Movie review: Captain America: Civil War

I have a soft spot for movies with lots of explosions and (cartoon) violence.  I also have a soft spot for Disney.  And a soft spot for the Marvel movies.  And a *definite* soft spot for Jeremy Renner.  So when you have a movie that contains all of those elements AND adds an extra element of whether government oversight is a good thing or not, it’s enough to warm the cockles of my libertarian heart.

It’s also interesting (and wonderful) to see the Captain America movies improve with every installment.  I thought the original Captain America movie highly mediocre, but “The Winter Soldier” was a pretty good movie, and “Civil War” is excellent.  For those of us who have invested emotional capital in the Avengers characters, it’s a bit heartbreaking to see the divisions between them.  But the division is a result of a fundamental philosophical issue where reasonable minds can disagree, and so it’s an understandable rift.  And you know it’s an important philosophical issue when “The Economist” opines on it in its review of the movie (wrongly, in my humble opinion).  ☺  (It’s also completely in character for Steve Rogers and Tony Stark to almost reach an understanding and then divide again when Tony Stark overreaches himself.  That was a nice narrative touch.)

The movie also introduces two new characters to the Marvel universe—Spiderman (who provides some needed comic relief but some nice action moments, too) and Black Panther, who has a nice storyline about the ramifications of vengeance as a motive.  (And is just way cool, to boot.)

Captain America: Civil War doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not.  The movie has a lot of action and is fast-moving, to the point where some of the secondary characters don’t get a lot of screen time (ahem, such as Hawkeye).  But there is surprising depth to this movie, with its philosophical conundrum and character development.  Ultimately, it’s an excellent addition to the Marvel universe.  (And if you haven’t seen it yet, there are 2 codas to the movie, so don’t miss either one.)

The movie gets a thumbs up from the entire family.

Book review: An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson

An Expert in Murder (Josephine Tey, #1)An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am familiar with the actual author, Josephine Tey, who was a strong believer in the innocence of Richard III in the murder of his nephews, as evidenced by her book “Daughter of Time.” She was also the author of several mysteries, some of which I have read. And so it intrigued me to learn of a mystery series written with Josephine Tey as the main character of the series.
The author of the mystery series, Nicola Upson, writes a strong debut for the series. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the Josephine Tey written mysteries–they are very class-conscious, which is typical for the British of the time. This series, however, keeps all of the best of a classic British mystery–interesting characters, clever plot, and interesting historical detail–but jettisons the worst of the class-consciousness of British society. It’s there, of course–it wouldn’t be an accurate portrayal of post-WWI Britain if it wasn’t–but it’s not at the forefront of the book and so makes it more palatable to modern readers.
In this novel, Josephine Tey’s blockbuster of a play, Richard of Bordeaux, is heading into its last week of performance at the West End. There are interesting depictions of the West End theatre scene amid the backdrop of Britain trying to recover from the Great War. Josephine herself struggles with the ramifications of fame (if not fortune) while trying to keep her privacy and her integrity. Oh, and there is a murder or two sprinkled in as well.
I really enjoyed this book, with its sympathetic portrayals of survivors struggling with post-war trauma and guilt, and the struggles the British dealt with as they rebuilt their society and country after World War I. The book is extremely well-written with characters you’d like to know and be friends with in real life. I’ve already bought the second book in the series and can’t wait to read it!

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Family Life Merit Badge (aka Cleaning the Basement)

Our fourteen year old son is in Boy Scouts and, as part of the process, has to earn merit badges in a variety of subjects along the way.  (For those of you familiar with Boy Scouts, he is currently a Life Scout with only his camping merit badge and his Eagle Scout project standing in the way of his becoming an Eagle Scout.)

As part of getting the Family Life merit badge, he undertook to clean up the basement.  I do think that a comparison of cleaning up our basement to the Labors of Hercules is not without merit.  Nonetheless, he persevered over an entire Saturday and managed to get it done.

This event is definitely worth celebrating in the family chronicles.  As a result, his proud father put together a slideshow of before and after photos of our basement.  And, naturally, in keeping with the family’s current obsession, set the slideshow to the soundtrack of “Hamilton” (which was nominated for a record 16 Tony awards, but I digress).


Book review: To Wear the White Cloak by Sharan Newman

To Wear The White Cloak (Catherine LeVendeur, #7)To Wear The White Cloak by Sharan Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was reminded recently by a professor of medieval English literature that the author of this mystery series was “a real historian.” In fact, the professor hadn’t even realized that the author had written a historical mystery series, being only familiar with the author’s academic work.
This is one of my favorite mystery series, and one main reason is that the series highlights a little-covered aspect of medieval life, which is the treatment of Jews in the Middle Ages. The topic is handled well, without judgment and within the context of its time. Catherine LeVendeur, the main character, is delightfully out of the mainstream, raised in a convent run by Abbess Heloise (of Heloise & Abelard fame) and who has Jewish cousins. (You’ll have to read the series to discover how that happened.) She is unorthodox for her time in many ways, but the author does not make the mistake that many do, and Catherine’s lack of orthodoxy is limited to what would have been tolerated during the time period. She is constantly praying that her Jewish relatives come to the true faith so as to not condemn their souls to everlasting hell.
In this particular mystery, a dead man is found in the house of Catherine and Edgar (her husband), wearing a white cloak, similar to the Templars’ outfits. Was the dead man a Templar? If so, why don’t the Templars know who he is? At the same time, a threat from the past comes back and threatens Catherine with exposure about her Jewish relatives.
The mysteries are often secondary to the fascinating look at medieval life from the view of the merchants. The author interweaves historical details beautifully, and you never feel like you’re reading out of a history textbook. The characters are all well drawn with fully realized personalities.
If you like historical mystery series, I highly recommend this one. Even if the period isn’t necessarily compelling, the unusual angle this mystery series takes on medieval life is well worth the read.
The series is best read in order but is well worth your time!

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