Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Clone Wars: Revenge

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Revenge"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 22
Original Air Date: March 14, 2012
via Wookieepedia
Now that Darth Maul has resurfaced, he is out for revenge.  Obi-Wan Kenobi must pay for slicing him in half back in the day.  Fortunately, Obi-Wan has an unexpected ally.  As I wrote last week, I'm not happy about this story line at all and this episode - Season Four's last - has done nothing to improve my outlook.  So let's talk about something else: ghosts!

The implication of a meaningful existence beyond death has been part of the Star Wars saga from the beginning.  In A New Hope, during his duel with Darth Vader, Obi-Wan says "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."  Let's be honest, we never truly learn the extent of what he means.  Perhaps he is alluding to the impact of his martyrdom.  Perhaps there's more to the Force than anyone, even the filmmakers, fully understands by the end of the first movie.

Here's what we do learn: while Obi-Wan technically dies, he doesn't leave the story.  He reappears in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as a Force ghost, doing his best to steer young Luke to the right path.  Yoda and Vader/Anakin also appear to Luke as ghosts.  Apparently, it's part of the Jedi contract.

Ghost Ben can't really do much, though.  He speaks and he certainly has no trouble getting around but otherwise seems unable to impact the physical universe.  So, what power does he have beyond guiding Luke?  Is that all he means?  Is that all he needs?  Or is there more to it?


"Revenge" is directed by Brian Kalin O'Connell.  O'Connell attended Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.  He has been working within George Lucas's empire since 1995, first for Industrial Light & Magic, then Lucasfilm Alimation.  He has big screen art and visual effects credits for The Mummy, Unbreakable, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Wild.  In total, he directed 20 Clone Wars episodes.

Next week: "Revival." This Thursday, we'll be recapping Season Four.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: February 2017 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 24th.  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 27, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: January 2017

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: House of Many Ways
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
via Wikipedia
House of Many Ways is the third and final book in the Howl series which began with Howl's Moving Castle.  My reviews of the first two books are here and here.  This time, we meet Charmain, a highly sheltered girl who agrees to look after her great-uncle's house while he is away, hoping she'll get time to read.  Her uncle is, it turns out, a magician and his home is a spacial and temporal labyrinth.  While her uncle's away, she is left to figure things out for herself.  Meanwhile, she's also trying to ingratiate herself with the royal family so she can work in their library.

Diana Wynne Jones is my daughter's favorite author so, even beyond the Howl series, I have grown quite comfortable with her style.  Her fantasy worlds are not Narnia or Middle Earth dream worlds.  Somehow, they're just a shade or two past reality.  Her magicians are generally awkward people beyond their extraordinary abilities.  Charmain discovers she has a knack for the arts herself though her magic derives more from force of will than studious training.  I appreciate the fact that both of the sequels are essentially stand alone stories with new and interesting characters.  Howl, Sophie and Calcifer do join in the fun for both but the tale is ultimately someone else's.

By the end, I'd grown quite fond of Charmain and her circle and would be eager for more stories.  Alas, there are none.  Jones passed away in 2011, three years after the book was published.

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 24th.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Clone Wars: Brothers

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Brothers"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 21
Original Air Date: March 9, 2012
via Wookieepedia
Savage Opress is back.  Definitely one of the series's more interesting characters, Opress is now on a quest for his long-lost brother, none other than Darth Maul.  After roughing up a diner waitress, Opress hijacks a freighter to Lotho Minor, a junk world, where the astonishing truth is revealed.

Okay, I've gotta say that I'm not really down with this Darth Maul business at all.  Darth Maul is dead, sliced in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Phantom Menace.  Why the writers contrived to bring him back is puzzling to me.  The Savage Opress story is really plenty interesting enough without this.  Star Wars does ghosts just fine.  But resurrection?  It's unnecessary.


via Star Wars Wiki
Early in the story, we see Asajj Ventress sitting with one of her new friends, the Theelin bounty hunter, Latts Razzi.  Razzi was first introduced in last week's episode as one of Boba Fett's crew.  She is voiced by Clare Grant.
via Wookieepedia
Clare Grant was born August 23, 1979 in Memphis, Tennessee.  She grew up on stage, beginning formal training in acting and singing at age 8.  In 2006, she was a back up singer for the band Wired All Wrong which toured as an opening act for Beck.  Her most prominent film roles were in Black Snake Moan and The Insomniac.  She has been married to Seth Green since 2010.

With her partner Rileah Vanderbilt, Grant co-founded Danger Maiden Productions which produces, among other projects, an online series, Team Unicorn.  Their biggest hit was a Star Wars/Meghan Trainor parody called "All About that Base":

Next week: "Revenge."

Friday, January 20, 2017

Squid Brews: Orange Honey Ginger Ale

I have successfully brewed my own soda from scratch.  The recipe for orange honey ginger ale came from Homemade Soda by Andrew Schloss.  While my first experiment from the book (see here) was somewhat underwhelming, the results this time were far more successful.  Both wife and daughter are ginger addicts and they were pleased.

The most difficult part of the project was the prep work for the syrup.  Grating a half-cup of gingerroot is a lot of work.  Sterilizing bottles isn't exactly fun but it's not difficult.  Most of the process is just waiting.  Once you bottle, you let the yeast do its carbonating thing for a week-and-a-half, then it's ready.  And carbonate it does!  Opening the bottles over the sink is essential.

I don't think the gallon I made will last long.  I am saving one 16 oz bottle for Mock's daughter.  She's a big ginger ale fan.  My own daughter has already put in a request for me to make more.  I'll hang on to this recipe but I'm eager to move on to root beer.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Clone Wars: Bounty

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Bounty"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 20
Original Air Date: March 2, 2012
via Wookieepedia
Exiled once again, Asajj Ventress seeks a new foothold.  She heads to an awfully familiar tavern on Tatooine where she latches onto a band of bounty hunters, led by none other than our old friend,  Boba Fett.  Their current job seems simple enough.  A large chest must be delivered to Otua Blank, the despotic ruler of Quarzite.  The bounty hunters have been hired for extra protection from a band of raiders looking to intercept the merchandise en route.  Naturally, the contents of the chest come as a bit of a surprise.  There's definitely an old west, train robbery feel to this story.

As I started this Clone Wars adventure, I was hoping the series would develop stories beyond the usual Skywalker family, Jedi vs. Sith adventures we get in the movies.  After all, the format of weekly episodes offers the opportunity to probe more deeply into more remote corners of the Galaxy Far, Far Away.  Four seasons in, I can say that several such threads have been developed.  The best of them, as I've written before, are the adventures of the clone troopers themselves.  The Mandalore story line is a strong one, as are the various bounty hunter tales.  The Asajj Ventress thread is pretty good - partly for the fact that she leads us to Dathomir and the Nightsisters but for other reasons, too.

Lost souls are an essential element of the Star Wars saga: Anakin, Luke, Rey, Han Solo, Finn, Jyn, etc.  They all struggle to find their place in the world, in the fight.  We usually see the story from the hero's perspective.  In Asajj, we get the antagonist's point of view.
via Wookieepedia
Krismo Sodi is the leader of the bandits.  He is a Kage, leading his group in opposition to Quarzite's Belugan dictator.  Somewhat surprisingly, this episode marks his only appearance in the series.  He's an intriguing character.  His design was based on concept art from The Phantom Menace for the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi.  He is voiced by Ben Diskin.
via Scoobypedia
Diskin was born August 25, 1982 in Los Angeles County.  He has also done voice work for Codename: Kids Next Door, Naruto Shippuden, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Hey Arnold! and The Seven Deadly Sins.  He won a Young Artist Award in 1991 for Kindergarten Cop as part of that movie's Outstanding Young Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture.

Next week: "Brothers."

Friday, January 13, 2017

Squid Cooks: Real Buttered Popcorn

On Saturday evening, my wife and I were discussing our plans for Sunday, a rare, completely open day on the family calendar.  "I think I'll make chocolate chip cookies," she said.

"Do we have any popcorn?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"I think I'll make some popcorn."

A moment of puzzled, disbelieving silence.

"Do you have a recipe for popcorn?"

"Yes," I replied enthusiastically. "There's one in the Mark Bittman book."

I know popcorn is barely beyond making toast or freezing ice cubes on the culinary challenge spectrum but the truth is, I'd never made popcorn on a stove top before.  Plus, the Bittman book - How to Cook Everything: The Basics - has a trick I wanted to try: putting three corn kernels in with the oil as test subjects. According to my wife, Alton Brown poo-poos this idea but if it's good enough for Bittman, it's good enough for me!

Wouldn't you know, I got impatient.  As soon as the first kernel popped, I got curious about the other two.  Was it remotely possible they could all have popped at the same time?  Well, of course not.  And naturally, one popped the instant I lifted the lid, ricocheted off my face on to the floor.

The popcorn turned out just fine.  Next time, I'll use a bigger pot for the half cup of corn in the recipe.  I used our largest sauce pan but it wasn't enough space.  Next time, Le Creuset!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Clone Wars: Massacre

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Massacre"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 19
Original Air Date: February 24, 2012
via Wookieepedia
Asajj Ventress is back.  Having been betrayed by her disciple, Savage Opress, she is seeking sanctuary with her family, the Nightsisters of Dathomir.  Count Dooku is out for revenge against Asajj and the Sisters for the recent attempt on his life so he sends General Grievous to Dathomir to wipe them all out.

If there is one Clone Wars story line worthy of its own spinoff series, it is the Nightsisters.  I really enjoy the exploration of the more mystical aspects of the Force's dark side.  I also appreciate the Tolkien allusions.  This time, it was the raising of an army of the dead.
via Wookieepedia
Said army was awoken by Old Daka, a Nightsister elder.  This episode marks her only appearance.  She is voiced by Kathleen Gati.
via Wikipedia
Kathleen Gati was born in Canada, August 13, 1957.  Her parents were Hungarian immigrants, both musicians: a symphony conductor and an opera singer.  She herself spent five years in the Hungarian film industry during the '90s.  Much of her most prominent work in the United States has been in soap operas: All My Children, General Hospital and Winterthorne, the latter a web series for which she earned an Emmy nomination.

Next week: "Bounty."

Monday, January 9, 2017

On the Coffee Table: The Buddha

Title: The Dhammapada
Author: The Buddha
Translator: Ananda Maitreya
via Amazon
The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings of the Buddha in verse form.  It is one of the most widely-read scriptures in Buddhism.  Each saying was recorded in response to a particular challenge in the life of the Buddha or his monastic disciples.  Most revolve around the basic theme of letting go of base, worldly concerns and giving over to the quest for enlightenment and nirvana.  It is a quick, pleasant read.  I am not a Buddhist but I enjoyed finding connections with my own experiences.

Given the cautions against decadence, The Dhammapada was an interesting contrast with another book I finished recently, M.F.K. Fisher's An Alphabet for Gourmets.  Says the Buddha:

The one who lives for sensation,
Indulgent in eating,
Lazy, and lacking in energy,
The tempter Mara breaks,
Just as the wind breaks a frail tree.

The Buddha probably wouldn't be impressed with Ms. Fisher's sensual frolicking through the world of food, nor mine.  On a more serious note...

The Japanese have a saying about religion in their society: Japanese are born Shinto but they die Buddhist.  This is based on the fact that their traditional ceremonies surrounding birth come from Shintoism, the ancient, animist religion that originated in Japan while the ceremonies associated with death come from Buddhism, the import from mainland Asia.  The Dhammapada helps me to appreciate the deeper meaning of the saying.

In his excellent book Being Mortal, Dr. Atul Gawande discusses how our interests focus as we approach death.  Our more superficial, worldly interests fall away as close family members and the simple pleasures of daily life grow more important.  This is exactly the sort of priority shifting the Buddha teaches.  He would encourage us to take this letting go a bit further in order to attain nirvana but it seems people naturally tend in that direction as the end nears.  Perhaps we all die Buddhists.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Squid Mixes: French 75

We had the Mocks over for New Year's Eve for food, games and general merriment.  The French 75 was our featured cocktail for the evening:
It's mostly champagne with bits of gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup (my own homemade) and grenadine.  The drink, often made with Cognac rather than gin, dates from World War I when the kick was said to be equivalent to being shelled with the French 75mm field gun.  I wouldn't say it's nearly that potent but it was pleasant enough - pretty, too.

I got my recipe from American Bar by Charles Schumann.  Interestingly, the book also includes a French 76 that subs out the gin for vodka.  The gin doesn't bring much flavor to the party but it might make for an interesting side-by-side comparison sometime.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Clone Wars: Crisis on Naboo

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Crisis on Naboo"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 18
Original Air Date: February 10, 2012
via Wookieepedia
The four-part, Obi-Wan undercover with bounty hunters story concludes this week.  What began seemingly as an Obi-Wan development tale with a bounty hunter showcase ultimately ended as yet another test of Anakin's limits by Palpatine and Dooku.  This final episode of the arc is dripping with foreshadowing.

via Wookieepedia
Embo is one of the posse assembled to abduct Palpatine.  He is a Kyuzo from the planet Phatrong.  He first appeared in one of my favorite episodes, "Bounty Hunters," a send-up of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.  His species is, in fact, named for a Seven Samurai character.  His language is a combination of poorly enunciated French and the names of Italian soccer players.  He'll be back in a couple of weeks.  Embo is voiced by director Dave Filoni.


It's been an eventful couple of weeks in the Star Wars universe.

RIP, Carrie Fisher.  You will always be my princess.
via Wikipedia
RIP to Debbie Reynolds, too.  Obviously, she was never in a Star Wars movie but - the familial connection aside - Singin' in the Rain is just as big at my house.  Isn't it interesting that both mother and daughter were cast in career-defining roles as teenagers?
via The Disney Wiki
And, of course, there's a new movie.  I've seen Rogue One twice: once in 2D here in Vermont, once in 3D on the curved screen at DC's Uptown Theater.  It's a solid four stars out of five by my reckoning.  Like the best Clone Wars episodes, Rogue One feels a lot like an old 1950s war movie once you get past the Star Wars trappings.  I love the new characters, especially Chirrut Imwe.  On my all-time list, I would rank Rogue One fifth overall, below Return of the Jedi, above Revenge of the Sith

Next week: "Massacre."

Monday, January 2, 2017

On the Coffee Table: An Alphabet for Gourmets

Title: An Alphabet for Gourmets
Author: M.F.K. Fisher
via Amazon
Long before the A to Z bloghop was a thing, M.F.K. Fisher created an alphabetized collection of essays, each devoted to an aspect of the eating experience: "A is for dining Alone," "D is for Dining out," "G is for Gluttony," etc.  Her writing is as witty and sensual as ever.  "W is for Wanton" is my favorite chapter.  What begins as a discussion of food used to seduce a lover becomes a much funnier exploration of how to construct a meal to unseduce - how to cool the jets, essentially.

With this book, I have now reached the end of Fisher's The Art of Eating collection.  My previous posts about the series can be found here, here, here and here.  All of the books are good.  Serve It Forth and The Gastronomical Me are my favorites among the five.