Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review: Ender's Game

With the upcoming movie I thought it was appropriate to write a brief review over Ender's Game, a book that is adored by many and often considered to be one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written. In fact, it's not unusual to hear this book mentioned as one of the greatest novels of all time. It's been a while since I read the book, so you'll have to forgive me if I have forgotten a few things. Let's get to it. 

Hi, Orson Scott Card, it's nice to meet you. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to meet with us. It's a real honor. Now, I was hoping you can help me with something; nearly everyone I know whose read this book absolutely loves it, I mean just really, really, really, loves it. Not many books get more popular than this. 

I first read this book in the seventh grade and, to be honest, I didn't see what all the fuss was about. I did not like it. Heck, I'm not even sure I finished it; my memory is fuzzy. I know I thought it was boring, which is odd considering you would think a book that is mostly about beating up bullies, playing video games, and playing laser freeze tag would be the opposite of boring. Guess I'm just not that into laser tag (sorry Barney).

But, you know Card, after hearing and reading about the book's endless praise I decided to reread it last year, thinking my 12 year old self must have missed something. Unfortunately, I still don't understand what everyone's on about. I still found this book to be mostly a snooze fest, Card. Hey! Where are you going?!?! Stay! It's just an opinion! You can't always run away from criticism! Okay, good. Sit back down. There you go. Now, where were we? Oh yeah, the book's a snooze fest. Okay sure, the book does have a lot of action in it, but man do you make it repetitive. There are several scenes where Ender and his team play laser freeze tag against another team in zero gravity, but after two of these scenes you get the idea that no one can possibly beat Ender, even if he was bound head to toe, gagged, and dropped from a plane into an active volcano (I exaggerate slightly but you get the idea). This makes the following laser tag scenes all the more predictable and unnecessary. Look, we get it Card, Ender's brilliant, or at least that's what you tell us over and over again, but I'm starting to have my doubts because some of Ender's supposed "brilliant" military strategies kinda end up looking like a lazy research job on your part. You even see some evidence of this, Card, in the trailer of Ender's Game where Ender orders his ships to fly below the ice and shoot the enemy from below, causing a military officer to gasp and comment "no one's ever do that." Apparently Ender is the only one who can come up with the idea to attack the enemy in a place where they can't see you or retaliate.

So, Ender's "brilliant" and of course the other "brilliant" students are jealous that Ender's smarter than them so they decide to bully him. You clearly want us to feel sorry for Ender, but the trouble is, Card, it's difficult to feel sympathy for a character who's great not through hard work but because he simply is. It's further difficult to connect with Ender when he never acts his age, and neither do his friends, for that matter. I understand everyone at the Academy is supposedly brilliant but, as Mozart demonstrated, being brilliant doesn't mean you're mature, and at some point in Ender's Game you would expect children to act like children. Okay good point, I'll concede there's a time or two when a character is immature but for the most part the children act like cardboard.  

So Ender's suppose to be the antithesis of a boring character but you constructed him out of cardboard and made him falsely brilliant, Card, and he ends up being the exact opposite of what you intended. Now you know who wasn't a boring character? Ender's older brother, Peter.  I mean he had some pretty cool stuff going for him; he was a massive jerk but there was more to him than met the eye, something you didn't get with Ender. But then you involved Ender's brother in a wholly unbelievable and uninteresting subplot detailing what he and his sister are up to while Ender's away in space. How am I to believe that children influence the world by posting angry essays on the internet?! I understand that this is Science Fiction and that that entails a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, but you really asks too much of the reader here Card. 

Writing quality can really make or break a book. For Ender's Game your writing is neither bad nor good; it's there to tell a story and not to distract you, a point which you make yourself, Card, in an Amazon review you wrote in order to defend your book's criticism. I find it odd, Card, that you felt the need to defend yourself on Amazon of all places, but based on your strange essays on homosexuality it's clear that you have a few screws loose. Hey! Where you goin -- oh well looks like we lost him guys. He had too much. Let's continue! So, Card has some strange beliefs in regard to homosexuality; for instance, he believes that all homosexuals were molested as children and that's what drove them to homosexuality in the first place. How nutty is that? Some people claim that Card's latent homosexual desires are featured in certain shower scenes in Ender's Game but I've never found much merit to these claims.  

To its credit though, Ender's Game has a decent conclusion, even if it is deliberately anti-climatic. And it does have other redeeming qualities; it contains themes about war, death, manipulation, isolation, guilt, and the military complex. But if you were to criticize this book for being a children's version of Starship Troopers you wouldn't be wrong. Unfortunately for both books, the authors write with their heads up their asses, but at least Orson Scott Card's pointless diatribes don't appear until the second Ender's book, Speaker for the Dead. 

Ender's game isn't terrible, but it by no means deserves the "best Sci-Fi book of all time" title, much less greatest book ever written. The best of Science Fiction arguably belongs to Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, or WE. There's a 99% chance that any book you see mentioned on a "Greatest Sci-Fi books of all time" list will be much better than Ender's Game. 

Sci-Fi books have a history of being transformed into terrible movies (e.g. Dune, Solaris, Starship Troopers, I Robot) and based on the trailer it doesn't look like Ender's Game is going to be any different. For reasons I can't figure out, a lot of movie trailers seem to be on this kick to show you everything that's going to be in the movie, rather than just function as simple teasers. There might be a few surprises at the end, but the trailer makes the movie look as repetitive and predictable as the book. Not to mention I don't have much confidence in the Wolverine Origins director, Gary Hood, to improve upon the book. 

 Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars 


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Music Review: Bangerz

Bangerz by Miley Cyrus may not be a 'must buy' but it is definitely something worth checking out. Being a supporter of Cyrus when so many are hating on the previous Disney star, a knock-out new album was something I was hoping for. The final result is nothing revolutionary but something much more than passable.

I've only listened to the album one time through, skipping over "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball" due to my familiarity thanks to the over saturation on the radio. The first half of Bangerz had me worried.

Tracks 1 through 7 (excluding "We Can't Stop" and "My Darlin'") I found to be repetitive to the point of boredom and annoyance. "4x4" and "Love Money Party" are probably the two worst songs on the album.

By the time I reached track 8 ("#Getitright"), I was able to breath a little easier; Miley hasn't produced a completely terrible album presenting a more than acceptable second half of Bangerz. Tracks 8 through 11 are the best on the album.

"#Getitright" is fun and poppy. "Drive" is dark and deep. "Fu" is probably the best song on the album (perhaps competing with "Drive"), showing off Miley's strong vocals. "Do my thang" is another good party song comparable to "We Can't Stop."

One of the album's strong points is the fact that all the songs sound different from each other. There is a good mix of jazzy noise with big bass to slower, pop style vocals. So be prepared to hear a unique blend of songs, as well as Miley saying the words "Mike Will Made It" throughout the album.

The album starts out disappointing with a couple songs keeping it afloat till the powerful middle. The final tracks (12 through 16) are pretty generic sounding with little energy except for the stand-out, "Rooting for My Baby." Miley's voice here sounds soothing while also catchy. This may be my personal favorite because of how the song gives off a peaceful vibe while also having a lingering sadness.

Overall, this is a good album presenting Cyrus in a new light with respectable results. 7 out of 10 with a strong replay ability.

Good/Memorable Songs:
"We Can't Stop"
"My Darlin'"
"Do My Thang"
"Rooting for My Baby"

Passable/Forgettable Songs:
"SMS (Bangerz)"
"Wrecking Ball"
"Adore You"
"Maybe You're Right"
"Someone Else"
"On My Own"
"Hands in the Air"

Bad Songs:
"Love Money Party"

Review by Kyle Schwab

Captain Phillips Review

Let me just start off by saying that Captain Phillips is every bit as thrilling and intense as Gravity. Obviously they are both extremely different movies, but each film will keep you locked in your seat.

To give you the short version, Captain Phillips is the true story of a container ship hijacking that took place back in 2009. Somali pirates overtook the ship, as well as kidnapped Phillips (played by Tom Hanks). 

The camera work by director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93) is similar to his past endeavors, a shaky, but not too shaky, camera. Some people I went with complained of feeling dizzy and even nauseous. Greengrass did a great job immersing people with his camera work by making them feel sea sick (similar to how Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity made audiences feel the beauty and terror of outer space).

The movie is suspenseful all the way to the end; it is a battle between wits and weapons as the unarmed freighter tries to survive and out smart the machine gun wielding pirates.

But this isn't just some movie about how the American military swoops in to save the day. The movie goes deeper, exploring both sides of this true story.

By the time the film is finished you know backgrounds of both Captain Phillips and the pirates, mainly Muse, the pirate leader played by Barkhad Abdi. You feel for the pirates. The movie tells the audience that Phillips and Muse are similar. They were both just doing their jobs. At the beginning of the film they also show Muse's living conditions in Somalia.

One quote from the film has Muse saying that "this is all just business," and later saying that he has bosses. Phillips replies saying, "we all have bosses." Muse also continues to say "Everything's going to be ok." Muse probably says this close to ten times, each time more erie then the last.

The ending should be obvious but I won't give specifics. Just know that it is bittersweet and tear jerking.

I give this film a perfect 4 out of 4 stars. Must see picture with fantastic direction and performances.

Movies to watch for: Reviewed titles...

Captain Phillips: 4/4

Gravity: 4/4

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gravity is finally here

Check back tonight for a video review and discussion over Alfonso Cuarón's new space odyssey.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Movies to watch for

When September hits we are finally out of the realm of summer blockbusters. Summer usually has great movies that are entertaining and fun to watch, but normally no films that blow your mind with their artsy flair or over competent camera work.

But now we're in October, in the real meat of Oscar season. September through December we get showered in all these great films reaching for Oscar gold.

It's still early, but here is a list of possible Best Picture nominees for next year's Academy Awards. The links will be to the movie trailers. (I haven't had the chance to see any of these yet; some are out in theaters, and some still haven't been released)


Matthew McConaughey is looking good this year. With him acting in three major movies, Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, and The Wolf of Wall Street, this could be the year he gets an Oscar nomination and even a win.

Possible Best Picture Nominees

Dallas Buyers Club

The Wolf of Wall Street


Don Jon



Captain Phillips

Blue Jasmine

Inside Llewyn Davis

The Monuments Men

American Hustle

The Counselor

12 Years a Slave

Enough Said

Out of these 14 possibilities, Dallas Buyers Club seems like a big contender, but Rush may take gold. Personally, I can't wait for Gravity. I have been waiting for years ever since Alfonso Cuaron started talking about making this film.

Also, Martin Scorsese is my favorite director, and I would love to see The Wolf of Wall Street win some. And perhaps even see Leonardo DiCaprio win his first Oscar, and Jonah Hill get another nomination.

If there are any movies you think I am leaving out or any movies that shouldn't be on the list, post it in the comments below. Also, check out The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

By Kyle Schwab