Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: August 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, August 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, July 29, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: July 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: Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb
Writer and Artist: Jonathan Fetter-Vorm
via Amazon
This one was another Suze recommendation.

Trinity was the code name for the first test of an atomic bomb created by the Manhattan Project during World War II.  Fetter-Vorm's graphic novel presents an excellent historical account of the project and its aftermath.  I particularly appreciate the author's explanation of the science of atomic energy, a prime example of the effectiveness of sequential art over text alone.  The book is particularly effective in the end as the scientists involved come to terms with what they had created.  It's worth noting, most had no idea of the full scope of the Project, having been told only enough to complete their own small portion of the work.  Even the lead scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, didn't understand the full power of the weapon until it was used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

One could design an entire college course around graphic novels about the atomic bomb.  In addition to this book, the bomb is a topic well covered in Japanese manga.  Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen series is a brutal account of the bomb's aftermath in Hiroshima.  Shigeru Mizuki's Showa series includes the bombs but from a broader historical perspective.  Both series are highly critical of Japan's own war record.

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

Thursday, July 28, 2016

On the Coffee Table: The Gastronomical Me

Title: The Gastronomical Me
Author: M.F.K. Fisher
via Goodreads
The Gastronomical Me is the fourth book of five in Fisher's The Art of Eating collection.  My reviews of the first three books are here, here and here.  This installment is pure memoir, a summary of her life to that point (1943, age 35): her childhood in California, a brief college stint in Illinois, European adventures with two separate husbands and a stay in Mexico after the second one died.  Always, the memories are punctuated by food.

As discussed in my previous posts on her work, Fisher writes of eating and preparing food as a sensuous, spiritual endeavor.  Experiences like eating her first oyster or learning how to cook in each new kitchen are not incidental.  They matter, deeply.  In reading her work, I am always reminded of my own comparable experiences.  This time, it was my daughter's first ice cream.  Her favorite is vanilla, which always seemed like a dull choice in my pre-parenting life.  But I know why vanilla is her love.  The first taste of ice cream she ever had was her mother's homemade vanilla.  If you, dear reader, have never had homemade vanilla ice cream, you've never truly eaten ice cream at all.  I completely understand why she would want to return to the magic of the original experience.  Fisher's writing contains stories such as this in nearly every paragraph.

Several of the chapters recount sea voyages made in moving back and forth between Europe and the States.  Ocean liners don't feature in intercontinental travel so prominently these days but it was a meaningful part of the adventure for Fisher, one trip on an Italian freighter lasting several months.  She also wrote about the difficulties of traveling alone as a woman.  She enjoyed it but generally found that others, particularly men, didn't know quite how to deal with her.  She developed an I-don't-require-your-company attitude that mostly kept them off her case.

We don't get all of the juicy details of her life, rather a shame considering how forthcoming she is about the gastronomical ones.  We get no dirt on the divorce from her first husband, nor the most gruesome details from the death of her second.  In fact, she doesn't even refer to the second by his real name, Dillwyn Parrish.  She calls him Chexbres, a Swiss name in honor of the life they shared in Switzerland.  But in both cases, she manages to convey the emotional journey, particularly the pain of loss.

Fisher continues to delight me.  I have one more to go in the collection: An Alphabet for Gourmets.  I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Family Book Swap: The Night Manager

Title: The Night Manager
Author: John le Carré
via Goodreads
My wife is a big fan of spy novels, especially the work of John le Carré, himself a former British agent.  Together, we have watched several screen adaptations: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Smiley's People, The Tailor of Panama and The Constant Gardener.  Just recently, BBC and AMC aired a six-part miniseries of The Night Manager, starring Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman. We both enjoyed it thoroughly and my wife used it as an opportunity to share the book with me.  For my side of the swap, I gave her Samskara by U.R. Anantha Murthy.  Her Goodreads review is here.

As we meet Jonathan Pine, he is the night manager of a ritzy hotel in Zurich.  The new guests for the evening are arms-dealing king pin Richard Roper and his entourage.  Unknown to Roper, Pine is already aware of him and the source of his wealth from a previous encounter in Cairo.  Roper had killed the woman Pine loved, or at least arranged for her killing.  Out for personal revenge and spurred by his own needs for redemption, Pine makes contact with British intelligence and becomes the point man in a scheme to bring Roper down.

After devoting some time to developing a credible back story, Pine ingratiates himself with Roper by rescuing his son in a staged kidnapping attempt.  Roper rewards Pine by giving him a cushy job in the operation.  While trying to gather information for his intel handlers, Pine dances around the suspicions of Roper's inner circle as well as the increasing affections of his girlfriend, Jed.

The differences between book and miniseries are many.  The novel was le Carré's first after the end of the Cold War.  Latin American drug cartels were the big concern.  The 2016 adaptation plays more on worries about armed militias in the Middle East.  In the book, Olivia Colman's character Burr is a man.  Jed is British in the book, American in the series with a different backstory.  The endings are significantly different, particularly important for anyone who has experienced one but not the other.

I think Hugh Laurie's involvement in the project (both he and Hiddleston also have executive producer credits for the miniseries) is interesting.  Laurie himself wrote a novel, The Gun Seller, which also dealt with the arms trade.  Clearly it is an issue of importance to him, explaining his willingness to play the villain and also, perhaps, the different ending to the miniseries.

I definitely recommend the book.  A lot of material is devoted to the bureaucratic battles behind the scenes in London.  That bit's not as interesting to me but as long as the story sticks with Pine, it moves quickly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Clone Wars: Ghosts of Mortis

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: "Ghosts of Mortis"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 3, Episode 17
Original Air Date: February 11, 2011
via Wookieepedia
The Mortis story arc concludes with this week's episode.  A quick catch up on our tale: Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka are embroiled in what amounts to a trans-dimensional morality play.  The Father is the mediator in the struggle between his Daughter (champion of the light side of the Force) and Son (dark side).  He wants Anakin to take his place.  Anakin resists.  Last week, the Son gained the upper hand by inadvertently killing his sister.  Now the dark is in ascendance.  The Son now turns his full attention to the matter of converting Anakin to the dark side.  So as to avoid spoiling the story for anyone who hasn't watched it yet, I move that we now enter what amounts to a bloggers' executive session...


Now, the entire drama has played out.  The Son's advantage is temporary.  He converts Anakin, though not permanently.  The Father sacrifices himself in order to prevent the Son's domination.  Anakin kills the Son and thus balance is achieved.  He is the Chosen One after all.  The Mortis arc is, essentially, the entire Anakin story played out in miniature.

Following Star Wars in episode order, the prophecy regarding Anakin is made in Phantom Menace, he is converted to the dark side in Revenge of the Sith and he destroys the Sith from within in Return of the Jedi.  In so doing, he brings balance to the Force and fulfills the prophecy.  As the audience, we were fed this story in a frustrating, disjointed order but it does all fit together nicely in the end.

All of this is easy enough to follow in the Mortis arc.  The more subtle side of the story is that of the Daughter.  In the movies, too, the rise and fall of the dark side is obvious.  The path of the light is quieter.  Yoda assures Luke - and us - the dark is not stronger but it's difficult to believe most of the time.  The dark wields its power through fear.  It feeds off of anger, greed and jealousy.  None is ever in short supply.  How does the light manage to hold its own?  When Obi-Wan duels Vader in A New Hope, he says "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."  It's a badass thing to say but what does it mean?  Surely, it must mean more than becoming a ghost in order to play Jiminy Cricket to Luke's Pinnochio.

Mortis offers clues.  All seems lost when the Daughter is killed.  With no one to counter the rise of the dark, what hope is left for the galaxy?  But has the Daughter's power actually diminished with her death?  Perhaps her martyrdom only strengthens her symbolic significance.  There are obvious real world parallels, after all.  Even the Son mourns her: "you were the only one I ever truly loved," he says.  The Father is finally able to defeat the Son through his own self-sacrifice. 

Thus the conflict between dark and light is reduced to that between the selfish and the selfless.  The battle is waged across the galaxy and within the heart and mind of each character.  It is the story of Star Wars and perhaps that of our own world, too.


Last week, I criticized the story for its too explicit connection to the broader Star Wars saga.  Now that it's over and the relationship between events on Mortis and the rest of the galaxy is less clear, I'm more comfortable.

via Wookieepedia
The Force spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn appears to both Obi-Wan and Anakin during the Mortis arc.  We first met Jinn in Phantom Menace as Obi-Wan's Jedi Master.  It was Jinn who first identified Anakin as the Chosen One.  In the Mortis arc, Qui-Gon Jinn is voiced by Liam Neeson, the actor who played him in Phantom Menace.

Liam Neeson was born June 7, 1952 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.  He was a gifted athlete in his youth, an accomplished boxer and football (soccer) player.  He dropped out of university to work as a fork-lift operator for the Guinness Brewery.  As is the case with so many Hollywood A-listers, his acting career began on the stage, joining the Lyric Players' Theatre in Belfast in 1976.  Film work came in the '80s: Excalibur, The Bounty and The Mission among others.  Of course, the big break came when Steven Spielberg offered him the lead role in 1993's Schindler's List, for which he received his first and so far only Oscar nomination.  In 1997, Empire magazine included Neeson on its list of the top 100 movie stars in history.

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 Citadel."


Friday, July 22, 2016

On the Road: Nova Scotia

Pull up the screen and warm up the projector.  That's right, you're in for a treat: vacation slides from our recent trip to Nova Scotia!  I promise, there's just a few - hopefully enough to give you a taste of the adventure.  Anybody want some popcorn?

We stayed on the Bay of Fundy coast, famous for its high tides:

Nearby Digby promotes itself as the scallop capital of the world.  Images of scallops are everywhere.


 Toilet roll bar frames:

The phone book: 


 Roses at the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens:

A lobster club sandwich at Shore Road Seafood in Hillsburn.  Once I discovered such a thing existed, I declared that I never wanted to leave Nova Scotia again.

 In Canada, you can get free socks with a bottle of whiskey:


And finally, the best reason of all to visit the ocean:

A couple of quick travel recommendations:
  • If you should ever have the good fortune of finding yourself in the charming town of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, the candlelight graveyard tour at Fort Anne is a must.
  • By luck, we encountered First World War Comes to Life: 
"a fully-animated exhibit that explores the lesser known wartime contributions of the Canadian men and women who served beyond the trenches, both at home and overseas. From home front relief efforts and wartime production to frontline communications and medical aid, the exhibit offers a series of dynamic displays and activities for visitors to experience the sights, sounds and smells of a world behind the front lines."
The group will be making stops in Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Montreal later this summer.  For more information, click here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Clone Wars: Altar of Mortis

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: "Altar of Mortis"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 3, Episode 16
Original Air Date: February 4, 2011
via Wookieepedia
In last week's episode, Anakin managed to beg off becoming referee for life between the Son (embodiment of the dark side of the Force) and Daughter (embodiment of the light) on the planet Mortis.  Or did he?  As this week's story opens, Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka are heading away in their ship but the Son manages to snatch Ahsoka and hold her captive, forcing a confrontation between himself and the Jedi.

I'm going to break one of my own self-imposed rules with this post.  Up to this point, I've avoided giving away the ending of each episode.  Once we move on to the next installment in a story arc, I figure it's fair game to talk about the end of the last one.  But, on the off chance someone out there is watching along with us, I don't want to spoil anything for the current week.  This week, however, I must.  There's just too much to talk about this time.  And so...


Important note before we dig deeper: as I write this, I have not yet watched the third episode of this three-part arc.  I am sure there are other shoes yet to fall and I know I am making assumptions based on incomplete information.  We'll reassess accordingly next week.

Predictably, the Daughter sides with the Jedi against her brother.  In so doing, she takes a big risk and pays a steep price.  She gives the Dagger of Mortis - a weapon capable of killing a Force wielder - to Obi-Wan.  During the ultimate confrontation, the Son steals it from the Jedi and turns to use it against the Father.  The Daughter sacrifices herself by stepping between them at the last minute.  She dies and the balance of the Force is disrupted, for Mortis and for the rest of the galaxy.  The rise of the Sith, according to the Father, is now inevitable.

While I certainly appreciate the allegorical nature of the Mortis arc, I am not entirely comfortable with this conclusion.  As I have said before, I'm not a huge fan of the prequel trilogy but I do feel the turning of Anakin to the dark side is the part Lucas got right.  In the young Jedi's pride and arrogance, Darth Sidious saw vulnerabilities he could manipulate.  Anakin was seduced by power.  People often are.  To imply it all happened because of supernatural forces being thrown out of balance in a morality play on another astral plane is dissatisfying to me.

The Mortis story would work better, I think, without the explicit connection to the broader saga.  The metaphors would be more effective if the viewer were left to interpret them for him/herself.

And yes, I know we're not quite done with this story yet...


The Son is voiced by Sam Witwer.  Witwer was born October 20, 1977 in Glenview, Illinois.  He briefly attended Julliard before moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
via Wikipedia
Television has been kind to Witwer.  He was Lt. Crashdown on Battlestar Galactica and Davis Bloome on Smallville.  He's gotten a lot of Star Wars voice work.  In addition to the Son, he has voiced Darth Maul for The Clone Wars and Emperor Palpatine for Rebels.  He also voiced an alien in The Force Awakens.  He is a role playing game enthusiast, especially the various Star Wars RPGs. 

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: "Ghosts of Mortis."


Friday, July 15, 2016

Family Movie Night: The Incredible Hulk

Title: The Incredible Hulk
Director: Louis Leterrier
Original Release: 2008
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Scratchpad
Our exploration of superhero movies continues with 2008's The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton who also did significant, though uncredited work on the script.  As we join the story, Bruce Banner is hiding out in Rio: hiding from the Hulk that lurks within him and hiding from the military who want to exploit his terrifying powers.  Once discovered, he makes his way back to the Virginia university where the Hulk was created (the origin story was altered a bit for the movie) and Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), the woman he loves.

Hulk is The Avengers' tortured soul and at least potentially the gang's most interesting character.  Banner doesn't want his powers at all but as long as he has them, would want them used for good.  The Hulk, however, while inhabiting Banner's body, exists on the fine line between his host's ability and inability to control him.  I like the Hulk/Banner conflict we see in this film.  The Betty character is crucial to making it work.  He can't make love to her as Banner for fear the excitement will spark his transformation.  As Hulk, only Betty seems able to bring out the gentle giant within him.  Black Widow has taken on this role in later films.

I realize not everyone likes Norton, the Marvel filmmakers included, apparently, as they gave the part to Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers and beyond.  I've always been a fan of Norton, ever since his astonishing 1996 film debut in Primal Fear.  His looks fall short of the traditional leading man but his range is always impressive.  He's been nominated for Oscars three times and an eventual win seems inevitable once the right part comes along.  I like him as Banner.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Clone Wars: Overlords

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: "Overlords"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 3, Episode 15
Original Air Date: January 28, 2011
via Wookieepedia
This week, Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka are drawn to a distant planet by a mysterious force.  There, they encounter three powerful beings: the "Father" and his two children.  His Daughter is strong with the light side of the Force, his Son the dark.  Father has his hands full serving as fulcrum between the two and what's more, he is dying.  Word seems to have gotten around the galaxy that Anakin is the Chosen One, destined to bring balance to the Force.  Father is hopeful that Anakin will take his place.

Like so many fans, I grew up with Star Wars.  The first movie came out when I was four years old and the saga has been an essential part of my personal mythology ever since.  And yet, I never really gave much thought to what it was all about, the moral underpinnings of this grand adventure.  Frankly, I was too young to care.  Good vs. Evil was enough for me.

It was, in fact, blogging that brought me to a deeper understanding.  It started with my exploration of Star Trek's original series.  Once the moral landscape of that franchise became more clear to me, I started wondering more about my beloved Star Wars, a story I'd believed to that point that I knew better than Trek.  My curiosity led me to the novelizations of the original movies and with this new lens, I was able to see these all too familiar stories in a new light.

There are many themes in Star Wars but the one that has come to interest me most is, essentially, a question to be answered by each of the major characters in turn:  which side will you choose in the struggle between good and evil, light and dark?  Or potentially even more interesting, will you choose to enter the fray at all?

Take the four human heroes in the original film, the one now known as Episode IV: A New Hope.  The story begins with Leia, who has already answered the question by the time we meet her.  Her devotion to the Rebellion (the light) is total and never wavers over the coarse of the saga.  Obi-Wan is firmly on the light side as well, though it takes Leia's plea for help to draw him back to the fight.  Luke is new to the game and in his eagerness for adventure, is easily won over to the cause.  Han Solo is Star Wars's Mercutio, unintentionally the most interesting character.  Han takes some convincing.  He certainly develops loyalty to his friends quickly but self-preserving instincts prevent him from giving over completely.  I think this question of dedication is an essential element of the original film's enduring appeal.

As the story grows, the conflict between light and dark becomes more complicated for Luke.  The climax of his story comes when he is forced to choose between joining the Emperor or destroying him.  Will he use his extraordinary powers for good or for evil?  It's a question powerful people in our own world face continually.  Too often, they choose the dark side.  Our world would be a different place if that were not the case.

Luke chooses the light.  When Anakin's story begins in Phantom Menace, we, the audience, already know his own choice will be different, even if we don't yet know the particulars.  The dilemma Anakin faces in "Overlords" is, in essence, the dilemma of the Star Wars saga.  The Father implies that the importance of his role extends far beyond his own family.  He is essentially offering Anakin the power of a god.  What will Anakin choose to do?

We've got two more episodes to find out.
via Wookieepedia
The Father is voiced by Lloyd Sherr.  Sherr was born February 28, 1956 in Los Angeles.  He has done quite a lot of narration work for History Channel series, including Modern Marvels, Command Decisions and Engineering Disasters.  He took over the voice of Filmore in the Cars franchise when George Carlin died.
via Pixar Wiki
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: "Altar of Mortis."

Saturday, July 9, 2016

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

Mock Squid Soup: Age of Ultron

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 LibraryAvengers: Age of Ultron was first reviewed by MOCK!.

Title: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Director: Joss Whedon
Original Release: 2015
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Amazon
As I mentioned in last month's Ant-Man post, this was one of two DVDs Mock gave me to watch as homework the week before we went to see Captain America: Civil War.  Overall, I enjoyed Ant-Man more but I was glad to have watched both.  Civil War would have been more difficult to follow otherwise.

Growing up, I wasn't so into superheroes.  They were okay but Star Wars and D&D were much bigger parts of my life.  Getting to be friends with Mock changed all of that.  The man lives and breathes comic books, especially Marvel and especially The Avengers.  Partly out of curiosity and partly in an effort to know my new friend better, I asked to borrow a stash of comics.  He enthusiastically obliged and I have been playing catch up ever since.

We went to see the first Avengers movie together - midnight showing on the first night.  I didn't enjoy the film as much as he did - full disclosure, I fell asleep - but I felt honored to ride shotgun for his personal pilgrimage.  I haven't done such a good job following the movies since, thus the last minute cramming.

Meanwhile, my daughter has, at age 12, unexpectedly caught the superhero bug.  She is partial to the X-Men but is curious about all of them.  So now I'm working on catching her up with the movies, too.

Okay, so back to Age of Ultron.  Upon discovering a new trinket with artificial intelligence, Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) and Bruce Banner (Hulk) plug it into one of Stark's projects.  In so doing, they accidentally create a sentient being, Ultron, who demolishes Stark's A.I. buddy J.A.R.V.I.S. then sets off to destroy all of humanity.


All the Avengers from the first movie are back: Iron Man (played by Robert Downey, Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).  They gain some new personnel in the movie, though that would be spoiling (except to say that two of the newbies joined the gang in much the same way they did in the comic books back in the 1960s - yeah, I did my homework! - booyah!).  A few internal storylines are introduced, too: a growing affection between Banner and Black Widow and a growing family for Hawkeye.  His wife, Laura Barton, is played by the uber-talented Linda Cardellini - always happy to give a shout out for Freaks and Geeks alums.

I'd say I enjoyed Age of Ultron more than the first Avengers movie.  Black Widow and Hawkeye got much needed development and I enjoyed all of the new characters.  The depth and personality of Marvel heroes has been a major selling point of the franchise for over half a century and the best parts of the movies honor that tradition.  There is a lot more story to follow but I managed to keep up.  Ultron (James Spader) is not as good a villain as Loki (Tom Hiddleston) but that's a high bar to clear.

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Family Book Swap: The Big Short

Title: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
Author: Michael Lewis
via Wikipedia
My wife and I have resumed our annual summer tradition of a family book swap.  The Purple Penguin has her own reading agenda for the summer so she's not participating this year.  I gave my wife Foundation by Isaac Asimov.  Her Goodreads review is here.

Her book for me was The Big Short by Michael Lewis, the story of the subprime mortgage crisis told from the perspective of the few in the financial world who saw it coming.  My wife and I saw the excellent film based on the book during our visit to Washington in December.  I am also already a fan of Lewis's work having read and thoroughly enjoyed Moneyball (review here).  As such, I was delighted for the excuse to read The Big Short.

In his book Polysyllabic Spree, British author Nick Hornby offered a marvelous review of Moneyball: “I understood about one word in every four of Moneyball, and it's still the best and most engrossing sports book I've read in years."  That's a fair summation of my feelings about The Big Short.  High finance talk loses me in a hurry.  As much as I love numbers, the stock listings never drew my attention the way the sports page did.  Of course, all of the jargon surrounding the mortgage crisis is more esoteric than most, by design.  We peasants on the street were never meant to understand.  Those who control the information control the world - until they lose control, that is.  Then we're all screwed.

Lewis does his best to explain it all, though the film did it better so I was glad to have seen it first.  Even so, the book is brilliant.  Lewis's genius as a writer is character development.  The heroes of his tale are a few hedge fund managers who saw the madness and fragility of the subprime market and boldly bet against it.  All of them are wonderfully drawn.  My favorite is Steve Eisman, played by Steve Carell in the movie.  He's a misanthropic wacko with a gift for seeing through bullshit.  His attempt at playing golf in chapter 6 is not to be missed.

The crazy part about following this story either in print or on screen is the realization that in rooting for these guys to be right, you are rooting for economic catastrophe.  It's not a good book to read if you want to maintain a positive outlook on humanity.  You will laugh and you will learn.  Just don't go into it hoping for reassurance.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Clone Wars: Witches of the Mist

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: "Witches of the Mist"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 3, Episode 14
Original Air Date: January 21, 2011
via Wookieepedia
Last week's story ended with Savage Opress, Count Dooku's new apprentice, attacking the temple on Devaron, killing Jedi Master Halsey and his padawan Knox.  This week, Obi-Wan and Anakin head off in search of the new goon.   Meanwhile, Dooku sends Savage on a new mission to capture King Katuunko on Toydaria.  It is there the Jedi find him and they have their first scuffle.  Savage does manage to get away but has accidentally killed the King which sparks a violent confrontation with Dooku.  And wouldn't you know, Asajj Ventress is waiting in the wings, ready to mix it up with her former master herself.

With this story arc, the playing field on the Dark side has gotten a lot more complicated.  Finding a rooting interest between the factions becomes a challenge for the audience - a good sort of challenge.  The story ends with the surprise appearance of a familiar face and the opening of a new narrative vector for the series.  It'll be a while before we come back to it, though.  Savage returns late in Season Four.
via Wookieepedia
Brother Viscus is the leader of the Nightbrother village on Dathomir.  The past two episodes are his only Clone Wars appearances.  However, he is featured in the Darth Maul - Son of Dathomir comic book series.  He is voiced by Stephen Stanton.

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: "Overlords."


Friday, July 1, 2016

Family Movie Night: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Title: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Directors: Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam
Original Release: 1975
Choice: Purple Penguin's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Surely one of the most delightfully ridiculous films ever made, Monty Python and the Holy Grail has long been a favorite at our house.  For the comic genius Pythons, Holy Grail was a new kind of project.  Their previous feature film, And Now for Something Completely Different, was simply a compilation of sketches from their TV series.  Holy Grail was all new material.  Their $400,000 film made $5 million at the box office.  Surely, they've raked in plenty more from VHS and DVD sales in the years since.

King Arthur (Graham Chapman), accompanied by faithful squire Patsy (Terry Gilliam), is roaming England in search of brave men to join his Knights of the Round Table.  Once assembled, they are given a quest by God himself to find the Holy Grail.  Simple enough.

But this is Monty Python.  We don't want historical epic.  We want sketch comedy and sketch comedy we get.  It's non-stop absurdity: the taunting French soldier flinging insults and livestock at Arthur and his knights, the duel to dismemberment with the Black Knight, the Knights who say Ni, the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, the Bridge of Death.  These are all scenes which any teenage geek worthy of the title can quote on command, even 41 years after the movie's release. 

Holy Grail undoubtedly pushed the limits of the PG rating in 1975.  Most of the dirty jokes go by pretty quickly - certainly fast enough for our daughter to miss most of them.  But my wife did explain the bit about "huge tracts of land" this time.  I can't remember if the Purple Penguin ever noticed the farting trumpeters before but she did this time and responded appropriately with "Ew!"  Good family fun.