakin go behind enemy lines to track the spy trail from that end.  They lock horns with Asajj who, of course, has lured them into a trap.  "The Hidden Enemy" was intended as a prequel to The Clone Wars movie.  As with "Rookies," I am glad for the glimpse into the lives of the troopers.  The treasonous act also shines a light on the complicated bond between the troopers and the Jedi they serve.
via Wookieepedia
Concept art for the character of Asajj Ventress was part of the early planning stages for Attack of the Clones.  With the death of Darth Maul in Phantom Menace, a new Sith apprentice was required and Asajj was one idea from the brainstorm that eventually produced Count Dooku.  Asajj found new life first in a comic book, Jedi: Mace Windu, then in the Clone Wars saga.  The name is drawn from Asaji, the Lady Macbeth equivalent in Throne of Blood, continuing Star Wars's essential connection to the films of Akira Kurosawa.
via The Legends of the Multi-Universe Wiki
Asajj is voiced by Nika Futterman.  Futterman was born October 25, 1969 in New York City.  The vast majority of her career has been in voice work but she has made live action appearances in the TV shows Chicago Hope and Murphy Brown.  She has performed voices for Avatar: The Last Airbender, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes among many others.  She has had a minor singing career, too.  In addition to singing as her characters, she supplied background vocals for The Offspring's "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)."

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: "Blue Shadow Virus."


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: October 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, October 2nd, everyone is invited to post three clues about his/her movie for others to guess.  Our next regular meeting is Friday, October 9th.   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, September 11, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: What's Up, Doc?

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.  My choice was first reviewed by Birgit in May.

Title: What's Up, Doc?
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Original Release: 1972
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
What's Up, Doc? is a zany homage to the great screwball comedies of old.  Howard Bannister (performed by Ryan O'Neal) is a musicologist from Iowa who has traveled to San Francisco with his fiancee Eunice (Madeline Kahn) in hopes of winning a lucrative research grant.  In the hotel gift shop, he meets Judy (Barbara Streisand), a deceptively ditzy schemer who takes quite a shine to him.  Howard and Judy have identical overnight bags.  So do two other hotel guests, each containing more interesting and valuable contents than either Howard's or Judy's.  The plot follows one mix-up after another.  Bags get switched, rooms get switched, lovers get switched.  It's tricky following all of the twists and turns but it's loads of fun, too.

All of the actors - including a young Randy Quaid - are at the top of their games.  But then, acting's easy when the writing is this good.  Bogdanovich's best films are dependable in that regard - What's Up, Doc? was the first movie after his masterpiece, The Last Picture Show, one of my favorites.  The wit is sharp and quick, maintaining a fast clip throughout.  Out loud guffaws abound.  My favorite scene finds Howard, Judy and their formal dinner companions merrily chatting underneath their table.

My first consideration in choosing between a 3 and a 4 rating for a film is whether or not I think it would hold up to a repeat viewing.  I wasn't entirely sure about What's Up, Doc? but once it was over, I found myself hoping it would become part of our regular family rotation.  If I were to watch again, I'd want to follow the movement of the bags more closely.  I thought that story would end differently.

Great movie, Birgit!  Thanks for adding it to the mix.

Trivia challenge again for October!  Pick your own movie to share.  Post three clues on Friday, October 2nd.  Post your reveal and review on Friday, October 9th.  Meanwhile, please visit my friends today:

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Clone Wars: Trespass

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: "Trespass"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 15
Original Air Date: January 30, 2009
via Wookieepedia
Obi-Wan, Anakin and entourage land on the ice planet Orto Plutonia to check up on a clone trooper outpost.   The troopers are found dead as are all of the droids at the Separatist base.  Our friends assume they were attacked by the same assailants, though Chairman Chi Cho of nearby Pantora insists the world is uninhabited.  Not coincidentally, the Pantorans claim the planet as part of their own territory.  But of course, there are sentient beings here: the Talz (giving broader context to one of the strange creatures encountered by Luke in the Cantina), and they're none too happy about their trouble making visitors.
via Wookieepedia
Muftak via Wookieepedia
The encounter sparks a tense territorial dispute between Pantorans and Talz with the Jedi and clones caught in the middle.  I appreciate the Clone Wars stories that reveal a broader canvas for the galaxy far, far away.  There is more to the Star Wars saga than Jedi vs. Sith, or at least there should be.  Petty local squabbles are only petty to those not directly involved. The rival parties here aren't concerned about good vs. evil (though we as the audience are certainly encouraged to favor one over the other).  They're just out to protect their own interests.  Such is human history and there's no reason to believe the Star Wars universe would be any different.

via Wookieepedia
Chi Cho is voiced by Brian George.  George was born July 1, 1952 in Jerusalem, the son of Iraqi Jews.  Eventually, his family ended up in Canada where he attended the University of Toronto.  After a failed attempt to start his own theatre group, he joined the fabled Second City.  There, he worked with John Candy among others.
via Once Upon a Time Wiki
George is best-known to television audiences for recurring roles on both Seinfeld (as Babu) and The Big Bang Theory (Rajesh's father).  He has appeared in two different Star Trek series: Deep Space Nine (Richard Bashir) and Voyager (Ambassador O'Zaal).  Beyond Clone Wars, he has had extensive voice work in film, television and video games.

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 Hidden Enemy."

Friday, September 4, 2015

Squid Drinks: Sun Tea

Mixology has become a big hobby for me over the past several months.  Most of my drinks are alcoholic but my daughter, understandably, gets upset if I don't also occasionally throw something together for her to try.  Fortunately, The New York Bartender's Guide (a gift from a friend back in college) has several non-alcoholic recipes.  Shirley Temple (ginger ale and grenadine) has been her favorite, as it was for me as a kid.  I used to order them at Danny's Spaghetti House in Silver Spring, Maryland.  They called mine a Roy Rogers to spare my masculine dignity.

This week's experiment was sun tea:

- 2 tbsp loose tea (Kusmi's Anastasia)
- 30 oz water
- peel of one lemon

Put it all in a covered glass jar, set it in direct sunlight for 4 hours.



Garnish with lemon.  Add sugar to taste.

(Recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide, ed. Sally Ann Berk)

I was impressed by how warm the jar was after four hours.  The tea was good.  My wife and I took ours with lemon, my daughter (aka The Purple Penguin) took sugar.  The Penguin didn't care for it, unfortunately.  I finished hers and while I'm not always a fan of sugar in tea, it did a nice job of bringing out the spiciness in this case.

I don't know if I'd try this again but it was certainly easy.  If I do, I'd likely try a different variety of tea.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Clone Wars: Defenders of Peace

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: "Defenders of Peace"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 14
Original Air Date: January 23, 2009
via Wookieepedia
Last week's story concludes in "Defenders of Peace."  When last we left Anakin and his entourage, they were marooned on the planet Maridun under the reluctant care of the peace seeking Lurmen.  A separatist ship arrives, oblivious to the Jedi presence.  General Lok Durd (voiced by our old friend, George Takei) wants to test his new Agent Orange-like defoliator.

The more interesting aspect of the story is the philosophical challenge posed by the Lurmen.  They wish to avoid the Clone Wars entirely and are critical of the Jedi resorting to violence, no matter how justifiable the cause.  Their leader, Tee Watt Kaa, protests all efforts by the Jedi to interfere with the weapon tests, even once the Lurmen's perilous predicament becomes evident.
via Wookieepedia
Lurmen's son Wag Too is more sympathetic to the Jedi cause and also worried for the survival of his village.  This family dynamic has significant precedent in the Star Wars narrative, of course.  Uncle Owen's concern for Luke in A New Hope is less philosophically motivated and Luke's initial eagerness may have been more attributable to youthful restlessness but the inter-generational tension is comparable.  Eagerness vs. reluctance in joining the Rebel cause is an important and under-appreciated theme of the original movie.

via IMDb
Wag Too is voiced by Alec Medlock.  Medlock was born March 13, 1990 in Torrance, California.  He is trilingual: English, French and Mandarin.  He has played piano since age six.  In addition to The Clone Wars, he contributed voice work to Dispicable Me 2 and Monsters University.  Medlock had a recurring role as Craig Ramirez on the TV series Drake & Josh.

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: "Trespass."