MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

April A-Z Challenge, April 30, Letter Z: Zoo — April 30, 2014

April A-Z Challenge, April 30, Letter Z: Zoo

April A-Z Challenge, April 30, Letter Z: Zoo

The A-Z blog challenge for April 2014 is drawing to a close. Wow, I can say that I made the challenge a real success, I feel it has helped re-motivate me in the writing area of my life, and I was never late on 1 blog entry!  YAY, I feel a sense of accomplishment! LOL

For my last blog, anyone who knows me could predict what I wanted to blog about for the letter Z. Yes, that’s right, the Zoo.

I worked at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada for 7 years, from 1999 – 2006. Although I have not worked there for 7-8 years now, it is still fresh in my mind. I have literally thousands of special memories, funny stories, nostalgic thoughts, and fantastic friends from those times. Although I don’t think about the zoo quite as much as I used too, I do think about it a LOT. It’s like the place infected me over those 7 years I was there. I spent so much time there, many weeks working overtime, that the people, the animals, the buildings, and the work seeped into my pours. It’s hard to split myself out from that wonderful place. When I started working there at age 17, I had no idea I was going to be there 7 years, and have so much fun. Have you ever had a job where you made some special life-long friends, had crazy situations happen almost every day, and were able to take busy days in stride and be able to laugh your face off at the end? Well that’s what the zoo was to me, and these are some of the special memories that stay in the forefront of my mind. I often think I need to write everything down into my zoo memoirs, and in fact I have started doing that. I want to finish a bunch of other writings before I get back to that and flesh out the memoirs, but at least all the summary notes are written! And it really motivates me in my career planning, career thinking, and pondering what my life direction is … I want to be somewhere like that again, where work is a super fun place I want to be … not a place that envelops me of course to the point that I don’t have healthy work-life balance anymore … but a place that gives me true joy and passion … don’t know what that is yet, but I hope to find it for a second time one day … because the Zoo was that place for me once before! 🙂

winnipegzoo

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April A-Z Challenge, April 29, Letter Y: Yoda — April 29, 2014

April A-Z Challenge, April 29, Letter Y: Yoda

April A-Z Challenge, April 29, Letter Y: Yoda

Yoda is an inspiring character in the Star Wars universe. Extremely wise. Small and unimposing by size, but actually extremely powerful. Modest about himself to the very end. And very funny with a sometimes biting but very coy sense of humour.

I always found enjoyment in the scenes with Yoda, and also learned a lot too from his various quotes. It’s nice when you can watch a science fiction / fantasy film and learn something while at the same time sitting back and having a good time.

My favourite Yoda quote is when he tells Luke:

Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.

In other words, don’t just say you will try to do something, but you aren’t sure you will be successful. Believe in yourself and your abilities. “Just do it” as Nike would say. But Yoda said it better. 🙂

April A-Z Challenge, April 28, Letter X: Xinjiang and Other Travel Destinations — April 28, 2014

April A-Z Challenge, April 28, Letter X: Xinjiang and Other Travel Destinations

April A-Z Challenge, April 28, Letter X: Xinjiang and Other Travel Destinations

As the April A-Z Challenge gets close to completion, I wanted to have a chance to do at least one more random blog (ie: not a movie or book review) and I thought, with the letter X, what better theme then to talk about travel?

Now you may ask how does this connect with the letter X? You will see below. But anyways, I love the idea of traveling more, and seeing more places. I love seeing destinations, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, and just learning while checking out art, architecture, history, geography, and other places.

I have many places I would like to go in my lifetime, and here is a quick list of places I have not been to yet, but would like to get to. (And the list is by no means complete as I always learn about new places I would like to see one day!)

1)   Xinjiang, China and Mongolia – I have always felt this desire and interest to see Mongolia, and nearby Xinjiang, an independent autonomous region that borders Mongolia. Being able to see the Gobi Desert firsthand, and learn more about the diverse and broad history of this arid landscape seems fascinating to me.

2)   Scandinavia – I have always wanted to check out Norway, Sweden, and Finland in particular. These three northern European countries have interesting cultures and histories, and in some ways they may be similar to Canada in terms of the northern climate/location that may (or may not) influence the culture. I would be curious to learn and experience these places, and compare/contrast them to Canada.

3)   Russia – Although I have no plans to go to Russia these days given political instability and the countries current hateful policies towards lgbt people, I would eventually like to see places like Saint Petersburg and the Siberian Railway and see firsthand this country’s amazing architecture and art, among other things. After taking a University course on Russian History, I would also like to learn firsthand and be a witness to some of the harsh realities of this country’s checkered past.

4)   Mexico – As a Mexican Mennonite with family ties to Mexico, I would obviously like to check out Mexico, both to learn more about Mennonite and family history, but also to learn more about how Mennonites in Mexico live today and relate to the Mexican population themselves. And of course seeing the history around the Aztecs and Incas would be incredible as well!

5)   Tanzania – After doing a high school project on this east African country, I have always wanted to see Tanzania (and neighbouring Kenya) and check out the amazing animals in the area, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Lake Victoria, among the many other incredible things in the region. Also experiencing African culture would be wonderful.

6)   Australia and New Zealand – What more can I say, who wouldn’t want to see these fantastic countries!? Australia for its coastlines and also to see the interior desert (for some reasons deserts fascinate me and spur my imagination). New Zealand for its Hobbit and Lord of the Rings scenery.

7)   Antarctica – If I could be an observer or do any kind of job (even the cook lol) on a scientific expedition to Antarctica, this would also be an incredible experience in my mind. Perhaps because I grew up and live in Winnipeg, Canada, where we have brutal winters, I would love to see what an even harsher climate would be like.

And I know there will be more to come as I learn more about the great wide world we live in! 🙂

April A-Z Challenge, April 26, Letter W: Book Review – The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 – Margaret MacMillan — April 26, 2014

April A-Z Challenge, April 26, Letter W: Book Review – The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 – Margaret MacMillan

April A-Z Challenge, April 26, Letter W:

Book Review – The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 – Margaret MacMillan

Facts:

▪   Book: The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914

▪   Author: Margaret MacMillan

▪   Genre: Non-Fiction

▪   Year of Release: 2013

▪   Read 640-page hardcover edition in April 2014.

Book Description: This non-fiction book by award-winning historian Margaret MacMillan examines the decade preceding the start of World War I, and looks at the various events, issues, tensions, leaders, and cultures that permeated Europe during these years.  This was a prelude to a devastating war that rampaged across all of Europe and involved nations across the world.  MacMillan examines such questions as why this happened, what caused tension to build in the decade preceding the war, and the events in the months and weeks leading up to the war.

Book Review: This was an excellent history of Europe in 1900-1914 by an expert of international history.  MacMillan has done a thorough researching job, looking at all the various issues and complex inter-relationships between nations and peoples in Europe in the early 20th century. MacMillan also has done her homework in terms of careful study and analysis, and then presenting conclusions and putting forward possible reasons why things happened the way they did.  The narrative is very interesting in that it shows how a number of seemingly disparate events and decisions actually continued to coalesce into a ticking time bomb which led to the large and devastating world war.  MacMillan does a great job of presenting the facts, although in some cases chapters were quite long, making the book somewhat imposing at times.  There was also some references to the culture of the time, although the book does tend to focus on the politics and military situations of the time, which is beneficial to learn more about this, but additional cultural context would have been helpful as well.  Still, this is is a great book overall, an opportunity to learn more about the various reasons why this war happened, and how there were people on all sides who tried to work towards peace and stability, but also people on all sides who encouraged war for various reasons. One can also see some great lessons that should be considered in light of current events in the world today.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

April A-Z Challenge, April 25, Letter V: Movie Review – The Visitors (2013) — April 25, 2014

April A-Z Challenge, April 25, Letter V: Movie Review – The Visitors (2013)

April A-Z Challenge, April 25, Letter V: Movie Review – The Visitors (2013)

Movie Synopsis: In a series of lengthy images of trancelike human faces, buildings and structures, nature, and space, artsy director Godfrey Reggio demonstrates a variety of concepts to the audience, including our trance-like relationship with technology and electronics, the impact on our environment today, and the connection between design, space, and human connection.

Movie Review: This was very much an art film, almost feeling like it should be played in museums or art galleries as opposed to theatres. That being said, a friend and I watched this film in a small artsy theatre with only 2 other people in the theatre, which felt very appropriate as it added to the quiet-like feel of this film. A beautiful score accompanied the various images on the screen, and the director did a great job of showcasing a variety of themes and ideas. The decision to focus minutes of attention on one person’s face or on one building added depth and dimension, as the viewer could take time to think about what this was signifying for them. At the same time, it was interesting to see how challenging it could be to stay focused when the camera stayed on one person or building for an extended period of time. Lots of themes, elements, and ideas came to mind during this period, and it was definitely a unique cinematic experience.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

April A-Z Challenge, April 24, Letter U: Urban Living — April 24, 2014

April A-Z Challenge, April 24, Letter U: Urban Living

April A-Z Challenge, April 24, Letter U: Urban Living

Urban living is an amazing thing.  I was at a coffee shop today, actually it was a combination coffee shop / local bookstore.  It was an awesome time, and it was fun to get some work done, relax in a local urban coffee shop with people around me, hearing people drinking coffee, visiting, writing, reading, buying books, and relaxing.  It is a fun local coffee shop in a quiet urban neighbourhood.  In fact, it’s called the Neighbourhood Coffee Shop!  I quite enjoyed the opportunity to work, but also to think about the joys of living in an urban environment.  My city is mid-sized, and as such we don’t quite get the pure anonymity or all of the variety of arts and culture and options that a large city gets.  But on the other hand we are not in a rural place either, where it might not be the easiest place for an openly gay person.  On the whole, living near the downtown in my mid-sized city and being able to do urban things like go to coffee shops and write, go to plays and shows when they come to our city, etc. makes for a good life.  Sometimes people complain easily about urban living, the congestion, pollution, potholes in the roads.  But overall, it’s good to take a step back and count blessings, and be grateful with the good things about living in the city 🙂

April A-Z Challenge, April 23, Letter T: Movie Review – Titan A.E. (2000) — April 23, 2014

April A-Z Challenge, April 23, Letter T: Movie Review – Titan A.E. (2000)

April A-Z Challenge, April 23, Letter T: Movie Review – Titan A.E. (2000)

Movie Synopsis: This animated sci-fi movie by 20th Century Fox involves a rogue young adult named Cale who is called upon to take part in a crucial mission to save the dying human race, who have been scattered throughout the galaxy ever since Earth blew up 16 years previously.  Cale must overcome personal struggles and larger challenges to try and save humanity from extinction at the hands of deadly enemies.

Movie Review: This film from 2000 does a nice job of opening with a bang, with an amazing animated sequence of the Earth actually getting attacked by aliens and blowing up in a huge ball of fire and rock. This was a great introduction to what was a fast-paced animated movie.  Animators did a wonderful job in the creativity department, doing some truly unique creations with such things as the various aliens in the movie, who were truly original, not a rip off of previous science fiction films. As for the main characters, there were several that were introduced to us throughout the movie, of different qualities, from different places, of different species, etc. This made the movie very exciting and gave it an always-invigorating look. In terms of music, this films soundtrack simply rocked.  The fast pace of the movie fit nicely with music from such bands as Jamiroquai. The music always flowed with what was happening in the plot, giving the film a powerful and flowing beat. Looking to the storyline, there were many suspenseful and surprising plot twists and turnabouts found throughout the movie. The main plot, that of finding the Titan, matched yo very while with a well-developed sub-plot, that of the main character and hero, Cale, on a journey of self-discovery. On the whole, fabulous classic animation, great music, interesting characters, and an amazing story all combined to make this animated sci-fi film a truly wonderful movie to watch. Well Done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars.

April A-Z Challenge, April 22, Letter S: Movie Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) — April 22, 2014

April A-Z Challenge, April 22, Letter S: Movie Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

April A-Z Challenge, April 22, Letter S: Movie Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Movie Synopsis: In this second film of the rebooted Star Trek franchise, the crew of the Enterprise must battle the dangerous Khan, a genetically modified superhuman, who is waging a damaging war against all of Starfleet. At the same time, Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew must also be careful of who they trust, as there is seeming corruption even within the heart of their own organization.

Movie Review: Following on the strengths of the first rebooted movie, this is a very successful action/sci-fi film from director J.J. Abrams. The film is high-paced and action-oriented, with a lot of fast-moving scenes and just enough introspection and background information to keep us aware of the larger backstory. We get some information about the politics and are exposed to some interesting philosophical issues, but the writers and director have chosen to really focus in on the action, which seems to have worked well here. The main protagonist, Khan, is brought to the screen in exceptional fashion by intense actor Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC Sherlock). One downside to the film, like similar Star Trek films of the past, is the presence of a couple major logical plot holes that allow the story to continue but that seem completely ludicrous. For example, in an emergency system, every VIP in the Starfleet organization gathers at the top floor of the tallest building in San Francisco, surrounded by glass windows that are not bullet proof. And then we’re surprised when something happens? Did everyone miss military strategy 101? But if you can park some of the obvious script issues like this, the film overall is a fun action sci-fi adventure with healthy doses of comedy and interesting characters and villains.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

April A-Z Challenge, April 21, Letter R: Movie Review – Run Lola Run (1998) — April 21, 2014

April A-Z Challenge, April 21, Letter R: Movie Review – Run Lola Run (1998)

April A-Z Challenge, April 21, Letter R: Movie Review – Run Lola Run (1998)

Movie Synopsis: In this German film, we see a prospective day in the life of Lola and her boyfriend, and specifically we see three scenarios where differences in small choices and circumstances have major impacts on the outcomes of the characters and their lives.

Movie Review: This was a fantastic film out of Germany, very creative, fresh, and unique.  The film actually had several concepts that reminded the viewer of the film Sliding Doors, another excellent movie about time and alternate realities/ possibilities, but both films have their uniquenesses and focuses that allow them to be strong in their own rights.  The concept of how small choices can have major affects on our lives is showcased to extremes here, allowing for shock and reflection to occur in the audience. Stars of the film, Franke Potente (The Bourne Identity) and Moritz Bliebtreu, have great chemistry together.  The intensity of this fast-paced movie is fabulous, and the score for the film is absolutely perfect, with a techno-rock beat throughout.  Writer and Director Tom Tykwer’s decisions in the editing, score, and use of some animation added to the creative uniqueness of this film.  Overall this was a great movie that was exciting, entertaining, and made you think.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

April A-Z Challenge, April 19, Letter Q: Quote of the Year (So Far) — April 19, 2014

April A-Z Challenge, April 19, Letter Q: Quote of the Year (So Far)

April A-Z Challenge, April 19, Letter Q: Quote of the Year (So Far)

Okay, the year is only about one-third over, but out of all the words and sentences and phrases I have heard uttered thus far, this one is my favourite:

“Unless it’s mad, passionate, extraordinary love, it’s a waste of your time.  There are too many mediocre things in life.  Love shouldn’t be one of them.”

It’s my favourite because:

a)    It is from an awesome movie (see my movie review for Dream for an Insomniac).

b)   It is stated by an awesome, diverse, unique character, in the movie, a young and creative woman named Frankie.

c)    I heard this quote at just the right time in my life, just based on some personal things going through my head right now.

d)   It really speaks to the truth when it comes to a concept like romantic love.

This quote is something that we can all probably keep in mind.  Relationships and love are meant to be truly special.  Striving to find and hold on to a love like the one described in the quote is a wonderful notion.  🙂