Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: February 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, February 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, January 29, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: January 2016

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: American Fried
Author: Calvin Trillin
via Goodreads
Calvin Trillin falls in the M.F.K. Fisher tradition of food writers, those who are more eaters than cooks.  That would be an accurate reflection of my own relationship with food, too.  While I am trying to learn to cook - mostly baking - I am far more experienced in appreciating the hard work of others.  Trillin eschews what passes for high cuisine in the United States - restaurants with names like Maison de la Casa House - in favor of low brow, greasier. American Fried describes numerous quests for such ideals as the best barbecue in Kansas City and the best bagels and schmears on the Lower East Side. 

Trillin published American Fried, the first of his Tummy Trilogy, before the word "foodie" attained its current cultural relevance.  Incidentally, I hate the word "foodie."  It's snobbish and elitist, as if one has to make a hobby of eating in order to appreciate food.  In my experience, there are entire nations of humans who love food without requiring such designations.

I rather doubt Trillin himself would take well to being called a foodie.  Food fanatic seems a better term.  The quantities he describes consuming border on absurd, yet he's particular.  Once he finds what he likes, he wastes no time shoveling it down his gullet.

The humor is top shelf - not quite embarrassing-to-read-on-a-plane funny but good for a healthy chuckle.  The change in food prices from the early '70s is quite comical though, of course, unintentional.  Trillin's fun.  I look forward to the rest of his trilogy.

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 February's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is February 26th.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On the Coffee Table: Box Brown

Title: Andre the Giant: Life and Legend
Writer and Artist: Box Brown
via Amazon
I'll admit upfront, I am not even remotely a professional wrestling fan.  My curiosity about Andre the Giant stems instead from his appearance in The Princess Bride.  We picked up a copy of this book when we went to a screening of the cult classic a couple years back.

Brown's book follows the life of Andre Rene Roussimoff from age 12 onward.  The early stories reveal the difficulty of walking through life as, well, a giant.  Already 6'3" and 240 pounds, he measured 7'4'', 520 lbs. in adulthood.  A wrestling promoter discovered him in Paris when he was 17.  At first essentially a novelty act, he reached the top of the profession after ten years.  By the time Princess Bride came along, he was already a superstar.  The film guaranteed his legacy beyond the ring.

Andre does not come across as especially likable.  Hard drinking, arrogant and generally rude, he's a far cry from Fezzik.  But there's no denying he lived a colorful, unusual life.  The presentation style reminds me of Chester Brown's Louis Riel: sparse and simple.  The book doesn't do much to spark my interest in wrestling generally, but perhaps in the individual.  Box Brown is a genuine fan of wrestling.  He is candid about the sport's staged elements but those elements have clearly done little to dampen his own enthusiasm.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Clone Wars: Voyage of Temptation

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: "Voyage of Temptation"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 13
Original Air Date: February 5, 2010
via Wookieepedia
As Obi-Wan and Anakin escort Duchess Satine aboard the Coronet en route to the Senate, it becomes clear her life is under threat.  Assassin probes are aboard the ship.  While the Jedi and the clone troopers ultimately manage to defeat them, their presence suggests a traitor is along for the ride as well.

All of this is secondary to the development of the Kenobi-Satine relationship, first hinted at in the previous episode.  In a desperate moment, the two confess their feelings for one another, Obi-Wan even going so far as to say that he would have left the Jedi Order for the Duchess.  Of course, we all know the very different choice Anakin has already made regarding his feelings for Padme.
via Wookieepedia
Greg Proops voices a Tal Merrik, a senator of great consequence to this story.  Proops was born October 3, 1959 in Phoenix and was raised in San Carlos, California.  He attended both the College of San Mateo and San Francisco State University, though he never graduated.  He is well known as a giant in improv comedy, having been a regular on both the UK and US versions of Whose Line Is It Anyway?
via Wikipedia
Proops voice credits are extensive, including work on The Nightmare Before Christmas, Bob the Builder, Brother Bear and Asterix and the Vikings.  He made his first Star Wars contribution in Phantom Menace, performing Fode, the Galactic Basic speaking half of the two-headed Pod-Race announcer.  He currently hosts a podcast called The Smartest Man in the World.

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: "Duchess of Mandalore."


Monday, January 25, 2016

On the Coffee Table: Treasure Hunters

Title: Bone, Volume 8: Treasure Hunters
Writer and Artist: Jeff Smith
via Bone Wiki
I'm getting close to the end of the brilliant Bone comic book series with only one more volume to go.  The inhabitants of the valley, including our friends the Bones, Thorn and Gran'ma Ben, have taken shelter in the old capital city of Atheia.  Even on safer ground, Briar seems to be able to reach Thorn, though not quite possess her.  Supported by Fone Bone, her strongest advocate, Thorn is starting to come into her own, standing up to Gran'ma Ben and others overly eager to protect her.  Phoney Bone is up to his old scheming ways but I have a sneaking suspicion he has a reluctant hero role yet to play.

Just in case anyone is left with any doubts of Jeff Smith's genius in the sequential art medium, he executes a perfect visual rendition of the shave-and-a-haircut knock on page 87.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Family Movie Night: Rise of the Guardians

Title: Rise of the Guardians
Director: Peter Ramsey
Original Release: 2012
Choice: Purple Penguin's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
In Rise of the Guardians, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are not only real.  They have their own Justice League-like team along with the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman.  The Man in the Moon is the Charlie to their Angels.  The Man warns them of a new threat to the children of the world from Pitch Black, aka the Boogeyman.  But he has also recruited a new Guardian to help: Jack Frost, the story's protagonist.

I'm a sucker for stories of holiday worlds come to life.  Sometimes, in my mind, I plan mini film festivals and Rise of the Guardians would combine nicely with The Nightmare Before Christmas, Arthur Christmas and perhaps even Elf.  That is not to say it's strictly a Christmas movie, though it could serve.  Ultimately, it is a tale about protecting the innocence of youth by defending children's imagination.  I'm all for that.

The voice cast is excellent.  Chris Pine is Jack, the reluctant hero of the gang.  Jude Law does well as the villain.  Alec Baldwin (Santa), Hugh Jackman (Bunny) and Isla Fisher (Tooth) are all strong.  While reasonably successful critically, the film did not do so well at the box office.  While $306 million worldwide certainly seems like a huge load of cash, the movie lost money against its production and marketing budgets.  We certainly enjoyed it at our house.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Clone Wars: The Mandalore Plot

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 Mandalore Plot"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 12
Original Air Date: January 29, 2010
via Wookieepedia
The planet Mandalore is officially neutral in the war between the Republic and the Separatists.  In fact, the Mendalorian Duchess Satine is the leader of The Council of Neutral Systems.  Obi-Wan Kenobi has been sent to investigate claims that the system is leaning towards the Separatists.  Upon his arrival, it becomes clear that he has more than a passing acquaintance with the duchess.  We all know about Anakin's secret marriage to Padme but perhaps the old Jedi Master has a few quasi-romantic entanglements in his own past...

Predictably, the situation on Mandalore is more complicated than initially assumed.  While Satine is firm in her resolve to remain neutral, a local militant opposition group called Death Watch is clouding the situation.  They're not too happy about having a Jedi snooping around either.

The planet Mandalore is connected to Star Wars's second most enigmatic family, the Fetts.  It is the home base of the Mandalorian warriors, an order to which both Jango Fett and his son Boba Fett belonged.  As such, the group's distinctive armor is well known to the devoted.
via Behind the Voice Actors
Duchess Satine is voiced by Anna Graves.  Graves was born May 12, 1978 in Memphis, Tennessee.  Apart from her voice work, she made a live appearance on an episode of Two and a Half Men.  Among numerous video games, she has contributed to several Call of Duty titles.

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: "Voyage of Temptation."

Monday, January 18, 2016

On the Coffee Table: Aesop

Title: Aesop's Fables retold by Blanche Winder
Author: Aesop
via Wikipedia
I first read Aesop's Fables in the seventh grade but, of course, some of the stories have been a part of my life for longer than that.  Tales such as "The Tortoise and the Hare" and expressions such as "sour grapes" are so firmly entrenched in Western Civilization that most people probably have no idea of their origin.  My own venture back to them was inspired by the character Bigby in the Fables comic book series.  The other animal characters in the series forbid Bigby from going anywhere near their Farm sanctuary and these ancient legends remind us why.

The Big Bad Wolf looms large in world folklore.  The Wolf is the tyrant of the forest, the embodiment of remorseless greed.  Aesop's most famous lupine story is "Crying 'Wolf,'" a timeless cautionary tale. Wolves are no joke, though.  They have posed a threat to domesticated livestock for thousands of years.  Given that they probably inspired the idea of domestication to begin with, the relationship between wolf and human is inextricably tied to the history of civilization itself.

The Blanche Winder edition bills itself as "Complete and Unabridged," a ridiculous understatement.  48 stories is a lot but the known fables number in the hundreds.  Fortunately, in the age of the Internet, everything in the public domain is easily accessible online.  If you're interested, look no further.  The Winder book, first published in 1965, is a bit dated for other reasons.  In "The Boys and the Frogs," a group of boys throw stones at frogs.  Ms. Winder expresses hope that "there were no little girls among them."  Personally, I see killing frogs for sport more as mean than unladylike but I realize the world has changed a little in 50 years.  The Winder book is engaging and certainly accessible to children, if not the most scholarly objective work.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Family Movie Night: Born Yesterday

Title: Born Yesterday 
Director: George Cukor
Original Release: 1950
Choice: My Wife's 
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Based on Garson Kanin's stage play of the same name, Born Yesterday is the tale of a woman stuck in a terrible relationship.  Billie (Judy Holliday) is the seemingly ornamental girlfriend of oafish mobster, Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford). Harry is in Washington, out to buy a congressman. Embarrassed by Billie's lack of refinement, he hires journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden) to smooth out her rough edges. The more she learns, the more she realizes what a rat Harry truly is.

Make no mistake, this is Judy Holliday's movie.  You could say she stole the show but no one else even stood a chance.  Her transformation from abused and diminished to confident and self-actualized is wonderfully satisfying. In the beginning, her pitiful, screechy voice grates. By the end, it is her triumphant cackle.  She won an Oscar but that hardly seems enough. Without a doubt, hers is one of the most extraordinary screen performances you'll ever see.

And it almost didn't happen. Holliday performed the role on stage to great acclaim but, of course, the studio executives wanted a more established actress for the movie.  Fortunately, Holliday had influential admirers. Cukor, Kanin, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy arranged for her to get third billing in Adam's Rib, significantly enhancing her resume.  Jean Hagen, also in the Adam's Rib cast, later won the role of Lena Lamont in Singin' in the Rain by doing a dead-on Judy Holliday impression.

The film has other selling points, including a loving tour of early '50s Washington, DC.  Holden's always charming and Crawford is well cast.  But it's Judy's movie.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Lost

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: "Lightsaber Lost"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 11
Original Air Date: January 22, 2010
via Wookieepedia
While in a sketchy neighborhood on Coruscant, Ahsoka falls victim to a pickpocket.  Her lightsaber is gone!  Embarrassed to admit her carelessness to Anakin, she enlists help elsewhere.  At the Jedi Archives, she meets Tera Sinube, a Jedi Master expert on the planet's criminal underworld.  Ahsoka accepts his help reluctantly.

Interestingly, Drama Guy (my teaching partner) and I had just been discussing Star Wars's sometimes tiring tendency toward monochromatic settings: the tan of Tatooine, the white of Hoth, the black of the Death Star, the green of Endor, etc.  You don't get much ordinary city life in Episodes IV-VII (Bespin doesn't count - not remotely ordinary).  Jedi life in the suburbs doesn't hold much romantic appeal either.  But actually, the prequels do offer a broader palette in terms of setting and The Clone Wars expands on that.  It's fun to watch our heroes navigating the commuter rail, for instance.

The path of the stolen lightsaber leads eventually to the thieving duo of Cassie Cryar and Ione Marcy, marionette-like beings reminiscent of Dave McKean's artwork:

via The Clone Wars Wiki
via Yodapedia
McKean's Mr. Punch:
via Pinterest
Or perhaps, Tim Burton?

Sally (The Nightmare Before Christmas):
via The Nightmare Before Christmas Wiki
via Wookieepedia
Tera Sinube is a Cosian, designed from unused concept art from The Phantom Menace.  He made his first, unvoiced appearance in "Grievous Intrigue."  In this week's episode, he is voiced by Gregory Baldwin.
via Voice Over Wiki
Baldwin was born September 13, 1960 in Grants, New Mexico.  He has extensive stage credits including Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors and Dr. Zubritsky in Neil Simon's Fools.    Voiceover work includes SpongeBob SquarePants, Avatar: The Last Airbender and, of course, numerous video games.


I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the passing of David Bowie.  RIP, you strange and wondrous entity.  Care to play us out, Ziggy?

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 Mandalore Plot."


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Mock Squid Soup: February 2016 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, February 5th, everyone is invited to post three clues about his/her movie for others to guess.  Our next regular meeting is Friday, February 12th.   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, January 8, 2016

Mock Squid Soup: Going My Way

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 LibraryGoing My Way was first reviewed by Birgit.

Title: Going My Way
Director: Leo McCarey
Original Release: 1944
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Going My Way was 1944's cinematic dynamo, the rare film that finished #1 at the box office and also won the Best Picture Oscar for a given year.  Bing Crosby is Father Chuck O'Malley, a breezy priest whose light touch transforms his new parish.  He converts the neighborhood toughs into the church's boys choir and even charms Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald).  The elder Fitzgibbon is initially disapproving of O'Malley's casual nature and even attempts to have him reassigned, only to find the power structure was not quite what he'd originally thought.

Bing won a Best Actor Oscar for the film but we all know you don't cast the Once in a Century Voice for his thespian talents.  He sings five songs in all.  "Swinging on a Star" was the Oscar winner but "Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra" is the one that makes your heart melt.  Then again, he may not even be the best singer in the picture.  World class mezzo Risë Stevens darn near steals the movie as Genevieve Linden, Father Chuck's one-time girlfriend, now Metropolitan Opera diva.  My favorite scene is the one in which she discovers her old beau's new profession.

Going My Way is an undeniably sweet movie.  One can easily see why audiences and critics ate it up in the late-War era.  For the musical performances alone, it's a worthy classic.  I don't know if I'd ever be up for a full repeat viewing but there are a few scenes I can see cherry-picking from time to time.

Trivia challenge again for February!  Pick your own movie to share.  Post three clues on Friday, February 5th.  Post your reveal and review on Friday, February 12th.  Meanwhile, please visit my friends today:

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Clone Wars: The Deserter

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 Deserter"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 10
Original Air Date: January 1, 2010
via Wookieepedia
"The Deserter" brings us back to the Clone Wars story theme I enjoy the most: the complicated relationship between the clone troopers and the Jedi they serve.  Obi-Wan Kenobi and his troopers are hunting Grievous on the planet Saleucami.  Rex takes a small detail to investigate a crashed pod.  Along the way, he is severely injured.  The troopers get him to shelter on a farm while they continue the mission.

The farm belongs to the Lawquane family.  Suu, a female Twi'lek, and her two children provide the necessary hospitality.  Her husband is away, delivering the harvest.  One of the kids jokes that Rex looks like their father.  No joke, as it turns out.

When the owner turns up, he looks quite familiar indeed.  He is a clone deserter, Cut Lawquane.  Over the rest of the story, Rex and Cut debate duty vs. personal choice.
via Wookieepedia
"The Deserter" is the only canon appearance of the Lawquane family, though there is clearly more to Suu's story than the episode reveals.  When the troopers first arrive, she demonstrates confidence with a weapon in hand.   Suu is voiced by Cara Pifko who employed a French Canadian accent for the character.
via Wookieepedia
Pifko was born March 15, 1984 in Toronto.  A graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, her breakthrough role came in the Canadian television series, Our Hero.  Suu is the first of several roles she performed for The Clone Wars.  She also had a recurring role on General Hospital as Louise Addison.  Her most prominent video game work is as Kelly Chambers in the Mass Effect franchise.

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: "Lightsaber Lost."


Monday, January 4, 2016

On the Coffee Table: T. K. V. Desikachar

Title: The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice
Author: T. K. V. Desikachar
via Amazon
Back in June, I wrote about my first yoga class.  Since then, my wife and I have made a point of trying to make it to the studio every weekend.  Exercise is a big part of my current quest to find greater balance in my life and with the Vermont winter progressing, indoor activities become important.  Yoga could be a good fit.

The challenge for me, however, is learning how to practice on my own.  To this point, I've only ever done yoga in a class or with a video - in other words, doing exactly what someone tells me to do.  While I'm eager to learn as much as I can from the teachers at the studio, eventually I'll need to establish my own routines.  The Heart of Yoga was recommended by one instructor so I figured I'd try it.

I was hoping for a book that would provide a suitable sequence of poses (asana) but Desikachar's work offers a much broader overview of yoga.  In fact, most of the book isn't about the physical exercises at all.  The breathing, the contortions and the meditation are all a gateway to a healthier approach to life.  The author defines yoga's purpose as "to attain what was previously unattainable" and that purpose runs deeper than merely being able to hold the bridge pose longer than you could before.  Yoga helps us to see the world more clearly.

The Heart of Yoga thoroughly examines the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings of the practice.  Much of the text is in Q&A format so it feels like a conversation between teacher and student.  In Part III, Desikachar presents the Yoga Sutra line by line in both Sanskrit and English transliteration, followed by his own commentary.  Part IV contains poetry by yogi T. Krishnamacharya.  All of this is far more than I expected.  I'm glad to know all of the background but was eager for something more practical.

Fortunately, there are four suggested practice sequences in the appendix.  Throughout, Desikachar stresses the importance of working with a teacher.  But between the book and the more or less weekly classes, I think I have enough to get started.  The rest of the text, I hope, will prove a meaningful reference in the future.

Friday, January 1, 2016

On the Road: Asian Adams Morgan

We just got back from our annual December trip to Washington, DC to visit my parents.  Washington is, among many other things, a fantastic food city.  Our visit provided an opportunity to sample a couple of the newer restaurants in the neighborhood, representing different corners of the Asian continent.

Until fairly recently, 1847 Columbia Road NW was home to Napoleon Bistro, an excellent continental cuisine spot.  Then one day, the doors closed and practically overnight, the place was reinvented as Lapis, specializing in Afghani food.  Turnover in the restaurant business is expected but this conversion was unusual for the fact that ownership remained the same.  The family, which fled Afghanistan after the Soviets invaded, operates several European style restaurants in the city. Lapis is their first venture featuring their own native cuisine. 
via Lapis
The place has quickly become one of my parents' favorites so they were eager to share with us.  The dishes look familiar to anyone who knows Middle Eastern cuisine but the flavor profile inches to the east.  Aushak, Afghan dumplings, were a big hit at our table and the mixed grill provided a great opportunity to sample entrees.  I would definitely go again, probably sampling the appetizers next time.

Korean food has long been a favorite of mine.  There was a great place in my neighborhood in Yokohama back in the '90s.  Not only was the meal itself wonderful but the barbecue and garlic smell would get in your clothing and be with you for the rest of the evening.  Heaven!  Despite the overall popularity of Asian food in the States, Korean places are rare.  Even Korean-owned establishments tend to stick to the safer ground of Japanese or Chinese offerings. 
via Twitter
So, when my father asked if there were any cuisines we'd been craving and I saw the listing for BUL in the latest Lonely Planet, I jumped at the chance.   While barbecue at the table wasn't an option, the magic pouring out of the kitchen was deeply satisfying.  DC Kalbi Ssam (short ribs) and K-Pork Fried Rice were our best orders.  I only stopped eating because I ran out of steam.  BUL is the sort of restaurant I imagine visiting over and over, trying something new each time. 

Both restaurants were crowded, even early in the evening, a good sign for long-term success.