A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

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.