MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Movie Review – Leviathan (2014) — March 7, 2015

Movie Review – Leviathan (2014)

Movie Review – Leviathan (2014)


Movie Synopsis:

In this Russian film, blue collar man Kolya and his family are faced with the difficult situation of being expropriated off their land and removed from their home, at the hands of a sleazy, corrupt mayor.  While Kolya and his friend, a lawyer from Moscow, try to find ways to stay the expropriation order, they realize they are up against all the powers of the state and the Orthodox Church, who are corrupt and in the mayor’s pockets.  Kolya descends into despair, as he loses his temper and finds more and more trouble, as events slip further out of his control, in this critique of the power of Russian government.

Movie Review:

This Russian film is the winner of many international awards, but ironically it has been criticized by the Russian Ministry of Culture after they provided funding to the film.  It is truly ironic a film criticizing the State is now being criticized by the State!

In any event, the overall film itself is a very interesting story in the current state of affairs in Russia.  The government, from the Mayor’s Office to the police forces to the court system to the Church itself, seems very corrupt, and is a good picture of where Russia currently exists in 2014.  The critical analysis done by Director Andrey Zvyagintsev is important and shines a light on problems in the country today.  In addition, social concerns in the country related to alcoholism, healthy relationships and domestic abuse, and hopelessness are also explored to varying degrees.

The character development is a little bit less focused than the larger theme exploration that the director and writers focus on.  The main character Kolya is fairly well fleshed out, and we see some interesting parallels begin to emerge between him and the prophet Job from the Old Testament.  It is interesting to watch Kolya flare from one scene to another, as the bad luck and problems mount, and we see how he reacts.  Although we get to know Kolya and a couple of other characters, many of them have important roles but with details of their characters left unexplained.  It was hard to fully grasp their emotional states and what they were thinking when we didn’t have as much backstory as we would like.  That being said, when there are scenes that centre around characters and their daily life in northern, rural, coastal Russia, some of these are the most interesting.

And that brings us to the cinematography, which is beautiful and haunting.  The shots of northern Russia, rural Russian landscape, with its dark, barren grasses and cold snowfalls, are eerie and so effective when looking at the bleak storyline.  The film excels at merging the dark story of Kolya with the scenes of the landscape and ocean.

One final point to make is that although the film opens and ends with powerful classical musical numbers that are scored perfectly to the storyline, it is unfortunate the film is absent of a score most of the time. Additional attention to the scoring may have provided a more rounded film.

That being said, although the film had some flaws from my point of view, it was still an interesting analysis of Russia in 2014, and definitely worth watching.

Overall: 3 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell —

Book Review – The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell

Book Review – The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell



  •    Book: The Sparrow
  •    Author: Mary Doria Russell
  •    Genre: Speculative Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 1996
  •    Read 408-page paperback edition in February 2015.

Book Description:

Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest from Puerto Rico, has a unique talent for building relationships and reflecting his faith to a diverse and poor populace around him.  He has built a mission with a unique blend of people around him.  However, when a friend and astronomer finds evidence of life on a planet in Alpha Centauri, Father Sandoz takes it upon himself to put together a new mission, one that will see a mix of Jesuit priests and technical crew come together to reach out to find the alien life and make first contact.  What this mix of Christians, agnostics, and atheists find on their journey is amazing, powerful, and life-shattering.

Book Review:

Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, this 1996 novel, was structured in a dynamic way by scientist-turned-author Mary Doria Russell.  She alternates from the actual mission dates of the 2020s with the “looking back” and examination period of the 2060s.  These two time periods slowly start to meld together, as we see the people from the 2060s trying to make sense of what happened, and we as the reader start to see more and more of what the characters were thinking in the 2020s when the mission was actually happening.

Overall, Russell has done an excellent job creating a cast of characters who are on the mission together.  They don’t all get along all the time, but they become a team and a family.  Russell provides us with great detail to enable us to bond and connect with the majority of her main cast, and we come to really care about what is happening to them.  The novel becomes extremely powerful as we proceed through it, given Russell has fully developed some dynamic, fascinating characters.

The storyline is also written in a way that provides for a speculative fiction / science fiction tale to be told in a unique way.  Russell takes fairly popular topics for this genre of novel, such as poverty issues and overpopulation of earth in the near future, and first contact with an alien species, and she develops these topics into very unique, new ways.  She utilizes her unique scientific educational background to create an interesting story, and then she combines that with religious overtones and conversations.  The result is a powerful story, with powerful characters.

Russell isn’t afraid to tell a dark story, and we have a combination of happy, amazing times, coupled with horrific, dark realities and results.  Overall, this was an excellent novel, and it really brings the reader into a powerful tale that leaves one thinking long after the last page is turned.

Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin — March 2, 2015

Book Review – Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin

Book Review – Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin



  •    Book: Tales of the  City
  •    Author: Armistead Maupin
  •    Genre: Modern Literature
  •    Year of Release: 1978
  •    Read 371-page paperback edition in January 2015.

Book Description:

This novel centres around the residents of 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco of the late 1970s.  A diverse mix of people dominates the tales, which are written in a snippet of short chapters that originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.  We see this diverse group of people come in and out of each others lives in unique times, spaces, and ways.

Book Review:

Overall, I thought this novel was a very enjoyable read, very easy to get into the spirit of life exploration of the many different characters.  The novel was also a very quick read, and it was easy to get interested in what people were doing, and keep reading, wanting to know what happens next.  Because it was originally written as a serial for the newspaper, the chapters are short, manageable chunks, and the novel becomes a quick read.  The serial feeling of the novel creates excitement and enjoyment as we read on to see what happens next for this array of people.  Although the serial approach is a good one, the downside is that we don’t get into too much detail on many of the characters, and it often feels we are just skimming the surface of what may be going on with many of the characters.  On that note, Maupin does a good job of capturing some of the characters feelings and emotions, but some characters have more of a priority and focus, so we gain more understanding from them then we do from some of the other characters.

Maupin does do a great job of capturing the way life was in San Francisco in the 1970s, with the drugs, acceptance of lgbt people not found in many other places, and the attitudes of sexual openness of the time period, both in straight and lgbt communities.

Overall, this was an interesting, fun, and fast read.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

Movie Review – Tracks (2013) —

Movie Review – Tracks (2013)

Movie Review –Tracks (2013)


Movie Synopsis:

In this Australian film, based on true events from the mid-late 1970s, we follow the adventures of a young woman named Robyn, who decides to travel without other humans across the Australian desert, 1700 miles, with 4 camels that she must train and with her loving dog.  It takes Robyn a long time in remote central Australian to gather the resources to prepare for her trek, and acquire and train the camels, but when she is ready to go, her adventure becomes something much larger than she could have possibly realized.

Movie Review:

This was a fascinating adventure-drama, and it was truly successful on many levels.  Firstly, the main character of Robyn was played to perfection by actor Mia Wasikowska.  She is able to beautifully express so many of Robyn’s feelings and inner fears, which are based on some complex life experiences.  This film is all about using less words and more visuals to tell the story.  This makes sense, given the purpose of Robyn’s adventure was in large part a way for her to get away from people, and be alone with herself.  Wasikowska’s talent in this role, which often consisted of nuanced emotions communicated to the audience with less verbal dialogue than normal, was effective and unique.

Secondly, the film’s score is absolutely beautiful.  The music flows perfectly with the characters’ tales and more importantly with the beautiful cinematography of the movie, as we see small rural towns, desolate plains, grasslands, and sandy deserts.

And this brings us to the third main point, the cinematography.  The visuals in this film, inspired by the photographs of National Geographic photographer Kurt who met up with Robyn several times during the trip, are stunning.  The film’s crew has done an incredible job at putting together beautiful shots of the Australian desert and countryside, and they bring you right into the adventure itself, making you feel you are on this trek with Robyn.  We get up close visuals with the setting, with the land, and with the camels as well, and it truly is a breathtaking movie.  The film focuses not on large amounts of dialogue, but rather on imagery and visualization to bring home a powerful message for the audience.

Some have criticized that the film did move a little bit slowly in parts.  However, this may be a good fit considering this was a movie about camels and deserts, where the trek across the desert took nine months.  It makes sense that it is a slow moving film, consistent with the beautiful soundtrack, cinematography, and storytelling.  Overall, this was a great film, and it made me want to pull out a map of Australia and the National Geographic article from the late 1970s that was written after the real life adventure was over!

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.