Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: November 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, November 27th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

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

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: October 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: The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
Author: Dan Barber
via Goodreads
"If you're working on a problem you can solve in your own lifetime, you're not thinking big enough." - Wes Jackson, co-founder of The Land Institute
I'm not usually big on quotes.  But when I read that one in The Third Plate, I loved it so much I put it up on the whiteboard in my classroom where it has remained for several weeks.  They're wonderful words to live by and they provide a fine summation of Barber's book.  The Third Plate is similar to The Omnivore's Dilemma (my review here) in many ways, tracing the origins of our food from farm to table: flour, fois gras, Spanish ham and seafood.  

Unlike Michael Pollan, though, Dan Barber is a chef rather than a journalist.  As such, his primary motivation is flavor.  His conclusion is essentially the same: sustainable agricultural practices are the best.  One should farm according to ecological principles, feeding the ecosystem what it demands rather than bending it to commercial demands.  His reason, though, is different: such an approach to farming produces tastier food.  What's more, he asserts that chefs have a responsibility to promote more responsible practices through the composition of their menus.

The Third Plate exposes many of the ills of the food industry: soil depletion, over-fishing, monocultures, etc.  Barber highlights several farmers and scientists practicing by new methods, many of which are simply more like the old pre-industrial methods.  The solutions aren't always so simple, though.  Quality of food often comes at the cost of quantity.  High yield is the driving motivator for agribusiness and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.  As Barber admits, Monsanto isn't going anywhere.  The altruistic side of the equation is complicated, too.  How do we farm responsibly and also meet the demands of a hungry - too often, starving - world?

All of which leads back to the quote above.  The solutions to the major food questions of the age are not going to come easily, perhaps not in our own lifetimes.  But if we don't get to work on them now, the outlook for future generations may be quite dire.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post November's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is November 27th.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Clone Wars: Season One

We have reached the end of Season 1 in our exploration of The Clone Wars.   Episode posts resume next Tuesday with Season 2.  But first, a quick reflection...

General Impressions

As much as I love the Star Wars movies, I am eager for The Clone Wars series to have a life of its own. Therefore, the more intriguing stories for me are the ones exploring aspects of the saga beyond the basic Jedi vs. Sith premise.  So far, the best theme going is the relationship between the Jedi and the clone troopers who serve them.  The United States was still in two wars at the beginning of the series's run and the plight of the common soldier was a relevant point of discussion.  We've also had welcome glimpses of Star Wars's seamy underworld, an important part of the original trilogy.  I am hoping for more of the same in seasons to come.

Favorite Episode: "Rookies"
via Wookieepedia
The tedious existence of the clones on a remote outpost is disturbed by a Separatist invasion.  In its best moments, the story doesn't feel like Star Wars at all, recalling instead the war movies of an earlier age. "Rookies" reveals the depths of the clones' devotion to their cause and also to one another.  I actually teared up a little at the tale's climax.

Least Favorite Episode: "Cloak of Darkness"
via Wookieepedia
There's really nothing wrong with this episode.  In fact, quality is fairly even throughout the first season.  But the stench of formula came wafting through with this story, the third in a row built upon a prison break narrative structure.  Obviously, such a plot is bread and butter for the franchise, going all the way back to the first movie.  But as I stated in my general impressions, I'm eager for the series to find its own path.  Same old same old ain't gonna cut it.

Favorite New Character: Hondo Ohnaka
via Wookieepedia
Hondo, a Weequay pirate, is introduced in "Dooku Captured," part one of a two-episode arc.  He is voiced by Jim Cummings who took his inspiration for Hondo from Star Trek's Khan.  He is also going to be back.  His next appearance comes in Season 2.  I take this as a strong indication that The Clone Wars will develop some of its own stories going forward.


Season 1 ended in March 2009.  Real pirates were in the news in April when a band of Somalis gained control of the Maresk Alabama, captained by Richard Phillips.  In June, the world lost the King of Pop.  The Clone Wars returned with Season 2 in October.

Please visit the other participants today.  Next Tuesday: "Holocron Heist."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Clone Wars: Hostage Crisis

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: "Hostage Crisis"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 22
Original Air Date: March 20, 2009
via Wookieepedia
Every once in a while, we get an episode to remind us that Anakin and Padme are gettin' it on behind everyone's backs.  They're in love - married even - but that's all verboten for a Jedi.  Emotional entanglement equals distraction and vulnerability.  Of course, we all know the importance of this union to the broader Star Wars saga and we also know no one's going to find out for a while.  But Anakin and Padme don't know.  "Hostage Crisis" is such an episode.

Bounty hunter Cad Bane has been hired to spring Ziro the Hutt from prison.  To accomplish this, he takes several senators hostage including, you guessed it, Padme.  Obviously, Anakin has to do something about this but there's one complication: Padme has his lightsaber.  "Hostage Crisis" is the final episode of the first season and the beginning of a new story arc so, naturally, there's a cliffhanger.

via The Clone Wars Wiki
Ian Abercrombie is the voice of Chancellor Palpatine.  Abercrombie was born September 11, 1934 in Grays, Essex, England.  He started his showbiz career early as an award-winning child dancer.  He moved to the United States at age 17.
via Wikipedia
The stage led to the screen and Abercrombie had a long career as a character actor, particularly in television.  Among many other roles, he was Alfred in Birds of Prey and Elaine's boss on Seinfeld.  He died in 2012 from kidney failure.  "Lawless," a fifth-season Clone Wars episode was dedicated to his memory.

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: "Holocron Heist."  This Thursday, we'll be recapping Season One.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Squid Bakes: Plain Scones

Last Saturday night, as we pondered the rest of our weekend, our daughter (Purple Penguin) asked if we had any plans for Sunday.  We asked if there was anything she wanted to do and she responded with a sheepish grin that she hoped we didn't have anything to do.  "I want to stay home so I can wear my new fuzzy pants all day."  With that, Sunday became Fuzzy Pants Day for all of us.

Such is life in Vermont as we edge our way into late autumn.  The leaves are past peak now.  The deep reds and oranges of a couple weeks ago have been replaced by yellows and browns.  The stained glass windows in the canopy have become lush carpets under the maples.  Last weekend also brought our first snowfall - light dustings mostly, but enough to remind us all of what's coming.  To be sure, Vermont's glorious summer and dazzling foliage season are behind us.  Winter looms.

It's important to have things to look forward to this time of year.  Winter hobbies are popular in the northern states for obvious climactic reasons, of course, but they're also important psychologically.  Shorter days, bare branches and dropping temperatures are a lot easier to take if you are a hockey fan, for instance.  At our house, we put up our bird feeders in November.  Our woodland surroundings teem with life and we are better able to enjoy that in winter.  We don't dare leave food out in the warmer months - best to wait until we know the bears are down for the season.  We enjoy the simple pleasures of flannel sheets and longer sleeves - Fuzzy Pants Days and the like.  It's also a better time of year for turning on the oven which means...


I took up baking last year but gave it up for the summer.  Now that it's cooler, setting the oven to 450 appeals in a way it didn't a month ago.  I am gradually working my way through How to Bake by Nick Malgieri, from which the plain scones recipe came.  It was a good project for getting back in the groove - very easy.  We all gobbled them up eagerly.  Apricot jam was a fine pairing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Clone Wars: Liberty on Ryloth

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: "Liberty on Ryloth"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 21
Original Air Date: March 13, 2009
via Wookieepedia
This week's episode completes the Ryloth story arc.  The Republic's effort to free the planet from brutal Separatist control is going well.  But for a successful assault upon the capital city, Mace Windu requires the assistance of Cham Syndulla, a Twi'lek freedom fighter wary of aligning himself with the Jedi.
via Wookieepedia
The Cham Syndulla story is the most blatantly topical episode of the series so far.  It's worth remembering that the United States was still deeply immersed in two wars in 2009.  Six years later, long-term stability in both Iraq and Afghanistan still feels out of reach.  At one point in discussions, Syndulla expresses reluctance to put his trust in an ally he might have to fight against in time.  Boy, is that ever recent Middle East relations in a nutshell!
via The Elder Scrolls Wiki
Syndulla is voiced by Robin Atkin Downes.  Downes was born in London.  In addition to extensive voice work in film, television and video games, he has made live action appearances in such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5 and Beverly Hills, 90210.  He has been married to actress Michael Ann Young since 2004.

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: "Hostage Crisis."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Family Movie Night: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Title: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson
Original Release: 2014
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
I have admired Wes Anderson's work since Rushmore, his breakthrough movie. He is at his quirky, zany best with the highly acclaimed Grand Budapest Hotel.  M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is the devoted concierge at a mountainside hotel in the fictional nation of Zubrowka in 1932.  He will stop at nothing to please his guests.  Unfortunately, he has been framed for murder and he drags his lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) on a madcap adventure to escape from prison, evade recapture and discover the truth.  The all-star cast includes Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel and on and on.

The story itself is not enough to bring me back for a repeat viewing.  Instead, the top-notch acting and the world class visual presentation are the selling points.  Not for nothing, The Grand Budapest Hotel swept the art Oscars: Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Best Original Score, too, for good measure).  Every frame is rich with color and texture.  The story is told in three different timelines, each with its own aspect ratio.  The main story, in fact, is shot in portrait orientation rather than landscape - usually a no-no but somehow it works here, makes everything and everyone seem taller.  Not a bad thing in a film with a mountainous setting and a tall and lanky cast. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Clone Wars: Innocents of Ryloth

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: "Innocents of Ryloth"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 20
Original Air Date: March 6, 2009
via Wookieepedia
This week's episode is the second in the Ryloth story arc.  It's a Why We Fight narrative.   The brutality of the Separatist occupation of Ryloth is laid plain.  Native Twi'leks are being held captive as a living shield to protect the proton cannons from attack.

The story takes a more personal turn when Waxer and Boil, two clone troopers dispatched as scouts, encounter Numa, a Twi'lek orphan girl.  Up until that moment, the clones have a patronizing and dismissive view of the local populace, referring to them as "tail-heads."  But Numa puts a face to the Twi'lek struggle, changing their attitudes considerably.  Once again, the series drifts away from comfortable Star Wars territory towards war movie turf.  That's never really been my genre at all but so far, at least, that seems to be where The Clone Wars works best, in my opinion.
via Wookieepedia
Mace Windu makes an appearance in this episode.  I'd long assumed the character was created as an excuse to cast Samuel L. Jackson in The Phantom Menace but the name, at least, goes back to the earliest concept drafts for the original movie.  Windu is the only Star Wars character with a purple lightsaber - Jackson's request.  In the movies, the letters "BMF" appear on the blade handle, a tribute to Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction.
via Final Destination Wiki
In The Clone Wars, Mace Windu is voiced by Terrence Carson.  Carson was born November 19, 1958 in Chicago.  He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Much of Carson's early stage work was in musicals: The Wiz, Dreamgirls and Ain't Misbehavin'.  His best-known live action role was Kyle Barker on the sitcom Living Single.  In 2002, he released a jazz/funk album entitled Truth

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: "Liberty on Ryloth."


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: November 2015 Blog List

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

Next meeting is Friday, November 13th.  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, October 9, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: 12 Angry Men

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:

- The movie is 96 minutes long.  All but about three of those minutes are filmed in the same room.

- Sonia Sotomayor claims the film as an important influence on her life.

- The movie was recently parodied by Amy Schumer.

Drum roll, please...

Title: 12 Angry Men
Director: Sidney Lumet
Original Release: 1957
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
When my daughter asked me what my Family Movie Night choice was about, I was hesitant to tell her too much.   "It's about a murder trial" was all I could manage.  12 Angry Men is, in terms of basic concept and structure, a fairly straightforward film.  The members of a jury deliberate over a murder case.  All but one (played by Henry Fonda) are certain the accused is guilty.  The holdout does his best to convince the others.  Simple, right?

But 12 Angry Men is so much more.   It's about challenging assumptions and prejudices.  It's about standing by your principles and staring down the forces of conventional wisdom.  It's about burden of proof and reasonable doubt.  It's about twelve men with different and frequently competing motivations, charged with the legal and moral obligation to either agree on a man's fate or admit they failed in the effort. 

12 Angry Men is also one of the most brilliantly written movies you'll ever see.  Screenwriter Reginald Rose originally wrote the story as a 1954 television episode for the series Studio One.  A stage adaptation followed in 1955.  The movie is a triumph of the medium, taking the eye where a theater audience could never go.  While most of the film is indeed shot in the jury room, the camera is all over the place.  The shots in the beginning are wide angle, at eye level.  But as the story progresses, the perspective moves lower and closer to the faces of the jurors, affecting an uncomfortable intimacy and heightening the tension.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor does, indeed, claim the film as an important influence on her life.  Juror #11 (most characters are never named beyond their juror numbers), an immigrant, gives a speech on his reverence for the American justice system that Sotomayor has said helped convince her to pursue a career in law.  Interestingly, as a judge, she would caution juries against following the example of 12 Angry Men, urging them to base their decision on facts rather than speculation. 

It's not easy to explain all of that to a twelve-year-old.  Best just to let her watch and discover for herself.

Next meeting is Friday, November 13th.  I'll post November's blog list tomorrow.  For November, pick another society member's choice from our ever increasing library to review.  Today, please visit my fellow cinephiles, listed below:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Clone Wars: Storm Over Ryloth

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: "Storm Over Ryloth"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 1, Episode 19
Original Air Date: February 27, 2009
via Wookieepedia
"Storm Over Ryloth" is a space battle episode.  The planet Ryloth is suffering under a brutal Separatist occupation.  The Republic must break the blockade and get supplies through to the starving population.  Ahsoka, following her master's poor example, ignores orders and gets most of her squadron killed.  But of course, since she's a Jedi all is forgiven practically instantaneously and she is given important command responsibilities in the renewed attack.

Sorry to be snarky but this episode has sharpened my awareness of the incongruity of the relationship between Jedi and Clones.  The Clone Troopers are such a finely honed and disciplined military operation while the Jedi are so casual by comparison.  The Jedi all have impressive ranks, yet they're constantly moping around, ignoring orders and making dumb mistakes - or at least Anakin and Ahsoka are.  Yet the Clones follow their lead like faithful puppies.  I'm sure the Clones are in awe of the Jedi and their powers but their devotion stretches narrative credibility.  This isn't how a military organization actually works, or at least not one you'd want to root for as an audience.  In the real world, the attainment of rank comes as much by virtue of accomplishment as much as ability.  You've gotta earn it.  It's hard to feel that the Jedi have.  They have their own training of course, but it's not exactly military training as far as I can tell.  Then again, maybe this is the way the enlisted always feel about the officers above them.  Maybe that's the point.
via Wookieepedia
Anakin's nemisis in this episode is Mar Tuuk, the Neimoidian captain leading the blockade.  The story marks his first appearance.  The character of Mar Tuuk was intended as an homage to the 1984 film The Last Starfighter, a favorite of series director Dave Filoni's.  He is named after Filoni's cat, Martuk.  The character is unnamed in the story itself but a name was included in the published episode guide.
via Batman Wiki
Mar Tuuk is voiced by Corey Burton.  Burton also voices Count Dooku for the series and has, in fact, served as a voice double for Christopher Lee characters in several other instances.  He was born Corey Weinberg on August 3, 1955 in Los Angeles.  He began his voice acting career at age 17.

Burton has done extensive work for Disney.  At present, he is the voice for both Captain Hook and Ludwig Von Drake.  He voices Brainiac for the DC universe and Spike Witwicky and Shockwave for the Transformers.

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: "Innocents of Ryloth."


Friday, October 2, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: October 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.  My three clues:

- The movie is 96 minutes long.  All but about three of those minutes are filmed in the same room.

- Sonia Sotomayor claims the film as an important influence on her life.

- The movie was recently parodied by Amy Schumer.

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