Friday, September 30, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: September 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: Snow Country
Author: Yasunari Kawabata
via Amazon
Kawabata's Snow Country is considered a classic of modern Japanese literature.   First serialized between 1935 and 1937, the novel tells the tale of Shimamura a Tokyo aristocrat who takes his holidays in the mountains in order to be with his favorite geisha, Komako.  While the story is told from his perspective, the focus is on her and the gradual downward spiral of her life.  There isn't much in the way of action, just brief snippets of Komako visiting Shimamura, often staggering in drunk from an evening's excesses. 

I am finding with literature on both ends of the Asian continent, imagery takes precedent over plot and character.  Kawabata's (translated) language is frequently stunning, brimming with perfect sentences like "The river seemed to flow from the tips of the cedar branches."  I suppose it's not surprising in cultures where poetry is the dominant literary medium but I need something more to be carried away by a story.

The book did make me curious about Japan's western regions, an area I never visited in my time there.  Japan's an extraordinary country in terms of climate.  On the eastern, Pacific side, where the vast majority of the population lives, the weather is much like the American southeast: warm, humid summers and mild winters.  But on the western side of the Japanese Alps, you're essentially in Siberia.  The town of the story - never named but it's based on the hot spring town of Yuzawa - really isn't so far from Tokyo in terms of miles but as it's on the western side of the mountains, it's another world in winter.  5-10 feet of snow on the ground is perfectly normal.  Avalanches are a genuine hazard.  Rough living, to be sure, but I'd still love to see it sometime.  Plus, I love a hot bath!

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post October's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is October 28th.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Clone Wars: Shadow Warrior

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: "Shadow Warrior"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 4
Original Air Date: September 30, 2011
via Wookieepedia
It would seem we have a theme for season 4: two intelligent species coexisting on the same native planet and the Separatists playing one against the other.  This week, we're on Naboo.  Rumors are flying that the underwater-dwelling Gungan are planning an attack on Theed, the surface dwellers' capital.  Wouldn't you know, Count Dooku has a hand in all this.  His Gungan agent, minister Rish Loo (Rish Loo, Richelieu, I get it), is influencing Boss Lyonie with the aid of a mind control necklace.

Once Lyonie is freed from the necklace by Anakin, he confronts Rish Loo.  Rish Loo stabs him, not killing him but knocking him out of commission for the rest of the story.  Fortunately, Anakin and Padmé recognize the physical similarities between Lyonie and their old pal Jar Jar.  So, they stick Lyonie's hat on Jar Jar and send him first to talk his own people down from their eagerness to attack, then to confront General Grievous.

Gungan General Roos Tarpals plays a crucial role in the story.  The character made his first appearance in The Phantom Menace, voiced by Steven Speirs.  In The Clone Wars, he is voiced by Fred Tatasciore.
via Wookieepedia
Fred Tatasciore was born June 15, 1967 in New York City.  He is the voice of the Hulk in several animated series.  In video games, he has contributed to Mass Effect, Gears of War and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.  On the big screen, he voiced the character 8 in Tim Burton's 9.  Tatasciore has done some independent animation work himself and has also worked as a stand-up comedian.
via Prince of Persia 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: "Mercy Mission."


Friday, September 23, 2016

Squid Eats: Aztec "Hot" Chocolate Ice Cream

As I write this, summer is still on.  By the time this posts, the Equinox will have passed.  Actually, it is still feeling pretty summery in northwest Vermont, during daytime hours, anyway.  It was warm and muggy today though, mercifully, less buggy than a month ago.  Evenings are noticeably cooler.

So there's plenty enough summer left for ice cream.  This week's recipe was Aztec "Hot" Chocolate Ice Cream from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.  The Hot comes from chile powder.  I used smoky ancho.  I also chose semisweet chocolate over bittersweet in an effort to cut into the richness of this effort.

The ice cream turned out well, definitely spicy.  You feel the burn in the back of your throat.  I don't know if I'd make it again but it was a worthy experiment.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Clone Wars: Prisoners

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: "Prisoners"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 3
Original Air Date: September 23, 2011
via Wookieepedia
The underwater war arc concludes this week.  Prince Lee-Char, safe for the moment but isolated from his imprisoned army, struggles to find a way to turn the tables on the attacking Separatists, Ahsoka his only protector.  Anakin, Padmé, Jar Jar and Kit Fisto have been captured so, while they don't know anything about the prince's whereabouts and couldn't betray him even if they wanted to, they are in no position to help.

Meanwhile, Nossor Ri, leader of the Quarren, is gradually learning that Riff Tamson's aid is less about helping the Quarren than it is about gaining power for himself.  As Lando Calrissian would say, "This deal is getting worse all the time!"  Lee-Char believes the only hope is for Mon Calamari and Quarren to work together with their Republican allies to quell Tamson and his goons but Ri takes some convincing.

While this Mon Cala arc is primarily a Lee-Char story, it also provides some great development for Captain (later Admiral) Ackbar.  We get to see him as military leader of his people and worthy scrapper in his own right.  In Return of the Jedi, Ackbar was a puppet performed by Tim Rose and voiced by Erik Bauersfeld.  In Clone Wars, he is voiced by Artt Butler.
via Wookieepedia
Artt Butler worked as a voiceover director for 15 years before taking the mic himself.  In addition to work in commercials, he has voiced Sabato Kuroi in Blade of the Immortal and Jack Flowers in The Boondocks.  In auditions for the role of Ackbar, he was the only one to imitate Bauersfeld's performance.  The others simply used their own voices.  Obviously, he got the job.

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: "Shadow Warrior."


Friday, September 16, 2016

Squid Mixes: Gin and Tonic

My wife and I have a routine once we're both home from work.  I pour us drinks while she gets dinner started.  We sit and chat about our day.  It's not a complex or inventive ritual but it is an important one.  There's never any shortage of material for our talks.  We're firmly entrenched in middle age at this point.  Our daughter is a teenager so the parenting landscape is rapidly changing.  We're both invested in demanding careers.  We share dreams of a quieter, simpler life when we grow up.  In those brief moments each evening, we make a transition from the day's chaos to the evening's peace.  Together, we make sense of our world.

Life gets busy.  Sometimes important rituals are forgotten.  At one point in early June of this year, as I sat down for our evening's chat, I realized it had been several weeks since we'd done it.  Between concerts, recitals, music lessons, extra rehearsals, racquetball and numerous other commitments elbowing their way onto the family calendar, there had been precious little time to just sit.  This was not a happy realization for me, a troubling sign of a life out of balance.  As I sought to reduce the stress in my life in the coming year, I decided I needed to make a more deliberate effort to set aside the time for us.  I certainly owe it to my wife and daughter and I need it for myself, too.

Generally speaking, we are beer and wine people but I do enjoy mixing drinks, too.  Gin and tonic was my wife's request after a particular trying recent day.  My recipe is from The New York Bartender's Guide.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Clone Wars: Gungan Attack

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: "Gungan Attack"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 2
Original Air Date: September 16, 2011
via Wookieepedia
Our aquatic story arc continues.  Last week, our heroes and their Mon Calamari friend Prince Lee-Char were forced to retreat to deep sea caves.  After a failed attempt to get back to their ship above the surface, they contact the Jedi Council for help.  The Gungans seem ideally suited to help.  I'm not sure our friends were ever quite so happy to see Jar Jar!
via Wookieepedia
Prince Lee-Char is voiced by Adam McArthur, a graduate of Pepperdine University.  Apart from his acting career, McArthur is an accomplished martial artist, specializing in kung fu.  He has been featured in two PBS documentaries about the discipline: Kung Fu: Journey to the East and Shaolin Kung Fu Monks.  His best known voice role is Marco Diaz in Star vs. the Forces of Evil.
via Twitter
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: "Prisoners."


Friday, September 9, 2016

Mock Squid Soup: What Princess Mononoke Does in the Shadows

MOCK! and The Armchair Squid are proud to welcome you to Mock Squid Soup: A Film Society, meetings on the second Friday of each month. This month, each of us is choosing another society member's movie to review as listed in The Mock Squid Soup Film Library.  I watched two such films this past month.  Princess Mononoke was first reviewed by angryparsnipWhat We Do in the Shadows was first reviewed by Cherdo.

Title: Princess Mononoke
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Original Release: 1997
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
When I arrived in Japan in 1996, I had never heard of Hayao Miyazaki or any of his movies.  That all changed once the promotional campaign for Princess Mononoke hit full throttle.  Posters and trailers were everywhere.  Once released in July '97, the movie shattered all previous box office records, becoming the highest grossing film in Japanese history, a distinction it only held onto for a few months before Titanic hit theaters.

The story is set in medieval Japan.  While defending his village from a cursed boar, Prince Ashitaka is bitten and infected by the same curse.  He leaves to find a cure in the western lands.  A wondering monk tells him the Great Forest Creature may help him.  While on his quest, Ashitaka gets caught up in a conflict between San (aka Princess Mononoke), a human woman who lives as a wolf, and Lady Eboshi, the leader of Irontown.  Ashitaka is stuck in the middle between the forces of nature and technological progress, a prominent theme in Miyazaki's work.

Society member Toi Thomas reviewed the movie, too.   In her reflection, she asked why at one point is San drinking blood from the wolf goddess Moro and I think I can explain it.  Moro has been injured in battle and I think San is sucking out the blood (not drinking it) in order to treat the wound.

Miyazaki's films have been a major part of our Family Movie Night tradition from the beginning.  I wouldn't say Princess Mononoke is my favorite story among them, or even in my top five.  But visually, I think it is Miyazaki's most impressive work.  As I have written before, I believe the anime master is at his best with landscapes and Princess Mononoke's are particularly breathtaking.  There were a couple moments in our most recent viewing when I'm pretty sure I sighed audibly in appreciation.  The musical score by Joe Hisaishi, a longtime Miyazaki collaborator, is also used to especially strong effect in this film.

Title: What We Do in the Shadows
Directors: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Original Release: 2014
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Or perhaps Princess Mononoke is a vampire.

What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary about four vampire housemates in a Wellington, New Zealand suburb, struggling to navigate 21st century society. Viago (Taika Waititi) is an uptight, neat freak, the Felix Unger of the crew.  Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is a few centuries older and was, at least in his heyday, quite powerful.  Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the young rebel at 183 years old - if Viago is Felix, Deacon is Oscar, with a kinky side.  Petyr (Ben Fransham) lives in a stone coffin in the basement.  He is an 8,000 year-old monster, reminiscent of Nosferatu's Count Orlok.

Matters get complicated when Petyr turns one victim, Nick, into a new vampire.  Nick can't help blabbing to everyone at the clubs about his new status which, of course, brings heaps of trouble to the house.  Nick does, however, have a very nice human friend Stu who quickly endears himself to the household.  He's especially helpful in getting them up to speed on technology.

The film's a lot of fun, plenty of Christopher Guest-esque humor.  It's vampires so there's lots of blood.  This squeamish viewer had to turn away from the screen a few times but I toughed it out.  There's a band of werewolves in town, too, which allows for some wonderful Twilightesque rivalry banter.  The movie would fit well in either a mockumentary or undead-themed film fest. 

Trivia challenge again for October!  Pick your own movie to share.  Post three clues on Friday, October 7th.  Post your reveal and review on Friday, October 14th.  Meanwhile, please visit my friends today:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Clone Wars: Water War

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: "Water War"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 1
Original Air Date: September 16, 2011
via Wookieepedia
To open Season 4, we visit the aquatic world of the peaceful Mon Calamari and the aggressive Quarren.  The fragile peace between the two peoples is broken King Kolina of Mon Cala is found assassinated.  Padmé and Anakin are sent to attempt mediation but to no avail.  The Quarren attack, backed by the Separatists though our heroes don't know that yet. Meanwhile, Lee-Chaar, Kolina's heir, struggles with his new responsibilities as leader of his people.

This story arc is a welcome opportunity to expand on the character of Ackbar, an admiral with the Rebel Alliance once he turns up in Return of the Jedi.  Ackbar has long been one of my wife's favorite Star Wars characters, though mostly I think she just enjoys the opportunity to mock his piscine appearance.  "I smell butter... and lemon..." she jokes, "it's a trap!"

My favorite Ackbar-related story came up a few years ago when the University of Mississippi sought to clean up its public image by replacing its on-field mascot.  Ole Miss's sports teams are known as the Rebels, named for the Confederate soldiers of yore and the old mascot was essentially an antebellum plantation owner, understandably seen as offensive by many.  One geek-minded group of students advocated for Admiral Ackbar to be the school's new Rebel.
via Edmonton Singh Speaks!
Apparently, the students behind the idea were not entirely sincere, mainly using Ackbar as the face of a movement to come up with an entirely new mascot for the school.  Even so, Lucasfilm's response to the idea was hilarious:
Lucasfilm is flattered that our Star Wars fans at the University of Mississippi are considering electing Admiral Ackbar as their mascot. The last time we checked in with Admiral Ackbar he was leading the Rebel Alliance Fleet on a critical mission so it will be difficult for him to show up for the games!
 Alas, the Admiral lost out to the Rebel Black Bear:
via Wikipedia
Count Dooku's envoy to the Quarren is Riff Tamson, a Karakarodon.  Tamson was voiced by Gary Anthony Williams.
via Yodapedia
Williams was born March 14, 1966 in Atlanta.  He was active on both stage and television in Atlanta before moving to Los Angeles in 1998.  He has appeared on Weeds, Boston Legal, Blue Collar TV and Malcolm in the Middle.   Film work includes Undercover Brother, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Soul Plane.  Other voice contributions include The Boondocks and the video games Alpha Protocol and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.  He is currently a regular on Whose Line Is It Anyway?
via Wikipedia
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: "Gungan Attack."


Friday, September 2, 2016

Squid Eats: Frozen Treats and a Jocular Senator

I had planned to make a lot more ice cream than I did this summer, perhaps even a batch or more a week.  I'd never made it by myself from scratch before and wanted to learn.  Of course, I got busy with other things so in the end, I only made three batches, all from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop.  The creation above is from his Chocolate Ice Cream, Philadelphia-Style recipe.

A basic, non-custard ice cream is wonderfully easy, especially if you have a good machine and we do.  The batch turned out well, though certainly rich.  My daughter couldn't even finish hers, though she asked for more the next day (sadly, all gone).  In truth, I'm not such a fan of chocolate as an ice cream flavor.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of chocolate generally but not always in ice cream, because of the richness.  Still, I don't think one can reasonably claim to make ice cream without having a chocolate recipe in his/her repertoire.

The best frozen dessert I've eaten recently, though, was a strawberry balsamic sorbet at Hen of the Wood, an elegant restaurant in Waterbury, Vermont.  My wife and I went for a date while our daughter was off visiting her grandparents.  It was a wonderful meal and it came with a story...

Seated next to us were U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, and his wife Marcelle.  The couple were evidently celebrating their wedding anniversary.  This was actually my third chance encounter with our esteemed senior senator and I had, in fact, been thinking about the other two times on the way to dinner.  At one point, his phone rang and when he went to turn it off, his wife said, "But it might be someone important!"  My imagination raced as I saw him firing off a text to whomever had called, pondering who might be worthy (or not) of taking time away from his wife.
via Wikipedia
I don't believe in bothering famous people unnecessarily but as we were getting up to leave, we passed on our well wishes.  My wife recommended the sorbet to them.  After praising all of the restaurant's offerings, the senator told us a joke:

"I run three miles everyday.  If I miss a day, I add it to the next day's run.  So far, I'm 8,412 miles behind.  I'll run four miles tomorrow."

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Clone Wars: Season Three

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

General Impressions

The Clone Wars hits its stride in Season Three, especially in the latter half of the year.  The stories in this season have done particularly well in developing the antagonists.  We get some great dark side exploration in both the Nightsisters and Mortis story arcs.  The Separatists gain nuance in the "Heroes on Both Sides"/"Pursuit of Peace" doublet.  Strong villains have always been a hallmark of the Star Wars franchise and it's great to see the series devote quality material to the nemeses.

Favorite Episode: "Overlords"
via Wookieepedia
Tough call.  All of the story lines mentioned above are strong.  But the Mortis arc is the must-see.  Anakin is essentially offered the role of a god as arbiter between good and evil.  It is the basic moral dilemma of the entire franchise played out in miniature.  Even picking a favorite among the three is tricky but I'll go with the first.

Least Favorite Episode: "Evil Plans"
via Wookieepedia
Droid stories tend to leave a lot to be desired.  It's too bad.  I really like Artoo and Threepio.  While a little bit goes a long way, too much is quickly tiresome.  Even the title of this episode is pretty lame.

Favorite New Character: Savage Opress
via Wookieepedia
Another tough call.  Both Savage and Mother Talzin are introduced in the Nightsisters arc.   Both are awesome.  Savage wins on a few counts.  For starters, he is voiced by Clancy Brown.  Also, his transformation from run of the mill goon to killing machine along with his conflicting loyalties - to his brother, to Assaj, to Dooku - make for quite an engaging story. 


In April 2011, Prince Willima, Duke of Cambridge married Kate Middleton in front of an estimated television audience of 2 billion.  In May, Osama bin Laden was killed.  The biggest ongoing story of 2011 was the Arab Spring.  In August, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown after 42 years in power.

I'm certainly looking forward to Season Four.  Mother Talzin is back in episode 19, Savage in episode 21.  We'll have an aquatic world adventure to kick things off.

Please visit the other participants today.  Next Tuesday: "Water War."