Category Archives: Micro Review

Micro Review: A Very Harold and Kumar 3d Christmas

Some big laughs, some small laughs, a few dragging areas.

The big, broad stuff didn’t really hit with me – much like poop on a windshield, it kinda slid right off. But there are a few moments in AVHaK3X that really work, just really subtle moments of comedic timing where exactly the right pause or look is given.

3 out of 5 Neil Patrick Harris as “Neil Patrick Harris”es.


Micro Review: Earth Unaware (Novel) by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

I have mixed feelings about reviewing Earth Unaware (The First Formic War) by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston.

I received an Advanced Reader Copy from my buddy, who, until recently, was relatively high up with a bookseller.  I saw the plain white cover of the ARC at his apartment, and picked it up with no small degree of glee.

“Ooh!  This isn’t due out until July!”  I squealed.

“You want it?  Take it.”  My buddy said.  He’s more into swords and magical rings than real life stuff like bug-eyed (literally) aliens and lasers.

Orson Scott Card was, at one point, my favorite writer.  I read Ender’s Game in one day, finishing it on a family vacation sometime around two or three A.M., with a flashlight under the covers.  I loved his short stories, the Alvin Maker series, the other Ender books, his one-offs like Enchantment and Magic Street and Lost Boys.  So, it was with great excitement and joy that I began reading Earth Unaware.

Unfortunately, Earth Unaware is not a good book.  It’s not a bad book, either.  It’s not even really a book.  Unbeknownst to me (I was Unaware?), Earth Unaware is a novelization of a comic book that Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston wrote earlier.  And it reads like a novelization.  There are obvious bits of padding, description of scenes that would work better in a visual medium, and stereotypical characters that read as if they were in a series of panels printed on cheap wood pulp.

So, that’s one reason why Earth Unaware isn’t really a book.  Another reason is my experience upon reading about a third of the novel, then stopping for a break.  I peered at the cover.  The book says it’s the story of the first Formic War.  A third of the way into the book, and the Formics/Buggers weren’t even on stage yet.  I thought to myself, “Huh.  Well, I suppose once the aliens do arrive, the pace must really pick up.”  I thought back to Ender’s Game, and the description therein of the first Formic War.  Space battles, hand to claw fighting in ships, the Razing of China.  It seemed like a lot to fit into the rapidly diminishing pages.

And, of course, it was a lot.  Too much, perhaps.  Because Earth Unaware isn’t a complete story.  It’s the first of (probably!) three novels about the First Formic War.  I’m glad that Ender’s Game didn’t follow that trend.  The whole first book of the Ender’s Game trilogy would have been Ender Unaware: The Kindergarten Adventures.  It would have ended with him beating up the kindergarten bully, and (perhaps!) a teaser where the Battle School teachers show up at his house.

And then there’s Mazer Rackham.

You might remember Mazer Rackham.  He’s the venerable sensei of Ender’s Game, the man who single-handedly won the Second Formic War.  He was also a useless old bugger who didn’t play by the rules in Ender’s Game, so he was assigned to a fleet that wasn’t supposed to see any action.  He never mentions any First Formic War experience.

Well, in Earth Unaware, he shows up as an elite-of-elite soldier, the creme-de-la-creme of all of the Earth’s warriors.  I understand that in the later comics, the ones past the three that this book is based upon, he gets pretty involved in the resistance, and is (almost) single-handedly responsible for winning the First Formic War.

And then he’ll go on and win the Second.  And in Ender’s Game, only the second will be brought up.

I don’t know.  It could work, in the long run, and the subsequent novels.  But it takes a lot of plot convolutions and sharp changes in character to get from the Mazer Rackham of Earth Unaware to the Mazer Rackham of Ender’s Game.  It’s probably not worth it.

There’s a concept called “fan service”, where a writer will include bits of extraneous, plot-superfluous lines, costumes or characters, simply to satisfy long-time fans, who are (presumably) waiting around, twiddling their thumbs, until something familiar shows up.  Mazer Rackham in Earth Unaware is anti-fan service.  He shows up, and fans initially cheer, but then the Earth Unaware version begins to ruin the old version that we love.

Is Earth Unaware anti-fan service?  No, it doesn’t retro-actively ruin the old books.  It does take the First Formic War from the realm of the imagined, implicit to the land of fleshed out, explicit.  And sure, something that fans have imagined for over twenty years cannot possibly live up to those expectations when it finally comes out.  The book is not bad.  It’s just not good.  But for me, who imagined for twenty years what this aspect of the Enderverse’s history would be like – that’s a shame.

Final Verdict: 2 out of 5 compound eyes.

Micro Review: Species (Film)

Yes, that Species.

Species is the least sexy of the supposedly sexy movies that came out while I was an impressionable teenager who was too young to rent them.

It has a laughably implausible plot, featuring alien DNA that can interface with our own, a top secret laboratory that is guarded by an open door, a glass cage and a chain link fence, and a crack alien-hunting squad that consists of Michael Madsen, playing Michael Madsen, Forest Whitacker playing a magical black man (one who is literally magical, instead of figuratively magical as is so often the case), Alfred Molina as the nerdy scientist and Marg Helgenberger as the smart scientist.  Oh, and Sir Ben Kingsley.

The two things that really stick out, as seen from a world that has moved nearly 20 years on?

1.  The AIDS metaphor really is in your face.  Sex-as-death is the motif, with one character killed shortly after he has unprotected sex after he specifically asked about protection.

2.  Hey, the young alien is played by Michelle Williams!  When did Dawson’s Creek start?  HOLY CRAP WAS THAT DAWSON IN THE TELEVISION COMMERCIAL THAT THE ALIEN FLIPS PAST?

I am convinced that it was.

Three out of five deaths by tongue.

Micro Review(s): Attack the Block (film), Contagion (film), Mockingjay (book)

Some really short micro reviews (really short writing being something I need to practice, and also just to get these off the “to-do” list before something really special) of two films and a book.

Micro-Review 1: Attack the Block (film)

Attack the Block is, quite intentionally (I believe), the anti-E.T.  There is a shot early in the film where the action mirrors the first time Elliot meets E.T.  While in E.T. Elliot rolls a ball into a toolshed, and E.T. rolls it back, establishing an equality and trust between them, in Attack the Block young gang members chase an injured alien into a shed – and then kick it to death.

E.T. is concerned with protecting an intelligent, caring alien from an over-reaching, ominous government.  Attack the Block is concerned with protecting a community from a vicious, animalistic alien threat while also dealing with a government that either doesn’t care, or is actively hostile to the community’s concerns.

Attack the Block is also exciting, funny and fun, with characters that go through interesting arcs (taking the audience along with them).  4 out of 5 sets of glowing teeth.


Micro-Review 2: Contagion (film)

Contagion has lots of big-name actors.  It steps through a (impressively realistic) scenario of what would happen if a virus with the same lethality of the Spanish Flu was active today.  It does it rather coldly and methodically, though, and leaves lots of hanging plot threads.  What happened to Kate Winslet’s character?  Or the character who was being held hostage?  Or Jude Law’s scummy alternative medicine blogger?  Who knows?  Who cares?  I guess not the filmmakers.  3 out of 5 people infected.

Micro-Review 3: Mockingjay (book)

Two weeks after reading this book, all I can remember is that Katniss goes to Vault 13 – sorry, District 13 – and then somehow there’s a war?  And then there’s a rather implausibly booby-trapped Capital fight sequence?  And at the end she kills both presidents, and there’s a smash cut to her with babies and a husband and a good life?  Eh, I also remember it being a page-turner, but not as exciting and novel as The Hunger Games.  Resolution is hard to do.  3 out of 5 arrows to the eye.

Micro Review: Catching Fire (novel)

Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, sure is a sequel to The Hunger Games.  So much so, that there is an entirely new Hunger Games in the novel, in which, of course, our heroine and viewpoint character, Katniss Everdeen, is forced to compete.

Again, there is a love triangle, with the same two love interests focused on Katniss.  Again, Katniss is forced to defend and rescue Peeta.  Again, Katniss is manipulated by events outside her control, and never proactively acts, just reacts to the plot.

Besides the rehashed plot, this is my main complaint with Catching Fire.  Katniss is already a reactive character – in The Hunger Games the only move she made on her own was to volunteer as tribute in place of her sister, though one could argue that a few of her reactions to events in The Hunger Games were at least an example of her employing some agency, some choice in the situation, like when she drugs Peeta against his will so that she can leave him and get the medicine to save his life (this choice, however, while her own, is implicitly condoned and even suggested by outside forces – in this case, Haymitch’s gift of sleeping serum).  However, in Catching Fire, Katniss doesn’t make a single choice, and is utterly unaware of the main events of the plot that are bubbling beneath the surface, until the final ten pages.  Whereupon she is knocked out, and saved by a deus ex machina.

Perhaps this roller-coaster of a plot (strap-in, and enjoy the ride, but don’t try to change it) appeals to teenagers, who often feel like the events of their life are swirling around them, beyond their control.  However, for me, it leads me to believe there was a more interesting book here, hidden beneath the surface, where we follow a character that actually makes decisions and acts according to his or her own will.  Haymitch Abernathy sidequel?

3 out of 5 cubes of bread.

Micro-Micro Review: Hunger Games (Film)

Really short Micro-Review, because I’m pressed for time.
Saw The Hunger Games in the theatres, on it’s fourth (or so) weekend.  Late enough in the box-office run for a family of five (including an infant in a stroller(!)) to feel comfortable going to see it.  I hate movie theatres and people.

Casting: Excellent, and will define how the characters look and act, in my mind.  Plus, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, which I didn’t realize until the credits rolled, and who made me actually like that character, who I didn’t really like in the book.

Filming: Really well done – maybe too green?  Is green in nowadays for films?

The two trouble spots I was worried about before going into the film: 1. The flaming costumes in the entrance parade were fine, and not (too) ridiculous.  2. The muttations at the end, the dogs, were ridiculous, but I think the director knew it, as he kept the scene short and mercifully dark.  Also, the whole time they were on the screen I couldn’t help but think of Rick Moranis’s line (as Louis Tulley from Ghostbusters) “Alright, who brought the dog?”

4 out of 5 screaming children who are way too young for a film about kids who kill other kids.

Micro Review: Fletch (film)

First off, from all available information, Chevy Chase is a dick.

This is observable in the reactions of anyone who has ever worked with him has had, his interesting public behavior, and the fact that he doesn’t appear in the “making of” documentary for Fletch, even though he’s cited it as his best loved role.

Why is this important in a micro-review of Fletch, the 1985 film?  Because Chevy Chase is a charming dick, and he is at his best when he is playing a charming dick on the small or large screens.

Irwin Fletcher, better known as “Fletch”, is also a charming dick, so that’s fortunate.

It’s strange to watch a cult classic film from 1985, nearly 30 years later.  It almost feels like watching a period piece that gets it exceptionally correct with all the little details, like the Coors can that Fletch drinks out of, but doesn’t dwell on them like a movie that is merely set 30 years ago would.  (Other strange details that pop out to a Watcher From The Future; the cars are all short.  There are no SUVs or minivans on the streets.  The televisions are all tiny.  The lady’s hair is all HUGE.)

Fletch is an amusing movie, but not drop dead funny.  Very quotable, though, which explains why I recognized some ten or twenty lines as they were said.  But more than the banter is Chevy Chase’s gift for physical comedy.  There’s a bit where he gets his head stuck in a hanging lamp that is delightfully underplayed.

The plot is a nice combination of whodunit and intrigue sprinkled with opportunities for Chevy to goof around.  It reminded me of the flavor of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Fletch really holds up, even for those people who have never seen it, and don’t have rose-colored glasses on.  Four out of five proctologist’s fingers.