Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Clone Wars: Season Two

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

General Impressions

As I had hoped, The Clone Wars takes on more of a life of its own in Season Two.  While there are still plenty of straight-up, Jedi/Sith stories with Anakin as the focus, we are allowed more avenues of exploration.  There is even one episode, "Senate Murders," that includes no Jedi at all.  Many of the more interesting stories take us into the seamy Star Wars underworld of pirates, thieves, assassins and especially bounty hunters.  In fact, many of the threads ultimately connect back to the Galaxy's most famous bounty hunter: Boba Fett.  The young Boba himself makes his first Clone Wars appearance in "Death Trap."

Favorite Episode: "Bounty Hunters"
via Wookieepedia
Lots of strong candidates for this distinction but I'm a sucker for an homage.  "Bounty Hunters" isn't really about bounty hunters much at all.  It's a send up of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.  My favorite Clone Wars character, the pirate Hondo Ohnaka, also puts in an appearance.

Least Favorite Episode: "R2 Come Home"
via Wookieepedia
Conversely, not many obvious stinkers.  "R2 Come Home" is part two of a three-episode arc about young Boba Fett, a fun and important story overall.  Despite (or partly because of?) a droid duel, this installment lacked a certain compelling energy.  In fact, I would say this is a bit of a recurring issue for the series: not all chapters of an arc are equal.  The same is true for the film trilogies, after all.

Favorite New Character: Duchess Satine
via Wookieepedia
Satine is the leader of the planet Mandalore and also the Council of Neutral Systems, an organization of worlds determined not to participate in the clash between the Republic and the Separatists.  The Mandalore story itself is an interesting one.  An insurgent group known as Death Watch is waging civil war on the planet and they have targeted Satine in particular.  She is a strong, independent woman and a potent leader.  As if all that weren't enough, she also has a quasi-romantic past with Obi-Wan Kenobi, enriching his backstory, too.


The droning buzz of vuvuzelas filled the air during the summer of 2010 as South Africa hosted soccer's World Cup (though I suppose it was technically winter in the southern hemisphere).  In July, WikiLeaks published 90,000 internal reports from the US-led War in Afghanistan.  The Clone Wars launched Season Three in September.

There's a lot to look forward to in Season Three.  The first episode, "Clone Cadets," is a prequel to what is still my favorite episode of the series: Season One's "Rookies."  Duchess Satine returns as well.

Please visit the other participants today.  Next Tuesday: "Clone Cadets."


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Clone Wars: Lethal Trackdown

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: "Lethal Trackdown"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 22
Original Air Date: April 30, 2010
via Wookieepedia
This week's episode is the third and final installment of a Boba Fett story arc.  It is also the last episode of Season Two.  I was concerned about the arc last week - a bit dull - but it recovered nicely in the end.   The leader of Boba's band, Aurra Sing, has taken hostages in an effort to force a confrontation between her young charge and Mace Windu, the Jedi who killed his father.

Some great character development for both Aurra and Boba this time.  Hondo returns as Aurra's old flame.  We see Boba's sympathy for the clone troopers, his kinsmen, a sympathy that compromises his relationship with Aurra.  That relationship - mother/son to a severely limited degree - is the driving force of the episode.  The harsh realities of Boba's existence are laid plain.

via Wookieepedia
Admiral Shoan Kilian was one of the three hostages and the only one not a clone.  He was named after Kilian Plunkett, a concept artist for the series.  This story arc marks Kilian's first appearance.  The admiral was voiced by Julian Holloway who gave the character a Scottish accent.
via Wookieepedia
Holloway was born June 24, 1944 in Watlington, Oxfordshire, England.  He is the son of Stanley Holloway who rose to fame on both stage and screen as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father in My Fair Lady.  Julian found modest success of his own on screens both large and small.  Television work has included Beverley Hills, 90210, The New Avengers and Doctor Who.  Film credits include Young Winston, Porridge and a minor role in the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night.

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: "Clone Cadets."  This Thursday, we'll be recapping Season Two.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: April 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, April 29th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

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

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: March 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: Third Helpings
Author: Calvin Trillin
via Goodreads
Once again, I offer you the work of Calvin Trillin.  Third Helpings is the third and final installment of The Tummy Trilogy.  Trillin takes us to Asia this time: Japan and Hong Kong.  He shares his attempts at historical research into chicken wings in Buffalo and baked duck in Louisiana.  We tag along for a bar hop in Reading, Pennsylvania.  Throughout, he is as humorous and gluttonous as ever.

Obviously, Trillin has loomed large for me of late, even turning up in unexpected places.  When we watched Sleepless in Seattle for Mock Squid Soup, a familiar face turned up at the dinner table at Annie's parents' house.  Sure enough, Uncle Milton was played by Calvin Trillin!  Evidently, he and director Nora Ephron are friends.  My wife explained to our daughter, "You know those books Daddy's been reading and giggling over?  That's the guy who wrote them."

I was reminded, too, that I have seen Calvin Trillin interviewed many times on The Daily Show as well.  The following is from an appearance in 2012.  Be forewarned, it is terrifyingly prophetic regarding our current presidential election kerfuffle:

Trillin is loads of fun.  I have enjoyed the trilogy thoroughly and hope to read more of his work in the future.

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Clone Wars: R2 Come Home

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: "R2 Come Home"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 21
Original Air Date: April 24, 2010
via Wookieepedia
"R2 Come Home" continues the story begun last week with "Death Trap."  In that episode, the young Boba Fett destroyed the Republic ship Endurance when his assassination attempt upon Mace Windu failed.  This week, Windu and Anakin follow the wreckage down to the planet Vanqor in hopes of finding survivors.  Boba and his bounty hunter pals are sniffing around, too.  Boba is in search of confirmation that Windu is dead.  Despite his inclusion in the title, R2-D2's story is a secondary plot line.  He has to get back to Coruscant to warn the other Jedi of the situation on Vanqor.  He has some action scenes but the story isn't really about him.

Gotta say, this episode didn't do much for me.  I appreciate the effort to develop the Boba Fett story but somehow this one failed to grab me.  As I said from time to time in my Star Trek posts, boring is an unforgivable sin in science fiction.  The Clone Wars usually steers well clear of dull but this one trended too far in that direction.

The leader of Boba's bounty hunter band is Aurra Sing, a character first introduced in The Phantom Menace.  In the film, she was portrayed by Michonne Bourriage.  Despite her minor role in the movie, she became a popular character in the Expanded Universe.  After Jango Fett's death, Sing took on the responsibility for training Boba.
via Wookieepedia
In The Clone Wars, Aurra Sing is voiced by Jaime King.  King was born April 23, 1979 in Omaha, Nebraska.  She was named after Jaime Sommers, better known as the title character in The Bionic Woman.
via Wikipedia
King became a professional model at age 14.  Her early success came at a great cost.  As a teenager, she struggled with, and ultimately overcame, an addiction to heroin.

After recovering, King got into acting.  She has had major roles in such films as Pearl Harbor, Bullet Proof Monk and Sin City.  She and husband Kyle Newman have two sons.  Taylor Swift is the godmother of their second child, Leo.

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: "Lethal Trackdown."

Friday, March 18, 2016

Family Movie Night: Ball of Fire

Title: Ball of Fire
Director: Howard Hawks
Original Release: 1941
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
A group of eight professors in New York City are compiling an encyclopedia.  Professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper), a kinder, gentler Henry Higgins, is the linguistics expert of the group, with a particular interest in slang.  He discovers that he is behind the times so he sets out on the town for research purposes.  Nightclub singer Sugarpuss O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck) draws his intellectual and eventual romantic interest. 

According to Netflix, I'd seen this movie before, though I didn't remember it too well - surprising as I was quite charmed by it this time.  I've never thought much of Cooper as an actor, despite his association with a certain Iowa college that is dear to my heart.  I've always seen him as stiff in comparison to his contemporaries.  Stanwyck is delightful, though, her performance earning an Oscar nomination.  Sugarpuss refers to Bertram as Pottsie, a joke, I think, on her performance in The Lady Eve earlier the same year in which she called Henry Fonda's character Hopsie in much the same tone of voice.  The supporting cast is strong, too, especially the seven other professors, intended as a spoof on Snow White's dwarves. 

The main selling points for me are a couple of musical performances.  Gene Krupa and his band play back up for Sugarpuss, though the real highlight is Krupa's solo riff on a matchbox.  The professors also sing a lovely a capella rendition of "Sweet Genevieve."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Clone Wars: Death Trap

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: "Death Trap"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 20
Original Air Date: April 17, 2010
via Wikipedia
Boba Fett is perhaps the strangest, most puzzling character in the entire Star Wars saga.  Everyone's favorite bounty hunter first appeared in the deliciously terrible Star Wars Holiday Special.  But the heart of his extraordinary popularity comes from his status in The Galaxy's merchandising empire.  Boba Fett was the first new mail-away action figure created for The Empire Strikes Back.  Boba Fett merchandise has always been among the franchise's biggest sellers despite his infrequent screen appearances.

Interestingly, the character was derived from early Darth Vader concepts.  Originally, Vader was supposed to be a bounty hunter.  Both the persona and the costume were preserved for Fett.  Jeremy Bulloch, the actor who portrayed Fett in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, based his performance on Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name in A Fistful of Dollars.

Oh right, I'm supposed to be talking about The Clone Wars...
via Wookieepedia
In "Death Trap," we meet young Boba Fett as the newest member of a squad of six year old clones aboard the Endurance.   It quickly becomes apparent, however, that the new kid, nicknamed Lucky, is inclined to bust out of the cookie cutter mold.  The precocious youth slips away from the group to make an attempt on Mace Windu's life.  In time, we learn that he has it in for the Jedi, whom he blames for the death of his father, Jango Fett.
via Wookieepedia
Daniel Logan voices Boba and all of the young clones, reprising the role he performed in Attack of the Clones.  Logan was born June 6, 1987 in Auckland, New Zealand.  Both he and Temuera Morrison, the actor who played Jango, are of Maori descent.
via Wookieepedia
Logan got into acting when his youth rugby team was scouted for a TV commercial.  In the ad, he gets knocked into the mud by rugby legend Michael Jones.  More television work in New Zealand led to an appearance in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.  "Death Trap" is his first of six Clone Wars performances.

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: "R2 Come Home."

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Mock Squid Soup: April 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, April 1st, everyone is invited to post three clues about his/her movie for others to guess.  Our next regular meeting is Friday, April 8th.   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, March 11, 2016

Mock Squid Soup: Sleepless in Seattle

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 LibrarySleepless in Seattle was first reviewed by MOCK!

Title: Sleepless in Seattle
Director: Nora Ephron
Original Release: 1993
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Not being a huge fan of romantic comedies, my wife had never seen Sleepless in Seattle before and was not overly enthused by the prospect.  As we awaited the movie's arrival from Netflix, I asserted that such films were in many ways the heirs to the legacy of her beloved screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s.  I'm glad to report that both she and our daughter admitted they enjoyed it.

The story:  widower Sam (Tom Hanks) has moved to Seattle to begin a new life with his son, Jonah.  One evening, Jonah phones a radio call-in show expressing his concern for his sad and lonely father.  Jonah convinces Sam to tell his story on air.  Women across the country swoon including Annie (Meg Ryan), a newspaper reporter in Baltimore.  Annie herself is engaged to Walter, a nice enough guy but their relationship lacks a certain magic.  Annie writes a letter to Sam.  Jonah reads it and conspires with his eight-year-old girlfriend Jessica to bring the cross-country pair together.

I myself hadn't watched the movie in probably 20 years.  One theme I've frequently returned to in my movie posts is how our perceptions of films change at different stages in life.  Some improve with age, others not so much.  I've learned a lot about life and love since the last time I watched.  The night Annie announces her engagement to the family, her mother Barbara tells the story of her first date with Annie's father: "At one point I looked down, at our hands, and I couldn't tell which fingers were mine and which were his.  And I knew."  It's the sort of story I would have thought was cute 20 years ago without truly understanding it.  Now I know.  I also have a stronger appreciation for the character of Walter (Bill Pullman).  He could have been painted as a worthless jerk but he wasn't.  He fell in love with the wrong woman and he bows out gracefully once he knows he's lost her.

I probably would have chosen a different favorite scene 20 years ago, too.  Now, it is most certainly the conversation Sam has with two friends about the movies Affair to Remember and The Dirty Dozen.  I laughed to the point of tears.

One of the movie's strongest selling points, especially in the long term, is its chart topping soundtrack featuring numerous old crooner classics like "As Time Goes By" and "Stardust."  Interestingly, the initial score composer, John Barry, quit when given the list of 20 songs he had to include.  Marc Shaiman picked up the reins and was ultimately nominated for a BAFTA for his efforts.

Trivia challenge again for April!  Pick your own movie to share.  Post three clues on Friday, April 1st.  Post your reveal and review on Friday, April 8th.  Meanwhile, please visit my friends today:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Clone Wars: The Zillo Beast Strikes Back

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 Zillo Beast Strikes Back"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 19
Original Air Date: April 10, 2010
via Wookieepedia
The homages to the classic monster movies continue with the second part of the Zillo Beast tale.  Despite the creature's reptilian appearance, the climbing of skyscrapers and the swiping at aircraft evoke King Kong more than Godzilla.  It would seem that the Zillo Beast grasped an essential truth about the galaxy far, far away long before any of the Jedi did.  On Andrew Leon's post last week, I commented my surprise that no one caught on to Palpatine's evil nature before it was too late.  But the Zillo Beast knew.

Palpatine has brought the creature back to Coruscant in order to study its seemingly impenetrable armor.  When it becomes apparent that the armor cannot be removed without causing great pain and distress, Palpatine orders the beast killed.  He makes the grave mistake of assuming the monster is not intelligent enough to understand him.  The Zillo Beast escapes and runs through the city in a destructive rampage.  But he is not lashing out randomly.  His target is specific.  The Beast is after Palpatine and Palpatine knows it.  For the first (and only?) time in the entire saga, we see genuine fear in the eyes of the Sith Lord.  For once, there is a piece in the game he cannot control.

via Wookieepedia
Dr. Sionver Boll, the scientist ordered to do Palpatine's dirty work upon the monster, might also have an inkling about the future Emperor's darker side.  She is a Bivali from the planet Protobranch.  She initially protests against harming the Beast but ultimately caves.  The Zillo Beast arc marks the character's only appearance.  Dr. Boll is voiced by Cara Pifko.

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: "Death Trap."


Friday, March 4, 2016

On the Road: Braving the Slush

Why are we in Montreal in February?, I could not help but wonder as we trudged our way across the asphalt tundra.  New rain fell as I dragged my inadequate boots through ankle-deep puddles at the street corners.  Vermont is rough enough in winter.  Why head north? 

But then we reached our destination.  A man arrived with concern to relieve us of our drenched outer layers.  He guided us to a table near the fire.  A woman, switching effortlessly from her native French to the English of her recently suffering guests, greeted us with a warm smile and the promise of oysters.  The stage was set for the evening's gastronomic symphony.  Ah yes, this is why we're here.

The magic of a well-executed meal derives from timing and atmosphere as much as from quality food.  The warmth in the belly, the lightness in the head, the tingle in the fingertips at dinner's end are earned through careful orchestration: the salt in the starter, the depth of the main dish, the sugar of dessert, all accompanied by the waitstaff's subtle nurturing.  Open with wine, close with coffee.  No rush on the bill...

Our dinner at Le Quartier Général (apportez votre vin) was not even our best meal in Montreal, barely top five.  Québec's largest city is one of North America's great cultural crossroads.  Perhaps nowhere else on Earth do the English- and French-speaking worlds collide so gracefully.  Thanks to the city's Franco heritage, one is never far from a bakery or café.  The waves of more recent immigrants have added generously to the lingual and cultural melange.  The resulting restaurant options are dazzling, and rarely disappointing.

A few more highlights from this most recent visit:
  • Alep - Syrian cuisine.  Forced to choose, this was probably the site of our best meal.  The lion's share of my wife's cultural heritage is Lebanese so Middle Eastern food is a big deal at our house.  Alas, there is little on offer in Vermont.  Montreal is another matter.  We happily frolicked our way through the tasting menu.
  • Trip de bouffe - Lebanese.  Bakery/grocery store/lunch counter.  The offerings were quite satisfying.
  • Beautys Luncheonette - diner.  A Montreal classic in operation since 1942.  Hymie, the original proprietor, now 90 years old, greeted us from his counter stool and directed us to the appropriate table.  Salmon with cream cheese on a bagel: these folks do it right.  Milkshakes, too, plus the smart ass waitresses I love and expect from such an establishment.  The Purple Penguin made very clear she would like to return on future trips.
  • Miga - Korean.  Regular readers already know of my passion for East Asian fare.  Miga's chef is Indian but his expertise ranges to both Korean and Japanese.  The atmosphere says corner dive sandwich shop but the food tells a loftier tale. 
  • Café Chat L'Heureux - cat café.  One of two such establishments in the city.  Relax with a cup of coffee - or hot chocolate in our case - as the resident felines scamper across the floor below or lounge on the catwalk above.  Several adult cats live in the space permanently and litters of shelter kittens come through as well.  The hope is to raise well-socialized cats primed for adoption.
Yes, there was more to our visit than food.  Montreal has wonderful museums and bookstores plus beanbag chairs at the planetarium.   But there's no denying, when my heart longs for a fine meal, thoughts drift northward.  Even in February.

Better boots are in the mail.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Clone Wars: The Zillo Beast

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 Zillo Beast"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 2, Episode 18
Original Air Date: April 3, 2010
via Wookieepedia
During a battle with a vast Separatist droid army on Malastare, the Republic unleashes a new super-weapon: the electro-proton bomb.  It's awfully effective but wouldn't you know, there are unintended consequences.  The explosion awakens the long dormant Zillo Beast.  A good old-fashioned monster story unfolds.  The planet's natives want the creature dead and gone but the Jedi are more merciful, keen to move the unique life form to another world where it won't cause any trouble.  Palpatine, meanwhile, takes a keen interest in the beast's impenetrable armor, resistant even to - cue the suspenseful music - lightsabers!


The Force Awakens was shut out at the Academy Awards on Sunday night, despite five nominations, in part due to Mad Max's near sweep of the tech and design awards.  I really thought Star Wars would at least win for Visual Effects but Ex Machina pulled off the surprise win.  John Williams garnered a near-record 50th nomination for the score but lost out to The Hateful Eight.  No quibble from me.  Ennio Morricone was long overdue.

Among the six Oscars won by the original Star Wars film was the award for Best Costume Design.  The designer for the first movie and also The Empire Strikes Back was John Mollo, born March 18, 1931 in London.  His path to the biz began with a childhood interest in American and British military uniforms.  He also won an Oscar, shared with Bhanu Athaiya, for Ghandi in 1983.  
via Wookieepedia

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 Zillo Beast Strikes Back."