MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Movie Review – Maze Runner (2014) — September 28, 2014

Movie Review – Maze Runner (2014)

Movie Review – Maze Runner (2014)

Movie Synopsis:

Thomas has been pulled into a strange world where he is surrounded by other boys and young men around his age, who are attempting to survive in a small enclosed space of land, surrounded by high walls that make up a complex and ever-changing maze.  Although the leaders of this small community have instilled order, including rules around who can and cannot go into the forbidding and dangerous maze, Thomas is very curious about the maze, and how it may be the key to escaping the strange and dangerous environment they find themselves in.

Movie Review:

This movie, based on a young adult novel of the same name, was overall a great success for teens and adults alike.  The storyline was well thought out, and there were some great explorations of individual characters and emotions, while also connecting it to the action and suspense of the maze itself.  The opening of the film was fantastic, with the audience literally being brought right into the action along with our main protagonist.  The scenes in the maze were exciting and visually appealing.  And as the story broadened out and we started to learn more, at the same time as our characters, it became a much more complex and overarching series of events then we expected, which was a testament to the fine writing, as it allowed to come along for the exciting and suspenseful ride alongside the characters.  The young, diverse cast did a great job for the most part. In addition, the directing and set production both in and out of the maze did a great job translating a dark and foreboding storyline.  Although two small complaints were the lack of action in some places (more time in the maze would have been nice!) and the somewhat repetitive scenes that became reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, this movie was still an enjoyable, fun, intriguing story.  It was somewhat unique in young adult films that have come to the screen lately, and the acting, writing, and action sequences were well executed.  The film made you interested in seeing a likely sequel, which is always a good sign!

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Musical Review – Wicked — September 21, 2014

Musical Review – Wicked

Musical Review – Wicked

Facts: This review is  based on the Broadway musical that played at Centennial Concert Hall in August 2014 in Winnipeg.

Musical Synopsis: Based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, this musical follows the life, times, inter-relationships, viewpoints, and decisions of Elphaba (later known as the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda (later known as Glinda the Good Witch).  The musical tells us the “unknown story” behind the Wizard of Oz, and allows us into the details of Oz politics, sorcery, relations between different people and also with animals in Oz.  We see that things are not black and white, but that shades of grey must be considered when reviewing people or judging historical events.

Musical Review: This was my third time seeing the Wicked musical, and it seems to get better and better with each viewing!  The show was absolutely flawless from a technical point of view.  The music, the timing, the costumes, and the visual effects were fantastic.  Furthermore, the cast of characters was absolutely fabulous in their portrayals of these dynamic, complex characters.  From Elphaba and Glinda, right down to the Wizard, Madame Morrible, and other characters, the cast had clear chemistry between them, and delivered wonderful performances.  In particular, the singing prowess of the two leads through songs like Defying Gravity and For Good were particularly memorable and received standing ovations.  And of course this is all thanks to a genius author in Gregory Maguire and the music and lyrics from Steven Schwartz, who have provided us an environment of fantasy to enjoy and explore, being entertained with laughter, and being brought to tears.  Topics in the Oz environment definitely relate back to our own world, from race relations and discrimination, to religious views, to persecution of people who have different skills or abilities or viewpoints, to the tension behind power and those who seek it.  There are some differences, particular in the conclusion, between the novel and the musical, but both have their places and work well.  This is a fantastic musical, and worth seeing more than once!

Movie Review – Along Came a Spider (2001) —

Movie Review – Along Came a Spider (2001)

Movie Review – Along Came a Spider (2001)

Movie Synopsis:

Detective Alex Cross, expert profiler, is at home recuperating from the emotional stress of losing his partner in a sting operation gone bad.  But he is called into action again when a dangerous mastermind kidnaps a Senator’s daughter from her school.  Cross teams up with a Secret Service Agent who was responsible for the young girl, and the two of them go on an investigative journey, battling against time, and trying to uncover the true motive behind the crime.

Movie Review:

This was a great crime thriller of a film starring the expert Morgan Freeman, who plays the title role brilliantly.  There are a few scenes of Cross in his family life dealing with the stress of losing his former partner, and Freeman plays these scenes with an interesting light, showing complexity and emotion yet also a firm poise.  Yet the writers have wisely chosen to limit these scenes, and get into the action right away, and Freeman does a great job showing us the quiet confidence, internal intelligence, and methodical nature of Detective Alex Cross.  Freeman brings this character to life very nicely.  Furthermore, his counterpart, Secret Service Agent Jezzie Flanagan, is played by Monica Potter, who does a nice job showing vulnerability yet also strength.  Although the majority of the cast is not nearly as strong as Freeman, the film’s focus on this main character in particular still allows this film to work well.  Furthermore, the film focuses on the storyline of the missing girl, and we are along for the ride as pieces slowly come together.  It is a complex web of puzzle pieces, and the writers have done a nice job of creating a complex plot, and trusting Freeman to bring the story to life through his character.  The result is an enjoyable and thoughtful crime thriller, with a few twists and turns in it that allow you to be surprised more than once.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Into the Storm (2014) —

Movie Review – Into the Storm (2014)

Movie Review – Into the Storm (2014)

Movie Synopsis:

A team of storm chasers is looking to be the first ones to capture images and data inside a tornado itself, but the group finds it difficult in a busy storm season to be at the right place at the right time.  Meanwhile, a huge F5 system descends on the quiet town of Silverton, and a number of residents are impacted and have to react to some dangerous circumstances.

Movie Review:

This film was obviously yet another in the long history of disaster and tornado movies that have been made in the past decade or two, and in many ways this film reminded me of a cross between Twister and Deep Impact, which was the film from 1998 about a comet careening towards earth.  The connections with Twister are obvious, however what reminded me about Deep Impact was that this film had a cast of characters in different sub-plots, and then showed them coming together in different permutations later in the film.  Another connection with Deep Impact is that Into the Storm starts very slow, focuses on relationships between characters, and then eventually picks up speed much later in the film.  Furthermore, failures of Deep Impact and Into the Storm are quite similar: the slow introduction into the action that is underpinning the point of the film means viewers become impatient, waiting and waiting for the energy and high action they have been promised in the previews.  The acting and writing suffered in Into the Storm as well, which led to a slow beginning that felt even slower.  That being said, the latter third of the movie did get much more exciting, and although some of the conclusion was predictable, it was still interesting to see the development and stabilization of relationships, and enjoyable to watch the action sequences of the large tornadoes.

Overall: 2.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan —

Book Review – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

Book Review – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

Facts:

▪   Book: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

▪   Author: Robin Sloan

▪   Genre: Fantasy / Modern Literature

▪   Year of Release: 2012

▪   Read 288-page paperback edition in August 2014.

Book Description:

Clay Jannon is a recently laid off web designer in San Francisco, and in the post-recession world, there is not a lot of jobs in his line of work at the moment.  In order to pay the bills, he takes a job at a bizarre bookstore, working for the mysterious Mr. Penumbra.  In working the night shift at a 24-hour bookstore that usually only sees few clientele, and repeat, intriguing clients at that, Clay begins to wonder what is really going on with Mr. Penumbra and his bookstore.  Thus begins a tale of intrigue, mystery, adventure, and discovery, as Clay works to discover the secrets around him.

Book Review:

This novel was a fun and enjoyable summer read, definitely an easy novel to pick up, get into, and enjoy.  The characters were fascinating, and although some of the supporting cast were in some ways one-dimensional or caricatures, the main cast of Mr. Penumbra, Clay, and Clay’s love interest Kat were dynamic, multi-faceted, intriguing characters that we cared about and wanted to learn more about.  Author Robin Sloan did a great job describing the mystery surrounding the bookstore environment, creating an environment of magic in a modern day world.  His ability to describe fantasy and magic and at the same time describe scenes around modern day San Francisco and New York City made for an enjoyable novel, where we felt we were in the setting with these interesting characters.  Sloan also did a nice job incorporating a lot of humour into the novel, and keeping the novel light made sense.  The plot itself, and the ever expanding scope of the fantastical tale around us, was well executed, and kept the reader interested right to the end.  The discoveries made by Clay at the end of the novel were just right.  The themes of technology versus tradition were well explored by the author, and made the reader think of living in the new digital world.  In summary, this was an enjoyable, fun novel, one definitely worth reading.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.