I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.

I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Paying for Shrek


So, cable giant Comcast announces that it's buying DreamWorks Animation SKG for $3.8 billion, just as my Comcast cable bill increased by $30.00, with no service changes.


Coincidence?  I think not.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

For geeks only


I'm not enough of a science prodigy to find the following bar joke very funny, but I won't speak for you...

A neutron walks into a bar and orders a drink.  When the neutron gets his drink, he asks, "Bartender, how much do I owe you?"

The bartender replies, "For you, neutron, no charge."

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

When titans clash


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn't as bad as the many negative reviews suggest, but it isn't nearly as good as it could have been.  One of the biggest problems is that the first ninety minutes are a bit of a slog, which there really isn't an excuse for in a superhero movie, especially one featuring the first big-screen joint appearance of Batman and Superman.

I also felt bad for all the little kids in their Batman and Superman tee shirts, being dragged along by their parents to the movie.  Whether or not one thinks it's a movie of quality, it's pretty inarguable that there isn't much for the kids in Batman v Superman. And that's a shame. The movie is dark, grim, and talky, and laced with a fair amount of intense, disturbing violence.

I think the Marvel movies have shown that it's not all that hard to have both themes and plot lines adults can enjoy while including lots of elements to wow the kids.  It just seems strange that Warner Bros. thought that this two-and-a-half-hour, grimy-looking cauldron of violence, nightmarish dream sequences, and muddled plotting was the way to go to launch its DC Comics cinematic universe.

Positives?  The last hour of the movie has some good action (though the eventual Batman versus Superman fight is not a huge part of it, despite the film's title) and it was fun to see Wonder Woman eventually enter the fray.  And all the actors did a good job.

And, hey, to be fair, one person's muddled plotting is another person's complex, multi-layered plotting, and one person's long slog to get to the point is another person's immersive storytelling. And what I saw as relentlessly grim themes and visuals will be "refreshingly adult" to others. So some people won't be bothered by some of the things that I, as well as many critics, didn't like.

But for me, I think it's sort of a shame that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hit a solid double when a home run or even a grand slam (both commercially and creatively) were definitely within reach.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Taxes made exciting


The Patriot Threat was my first Steve Berry novel, and I enjoyed it. Reading about some of his other titles, apparently Mr. Berry's formula is to take mysteries, legends, controversies, and the like from America history and craft them into novels where his hero Cotton Malone and his allies try to prevent something catastrophic from happening if a particular secret from the past gets out. In The Patriot Threat the secrets involve- interestingly, for a fast-paced thriller- taxes and debt.

I enjoyed learning a little about the process that established a national income tax, and- going further back- how debts incurred during the U.S. revolution have gone- for many complicated reasons- unresolved for centuries. In fact, either of these topics- at least in the involving way Mr. Berry describes them- would have been enough for its own book.

To enjoy The Patriot Threat, you admittedly have to let things ride a little and not scrutinize things too closely. After all, using one of the book's mysteries as an example, could a foreign power really bring down the U.S. simply by discovering old hidden documents suggesting that the amendment to the Constitution establishing a federal income tax may not have been properly ratified, thus making the tax illegal (and promptly eliminating the government's main revenue stream)? Knowing our government and politicians, I think they'd figure a way around such a revelation to assure that the tax would go on.

But it's all fascinating nonetheless, and the variety of scenes and scenarios keep the reader engaged: we have action on a cruise ship; we jump back in time to FDR's administration where a puzzle and scavenger hunt is set in motion; back in the present day, we have a North Korean villain and plot that skillfully mixes James Bond-style larger-than-life characterizations and plot mechanics with all-too-real (and often sad) details about life in North Korea, etc. It also helps that Steve Berry seems to be (at least from his afterword), an engaging, curious, and entertaining guy, who doesn't necessarily believe in all the conspiracies in his books, only that he thinks they're... interesting. In other words, he's not a crazy guy writing crazy conspiracy theories. He just likes to write entertaining thrillers involving those elements.

I will say that Mr. Berry- indirectly, via his present-day characters discussing the past- is pretty hard on Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the book, but, well... people have their positions on things. And, to be fair, Mr. Berry never lets his particular biases get in the way of his story. He's mainly interested in keeping the pages turning, via action and plot developments, as well as his fascinating forays into the lesser known details of U.S. history. And, really, I think FDR's legacy can survive a little critical scrutiny.

In any event, I'm looking forward to trying another of the author's thrillers in the near future. So far, I think his work is pretty good stuff.

"The Patriot Threat", the most recent "Cotton Malone" thriller, is available on Kindle, in paperback, and on audio. At this writing, the Kindle edition is bargain-priced at $2.99.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Good dinosaur, good movie



It's been out a while, but I finally caught The Good Dinosaur recently, and really enjoyed it. Maybe it was because the lukewarm reviews and underwhelming box office numbers caused me to lower my expectations, but I thought it was a perfectly good movie about a dinosaur family and how its youngest member (the runt of the litter) repeatedly tried to distinguish himself.

Certainly the usual Pixar quality control was in place: the visuals were beautiful, the voice work and music were top-notch, and the story was decent, with many exciting and moving elements. Honestly, I thought it was as good as anything Pixar has put out.

Of course, it may have helped that I saw the movie in one of those theaters that serve food and adult beverages before and during the movie.  In addition to some snacks, I enjoyed the movie along with a beer and a chardonnay.  Maybe they helped push the whole experience up a notch or two.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Climb into the treehouse


I recently listened to the audiobook version of "The 13-Storey Treehouse" as part of an audiobook competition where I acted as a judge. Written by Andy Griffiths (with the print version illustrated by Terry Denton), I found it to be a polished and well-produced bit of work, running a little over an hour. 

I will say the humor is mainly for children, and doesn't worry about also being appealing to adults. But that's fine, as this is clearly being marketed as a children's book. I did appreciate the effort that went into the acting, music and sound effects, all of which are top-notch.

Many other online reviews (I mainly checked the ones on Amazon) have noted that the sea monster sequence seemed a little too scary for young children, but I didn't think anything along those lines when I was listening to the story. Like the other parts of the book, there was enough silliness in the sequence to make the scares go down easier.

I'm not sure if the audio version includes any read-along printed materials or many of the illustrations from the print version, as I experienced the story via a download. Anyway, young kids will probably enjoy listening to this cute story about two colorful characters who live in a treehouse and have adventures.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Targeting Bond


Last year I gave myself a little project: to read all of Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels.  There were seven to cover, and it was pretty easy because I read some and did a few others on audio. I enjoyed the project and will probably write a little more about the series before all is said and done (I wrote a handful of reviews already).

This year's project will be a little more about pure entertainment than the entertainment/educational vibe of last year's assignment.  That's because this year I'm going to read all the James Bond novels that were written by John Gardner in the 1980's and early 1990's.  There are fifteen or so of them, and the project will be do-able because the lion's share of them were recently released on audio by Audible.com.

I'm going to read my old copies of the first two books, License Renewed and For Special Services, as those are two of the titles not yet available on audio, then listen to the next several entries. Incidentally, I had read the first five or six of the Gardner Bonds back in the day, but for whatever reason drifted away from the series.  Remembering that I liked the ones I read, I'm now looking forward to shooting through the whole series this year.

Anyway, I'll shortly go into more detail about why I'm picking these books now to read or reread, probably in the forthcoming reviews of the individual titles as I post them. For now I'll just say that these were fun books that came along at a fun time in my life and I thought it would be, well, fun to revisit the good times I had with them.

And, what the heck, I think I'll also listen to a few of the original Ian Fleming Bonds this year, too, as I really enjoyed revisiting Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale, near the end of last year, when Audible offered it at a special sale price. Might as well jump in with both feet, right?