Summary Judgment

Science Friction

Michael Crichton for highbrows.

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Prey, by Michael Crichton (HarperCollins). Commercial fiction “has a propensity to attract ridicule from highbrow critics,” notes highbrow critic Jim Holt in the New York Times—who goes on to ridicule the book with supersubtlety, only (plot twist!) to wryly acknowledge in his final paragraph that it is “irresistibly suspenseful.” Meanwhile, the salt-of-the-earth New York Post’s Michael Giltz swaggers with faint praise, “Character development? Fancy writing? Those are for authors who don’t sell books by the truckload.” And in the San Francisco Chronicle, David Kipen skips the rhetorical tricks and goes for the jugular, terming Crichton’s technique ” Tell, don’t show. Rinse. Repeat.” (Prey.)

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Child of My Heart: A Novel, by Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). Many lush raves for a ” poignant and rewarding” tale that weaves an ” exquisite spell“—though Malcolm Jones in Newsweek complains that it “leaves you feeling crabby once the sugar rush wears off.” Michiko “Hey, I Said I Liked Your Earlier Stuff” Kakutani calls it ” flatfooted and unconvincing, where [McDermott’s] previous fictions were hypnotic.” But elsewhere in the New York Times, Michael Gorra praises sentences that “seem to swell, as if the language itself were corseted,” complaining that McDermott is unfairly underestimated, perhaps because “to some people gender still does matter, and size too. Maybe her books are too deceptively slender.” (Child of My Heart.)

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Have You Fed the Fish? by Badly Drawn Boy (Artist Direct BMG). “If he still sounds semi-conscious half the time, so be it,” writes NME’s Paul Moody, affectionately. “Damon Gough, it seems, can still write strange, life-affirming pop music in his sleep.”Rolling Stone grants four stars for a “narrative whole much larger than the sum of its occasionally goofy parts.” But not everyone swoons for Gough’s shaggy, Beck-ish charms: On PopMatters, Devon Powers spies “a sense of hubris, which is pillaging his music of its alluring insecurity and patenting his idiosyncrasies into marketable commodities.” (Have You Fed the Fish?)

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The Bachelor (ABC). “’Jackass’ for women,” trend-brands the New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley. “The guy made the wrong choice,” moans Jessica Shaw on Entertainment Weekly. On Television Without Pity, the aptly named Queasy deadpans, “Oh, good. Asshat and Asspants, happy at last.” And stranded on her moody blog, former Real World: New York-er Lori becomes paralyzed with envy and contempt: “Hate everything I’m watching, but can’t turn off the TV.”

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Die Another Day (MGM). The New York Times’ A.O. Scott goes thumbs up for this “big, noisy blend of globe-trotting, coy sexuality and cartoonish political intrigue, solidly in the Bond tradition.”Slate’s David Edelstein praises the best Bonds as “cold,”Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek as “dirty“—and all three loved this one up till the lame last half-hour. Others are less enchanted, including the Washington Post’s sarcastic Christy Lemire—” Explosions! Chicks! Heh, heh-heh,” she Beavises—and Newsday’s John Anderson, who clucks over how far once-was-an-indie-director Lee Tamahori has fallen. (Buy tickets for Die Another Day.)

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Personal Velocity (United Artists). Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman labels director Rebecca Miller’s triptych “delicate and humane“; the Onion’s Scott Tobias snorts that it’s awatershed of feminist clichés.” Still, both loved Parker Posey’s performance, and in the Village Voice, Laura Sinagra concurs that only in Posey’s “breezy, urbane” segment is “something personal rather than sociological at stake.” (Buy tickets for Personal Velocity.)

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Friday After Next (New Line). The Onion despairingly compares ” the ugliness” of this third Friday sequel to the warm-hearted Barbershop; Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman snarks at its “drab, been-there-smoked-that feeling.” But hey, the New York Times’ Elvis Mitchell laughed, contextualizing it as “chitlin circuit comedy.” And on Africana.com, Bomani Jones likes it OK, shrugging that the series’ “last drops are worth sampling, but not enough to make anyone want to pour another cup.” (Buy tickets for Friday After Next.)