MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – Red Planet Blues – Robert J. Sawyer — August 22, 2013

Book Review – Red Planet Blues – Robert J. Sawyer

Facts:

▪   Book: Red Planet Blues

▪   Author: Robert J. Sawyer

▪   Genre: Science Fiction / Mystery

▪   Year of Release: 2013

▪   Read 356-page hardcover edition in August 2013.

Book Description: Alex Lomax is a private investigator on the rugged planet of Mars, a “wild west” of the future where prospectors of all types have come to the planet looking for quick riches.  However, many end up coming to less prosperous ends, and end up stuck on the planet and its habitat, with no ability to get home.  There are also a mix of biological humans and “transfers” on the planet, who have had the good fortune and money to transfer their mind out of a biological body and into a more permanent android body where they have increased strength and the potential to live indefinitely.  However, when a couple of Lomax’s recent cases start taking strange turns that involve the very foundation of the Mars habitat and the first settlers and explorers of the planet from a couple generations ago, Lomax begins to learn many dark secrets about a planet that is already crawling with dangerous people.

Book Review: This book is actually based on a short novella that Sawyer wrote in 2004 entitled, “Identity Theft,” which was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Award.  Sawyer has taken that story and expanded it into a lengthier, more expansive novel here.  The result is actually quite unique, with Sawyer doing a great job of weaving in hard science fiction, but also strong elements of mystery and lots of humour as well.  He even brings in a “wild west” feel on the planetary scenes, truly making you feel like we are in a “gold rush of the future” and this is what the gold rushes of old must have been like in some respects.  Sawyer is an expert at melding ideas and genres together, and taking bits and pieces and cobbling them together into a coherent, interesting plot.  There are many twists and turns that lead the reader to always wonder what may happen next.  There are no simple answers as we see multiple characters die, yet always have to wonder which character it was, since the prospect of “transfers” and “duplicates” is present.  Sawyer has added levels of complexity into the story that makes it enjoyable to read.

On the character development side, Sawyer has done a fairly nice job of fleshing out the principal character Alex Lomax, and also one of the secondary characters, Dr. Rory Pickover.  There are a number of other secondary characters, and although not all of them are fleshed out as nicely as could have been done, Sawyer does a good job with the primary characters and tends to focus on the plot and the action, which works in this novel.

His description of Mars, both the exterior beauty and landscapes, as well as the dirt and grime of the habitat within, are sometimes stark but always enjoyable to read.  Overall, this is an enjoyable science fiction novel about early human exploration and life on the planet Mars.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5.

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Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011) — August 11, 2013

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011)

Movie Synopsis: Harry, Hermione, and Ron are close to completing their goal of destroying Voldemort’s Horcruxes, and at the same time finding out more about the mysterious Deathly Hallows.  Harry is also learning more information about Professor Snape, Professor Dumbledore, and his parents. And as Voldemort and his Death Eaters take the fight against the Order of the Phoenix directly to Hogwarts castle itself, Harry must lead the forces of good in a final all-out battle against the evilest wizard of all-time, all while putting the final pieces of a complex puzzle together.

Movie Review: Deathly Hallows Part 2 of 2 is an amazing movie.  This movie picks up right where Part 1 left us, and as such we are halfway through Rowling’s final novel of the series.  The second half of the novel is full of action-packed sequences, and as such this movie is full of intense battle scenes around Hogwarts, which the filmmakers have impressively designed and brought to life.  The ensemble cast all have moments to shine, including Deputy Headmistress Professor McGonagall’s humourous quote, “I’ve always wanted to use that spell!”  Although the ensemble cast doesn’t always have a lot of time on the screen, when they are present, they absolutely shine in their roles.  Maggie Smith as McGonagall is fantastic, and Alan Rickman as Professor Snape is flawless in his execution of some emotional scenes.  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson are fabulous in the acting of the principal three characters, and the entire directing and producing team do an incredible job of bringing this action-packed plot to a close.  Loose ends are tied up sufficiently well, and the fact that we see main characters pass away in Parts 1 and 2 does the plot justice, as it makes the story all the more real and poignant.  Overall, this is a great closing movie to a fantastic series. Well done!

Overall Review: 5 stars out of 5

 

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010) —

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010)

Movie Synopsis: Harry, Hermione, and Ron are not returning to their seventh and final year at Hogwarts.  Instead, they find themselves on the run.  Voldemort and his followers have taken over the Ministry of Magic, and the Order of the Phoenix is in disarray.  Harry and his friends try to continue the quest Professor Dumbledore left them, which is to find and destroy all of Voldemort’s Horcruxes or pieces of his soul.  Only then, can Harry face Voldemort in a final showdown and have any hope of defeating him.

Movie Review: The feel of this Part 1 of 2, which closes out the 7-volume book series, is very much a road trip feel.  Director David Yates, who filmed movies 5 and 6 as well, has chosen a very ominous tone for this Part 1, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione are out and about rural UK, and facing improbably odds in their task to defeat Voldemort.  Yates has really focused in on the intensity of emotion between these three characters, and the three principal actors have done a nice job of rising to the occasion.  This is the first film that is truly away from Hogwarts most of the time, and as such the various settings, music, and different cinematography for this movie had a lot more diversity and difference from previous movies.  The result is a fresh film as we continue to explore the overall central plot of good and evil in the wizarding world.  This movie has a great finale which sets up Part 2 nicely, and although we don’t see as many action sequences in Part 1 that we are sure to find in Part 2, the brooding nature of this film is a perfect atmosphere and feel for this movie.  Well done!

Overall Review: 5 stars out of 5

 

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) —

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Movie Synopsis: At Hogwarts for his sixth year, Harry is now meeting with Professor Dumbledore on a more regular basis, for one-on-one training, to learn more about Voldemort, how and why he rose to power, and more importantly what can be done to stop him.  Dumbledore has brought Harry into his confidences, and wants to work with him to prepare him for the war that is sure to come, and has already started in some respects.  Harry, Hermione, and Ron, along with friends like Ginny, Neville, and Luna also plan for the future and what the war will mean to them on a personal level.  And as the suspense and seriousness of the current situation with Voldemort and his followers increases, it becomes clear that who can be trusted will play an important part on surviving and prevailing.

Movie Review: This sixth movie in the Harry Potter saga brings the cast and Director David Yates back together for a continuing advancement of the story, which is now reaching a climax on many levels.  The level of interplay and romance between the characters is more pronounced and overt, while the action and suspense intensifies as all-out battle with Voldemort and his supporters is beginning.  The plot also develops a “fantasy quest” feeling with Dumbledore and Harry meeting to discuss the method that must be followed to defeat Voldemort once and for all.  The sixth novel is in many ways “setting up” for the final novel and starting to get ready for us to understand the many hanging plot and story threads that have been gathered over previous books.  However, in many ways Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have for this movie focused on the major plot and character development points that matter most, and this makes sense given they only have so much time for a lot of written information.  The result is they have chosen some of the strongest material from the book, and have brought it to the screen in an exceptional way.  There is a bit of a time emphasis on the romantic and humourous elements of the story, such as time spent on the love potions and Ron’s reaction to one.  This in some ways means not enough time for the other interesting and complex character developments found in the book, such as the scenes with Malfoy and Snape.  But looking at the acting overall, it truly is marvelous, with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint really coming into their own with a strong understanding of their three characters.  The ensemble adult cast also does a fantastic job, as usual.  In particular, the dramatic and intense scenes throughout between Michael Gambon and Radlciffe as Dumbledore and Potter are perfect, and the final scenes of the film are a great success and bring wonderful emotion to the screen.  Overall, this is a great movie that really gives that “quest” feeling, and leaves the viewers longing for the next one in the series.

Overall Review: 4.5 stars out of 5

 

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) —

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Movie Synopsis: At Hogwarts for his fifth schooling year, and fresh from an encounter with Voldemort who is now back, Harry finds strange problems with the Ministry of Magic, who are denying Voldemort’s return.  Harry is also having trouble with seeing visions that are troubling him, and he and the other students have to deal with a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher Dolores Umbridge, who is also the eyes and ears of the Ministry of Magic, and trying to stop anyone from speaking out about the truth.  As Harry works through all these challenges and tries to find some answers from a strangely evasive Dumbledore, he knows that things are coming to a head, and that a showdown with Voldemort and his Death Eaters is only a question of when, not if.

Movie Review: This fifth movie in the series is the first by British Director David Yates, who ends up directing all movies from this point forward.  Yates’ camera work and overall style is markedly different from the previous movie, and works extremely well in this movie.  The film explores the themes of power, politics and control which are present in the book very nicely.  Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (this is the only film that screenwriter Steve Kloves is not present for) have done a great job taking the very large novel and breaking down its key elements and plot points, so that the key pieces are clearly before the camera.  Scenes like the Umbridge/Potter punishment scene are as weirdly disturbing as one imagines from the written scene in the novel.  Another strong scene is the final action sequence, which is truly an intense, exciting, visually stunning feast.  The overall direction of Yates has led to a success with this film.  Acting from all the cast is extremely strong, and Daniel Radcliffe really is starting to shine as the title character with a strong performance throughout.  Overall, this is a great film, with lots of action, plot and character development, and rich storylines that continue to bring Rowling’s vast imagination to life on the screen.  Well done!

Overall Review: 5 stars out of 5

 

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) —

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Movie Synopsis: Harry Potter has returned to his fourth year at Hogwarts, and the dangers inside Hogwarts have increased with the Triwizard Tournament coming to the school, which is a series of challenging magical tests for those deemed brave enough to represent their school.  This means representatives from two other schools from abroad have also been brought to the school for the year.  But with increasing speculation of Voldemort supporters gathering, and with lingering questions about where loyalties truly lie with students like Malfoy and teachers like Professor Snape, Harry and his friends know this will be a year fraught with danger and risk, as they seek to uncover the truth.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, now the fourth movie in the series, continues what was so successfully done in the third film, which is to explore the darker and more intense storylines and plot developments.  This is definitely not the more child-friendly first two films, but there are some frightening and even disturbing scenes for children, and even for adults.  New director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves have done a nice job of taking a much longer book, and condensing it to the key pieces for one film.  The acting is solid and as before, the principal leads now in their teenage years continue to develop strong acting skills and develop strong interplay between each other.  New actor Brendan Gleeson as the new Professor Mad-Eye Moody is particularly strong as a new member to the ensemble cast.  Newell does a great job leading the effort, including some exceptional new special effects.  Overall, this is a great movie, although one must admit it doesn’t quite have the same level of emotional and reflective resonance that the third movie had, something was missing.  Overall though, this was an exceptional movie that was intense, suspenseful, and action-oriented.

Overall Review: 4.5 stars out of 5

 

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) —

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Movie Synopsis: Harry Potter, now entering his teenage years, quickly learns that this coming year at school will be full of adventure and mystery, not only as he starts to learn more about his family history, but also because of the increased security at school surrounding the escape of mass murderer Sirius Black from Azkaban prison.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third movie in the series, is full of change from the first two movies.  New Director Alfonso Cuaron who has made a variety of Mexican films is brought in, and truly does a fantastic job bringing a vibrant and distrinctive flavour to an excellent third novel by Rowling.  Similar to how the novel was a turning point in bringing the story into a more complex and darker area, this movie also brings us more fear and suspense.  But in addition to that, we really see some great interplay between the actors in this film, both the adults and the teenagers.  Acting performances by the three principal characters, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, are all fantastic, and they play off each other exceptionally well.  Furthermore, new Dumbledore actor Michael Gambon, standing in for deceased actor Richard Harris, does a wonderful job by making the character his own, and not trying to emulate Harris’ take of the wise Headmaster.  Other performances by Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, and newcomers David Thewlis and Gary Oldman, are exceptional.  The plot is intense, takes nice twists and turns to captivate the audience, and has frightening elements to it.  But at the same time, there is an element of amusement and subtle whimsy sprinkled in areas of this movie, which Cuaron has inserted in just the right places.  Meanwhile, there is also a lot of the film where intense periods of self-reflection and emotional substance occur, and the scenes between Radcliffe and Thewlis are particularly well done.  The design and delivery of magical items like the Marauder’s Map are flawless and well-executed, and the continuing design and expansion of new areas of the Hogwarts School and grounds makes for a fantasy movie that almost feels ancient and modern at the same time.  The musical score by composer John Williams is also fantastic and marks a changing tone for the movie series that makes sense given the intense plot lines and story.  It makes perfect sense that the score was nominated for an Academy Award.  Overall, the directing, acting, and writing comes together fabulously in this movie, and is certainly one of the best movies of the Harry Potter franchise, that can be enjoyed by children, but especially by teenagers and adults.  Well done!

Overall Review: 5 stars out of 5

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) —

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Movie Synopsis: As Harry Potter suffers through a long summer holidays with his terrible cousin and mean aunt and uncle, he longs for school to start again so he can go back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  However, before he returns, a house elf brings him a warning, that something terrible is brewing at Hogwarts, and it may be too dangerous to go back at all.  When Harry finally gets to Hogwarts, his friends Ron and Hermione join him in trying to discover just what is going on.  But when students start getting attacked, and other strange occurrences happen, they realize the danger is more serious than they ever thought possible.

Movie Review: This movie based on the second novel of the Harry Potter series brings the entire cast back together, along with Chris Columbus reprising his role as Director.  Although some of the acting is over-done by some of the child actors, Columbus continues to work with the many child actors in this cast to develop their skills and abilities.  There is also some great cinematography in this movie, and a continuing capacity to build new scenes inside and outside Hogwarts School that capitalizes on the imagination of author J.K. Rowling. Columbus also utilizes humour throughout, which often is designed to appeal especially to the younger audiences in the crowd (example: the detailed Ron Weasley slug incident).  It seems this is the last movie in the series that is more focused on the younger audiences, and that later efforts will be directed at somewhat older crowds.  This is in keeping with the novels themselves, and influences the decisions made here by the director and Producer David Heyman.

Overall Review: 4 stars out of 5

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) —

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

Movie Synopsis: Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary, and unlucky, boy.  He lives in a cupboard under the stairs, is picked on by his bigger cousin Dudley, and is put down by his mean Aunt and Uncle.  However, on his eleventh birthday, he gets an amazing visit by none other than a giant, and learns he is a wizard, like his parents before him.  Harry then leaves his unhappy home to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  But the year involves decisions of who is a friend and who is not, and also dangers around a mysterious object that is being guarded at the school.

Movie Review: This first movie adaptation of the successful J.K. Rowling book series is overall an excellent family movie by Director Chris Columbus.  Columbus has worked with many child actors in the past, and does a fantastic job of getting the most from the youthful child cast (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and others) in the main roles.  The adult ensemble cast also shines, with actors like Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, and Richard Harris, performing admirably in their characters.  The acting is superb, and of course the plot and imagination of Rowling comes to life beautifully with majestic scenes of the Hogwarts school and British countryside beyond.  This first movie is a safe one, where there is some intense scenes but overall is not designed to be overly dark or frightening for children of most ages.  This is similar to the books, where later installations get darker.  Overall, Columbus does a nice job of creating a family-friendly movie that takes Rowling’s first novel and bringing it to life in a fantastic way on screen.  Well done!

Overall Review: 5 stars out of 5

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling — August 2, 2013

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling

Facts:

  • Book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • Author: J.K. Rowling
  • Genre: Fiction (Modern Literature)
  • Year of Release: 2007
  • Read 607-page hardcover edition in July 2013.

Book Description: In this final novel of the seven-book saga, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are desperately trying to carry out the mission that Dumbledore secretly entrusted them with at the end of the last novel.  They face immense peril every step of the way as they struggle to destroy the Horcruxes that contain pieces of Voldemort’s soul.  As they work on this dangerous task, they also learn about the mystery of the Deathly Hallows, and it becomes a challenge to know where and how to focus their limited time and energy, as the followers of Voldemort grow stronger each day and are attacking the Order of the Phoenix on all fronts.  Everything is coming to a climactic head and Harry knows it will come down to him facing Voldemort in a final battle, where only one can survive.

Book Review: J.K. Rowling has taken an initial children’s book from a decade ago, and turned it into a magical, mythical legend.  The latter books have expanded the plot, character backstories, and suspense.  The canvas is a huge one in which the Harry Potter universe plays out on.  And in the seventh and final novel in the series, we are not disappointed.  Rowling has done a truly amazing job.  The action, suspense, and drama is the centre of attention here, as a main focus concerns looking at the multiple plot lines and hanging threads and tying them up as necessary.  Lots of creativity is present in how the idea of horcruxes and hallows are presented, and how it ties into the nature of good and evil.  Unanswered questions about story lines and characters are answered to the reader’s delight and often surprise.  Tender moments of emotion are present throughout.  As we should expect in epic battle scenes, characters we have come to love are killed, and it is difficult to read without feeling sadness and pain for the loss.  We see the full development arc of characters, and looking back on the earlier books, we can be happy that we have known these interesting, dynamic wizards, witches, and creatures.  Rowling does a masterful job at creating an exciting story in its own right, but also doing a great job of closing off a huge series with many characters and story lines.   Rowling makes the wise decision of not having an extensive epilogue, rather many arcs and unanswered questions were cleared up throughout the story leading up to the final battle scenes, so that we can end the story on a high.  Overall, this is a fitting ending novel to an incredible series, and Rowling is to be commended for a job well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5.