MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith — November 29, 2015

Book Review – Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith

Book Review – Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith

careerofevil

Facts:

  •    Book: Career of Evil
  •    Author: Robert Galbraith
  •    Genre: Mystery
  •    Year of Release: 2015
  •    Read 499-page hardcover edition in November 2015.

Book Description:

In the third novel of the series by Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling), Detective Cormoran Strike and his able assistant Robin Ellacott are continuing to work together to build Strike’s detective agency.  However, when a mysterious package addressed to Robin arrives containing a horrific item inside, the two must work together to determine who is attempting to ruin the agency, and potentially harm Robin.  There are several suspects from Strike’s past, all of whom are dangerous.  As the risk and danger increases, Robin is also dealing with her mixed feelings around her upcoming marriage to Matthew.

Book Review:

In the third novel of the Strike detective series, author Galbraith (Rowling) is really hitting a great stride here, with this novel possibly being the best one so far in the series.

With fully developed characters that hit the ground running from page one, we are brought into some action and drama from the very introductory pages.  Robin and Strike are both intriguing, complicated characters, with great back stories that continue to develop as they interact with each other and with other returning characters.  Also, watching their chemistry together, and their mutual frustrations and difficulty in communicating with each other, can be both humorous and torturous at the same time.  (Sometimes their poor communication is almost too convenient to keep the suspense of the plot going, but on the other hand, perhaps it’s a good example of how people really do have issues when it comes to communicating how they’re really feeling with people they care about.)

The action in this novel is gripping, and the subject matter is raw, intense, and disturbing at times.  The ability of the author to keep us guessing until the end as to which of the multiple suspects is the true culprit is well-played.  The last third of the book becomes a real page turner, as we want to discover who is involved and who is responsible in the disturbing crimes being investigated by Robin and Strike.

Furthermore, the novel does a nice job of balancing the main plot, that of the detective work, with sub-plots around Strike’s relationship and Robin’s upcoming marriage, along with their feelings and emotions in their personal lives.  This balance creates a nicely balanced and rich novel.

Overall, this latest Cormoran Strike novel is probably the best one so far, and the conclusion leaves the reader truly looking forward to the next book in the series.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

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Movie Review – Pride (2014) — November 24, 2015

Movie Review – Pride (2014)

Movie Review – Pride (2014)

pride

Movie Synopsis:

In this film, based on a true story, a group of young gay and lesbian activists who are fighting for equality decide to head out for rural England and support striking miners by raising funds and letting people know about their cause. However, they encounter difficulty when some people in the mining town do not appreciate the support of people who are so different and so outside the mainstream.

Movie Review:

This was a fantastic British film, equal parts lively comedy and emotional drama.

The film was a great way to learn more about early gay and lesbian rights in 1984 England, and also learn more about the time during Margaret Thatcher’s era when miners were on a bitter strike across the country for almost one year.   The writers did a wonderful job weaving in the historical facts combined with more personal elements that may have been more loosely based on fact.

The film included real life stories of real life characters, and they were brought to the screen by an amazing collection of actors young and old. The ensemble cast was fantastic, and helped create an electric feel to the story that was educational, fun, and moving.

This was an emotionally powerful movie. There were sharp points when people said some pretty nasty things about lgbt people, and yet it’s all part of the historical reality when it comes to the evolution of lgbt rights. It is important we learn from stories such as these, and when we can see how lgbt rights fit into other groups and their rights as well.

Overall, this was a funny, thoughtful, and touching story, and can be enjoyed by a variety of audiences.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro — November 19, 2015

Book Review – The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

Book Review – The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

the-buried-giant

Facts:

  •    Book: The Buried Giant
  •    Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
  •    Genre: Fantasy
  •    Year of Release: 2015
  •    Read 345-page hardcover edition in November 2015.

Book Description:

The Romans have left Britain, and the island is falling into a dreamy, disorderly state. Saxons and Britains live together, but there is something unstable about the uneasy peace on the island. In this mystical setting, elderly couple Axl and Beatrice decide to leave their home village and set off on a long-delayed journey to find their son, whom they have not seen for many years. However, as the journey occurs, they realize that in addition to the dangers of ogres, pixies, dragons, and people on the path, there is also the danger of forgotten memories and questions about their relationship, which may be uncovered when they arrive at their destination.

Book Review:

This was a fascinating and complex novel by renowned author Kazuo Ishiguro, a British author who was born in Japan and who is entering new fantasy genre territory with his first new novel in ten years. Ishiguro has done an amazing job interweaving some complex characters, settings, and plot points into a unique tale.

The principal characters of Axl and Beatrice are interesting. They have a complex past together, and the suspense of the book is to understand what that is, and explore it with them, since they are having memory issues and troubles in the story. Although sometimes this causes their dialogue with each other to become quite repetitive, that is only a minor problem, given the confusion and suspense that we feel as readers, wanting to learn more about them and their relationship. Exploring their love for each other despite learning slowly about some of the confusions and challenges of their past feels very real-life, despite the story taking place many centuries ago. Ishiguro does succeed in making us care for this confusing but loving couple.

In addition, the themes of death, decay, and darkness are explored in the book, in this old land which contains many fantastical creatures and elements. The exploration of what happens after death and how we face death are done through a central metaphor of an island, and Ishiguro does a great job providing us with thoughts on this.

The novel has a very melancholy, dark tone and feel to it. The the main characters of Axl and Beatrice, as well as the storylines and interplay with the 3 other supporting characters in the novel, all play into these themes, creating a stark picture. Ishiguro does a great job describing the scenes to us, and the novel is a fast read as the reader can feel part of the scenes and part of the action.

The journey that Axl and Beatrice go on is one that is interesting, complicated, and includes thoughtful elements of contemplation, coupled with action sequences. The conclusion of the novel is shocking and surprising, and stays with the reader for a long time afterward. When an author creates this lasting impression after the novel is done, then you know it is a novel well worth reading.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon — November 18, 2015

Book Review – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

Book Review – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

curious-incident

Facts:

  •    Book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
  •    Author: Mark Haddon
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2004
  •    Read 226-page paperback edition in October 2015.

Book Description:

This novel delves into the mindset of Christopher Boone, a 15 year-old with amazing talent and gifts in areas like math and science, but with very limited understanding of certain social skills and social cues, including the ability to develop strong relationships. He is somewhere on the autism spectrum, and his various personality quirks and issues often frustrate his father who is taking care of him. When the neighbour’s dog is strangely murdered by a garden fork in the yard, Christopher decides to get involved and become a detective, even though his dad tells him to mind his own business. What follows in the investigation is an amazing story about how Christopher learns, how he thinks, and also how he must cope with shocking truths, and how the people around him must learn and adapt as well.

Book Review:

 

This novel by first-time novelist Mark Haddon is an amazing and fantastic adventure into the mind of someone who is somewhere on the autism spectrum.

We see the entire story play out through Christopher’s eyes. It is amazing to see how Christopher’s math-attuned mind is able to find specific detail that most of us would not see, or compute numbers and see patterns. At the same time, it is interesting as a reader to see how Christopher can’t make sense of certain comments made by the adults around him, and for us as readers, to understand the comments, but to see the frustration through Christopher’s eyes. The author’s decision to have the narrator be Christopher 100% of the time was a great one, and created a strong sense of empathy, understanding, and education for the reader.

The storyline itself is an enjoyable and creative one. The structure of a murder mystery which turns into quite an adventure was well written. The story becomes fairly fast moving, and the book itself is a quick read. Although some elements of the plot may be slightly unbelievable and/or overly convenient at times, as a whole it is a great story, which touches on adventure and emotional drama in equal measure.

The characters in the story are almost all shades of grey. Nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes and has issues about them. This speaks to real life and is testament to Haddon’s attempt to write a real story about real people.

In summary, this was a very enjoyable, insightful, and eye-opening book, well worth the read.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Elysium (2013) — November 17, 2015

Movie Review – Elysium (2013)

Movie Review – Elysium (2013)

elysium

Movie Synopsis:

In 2154, humanity has been separated into two distinct groups.  The super rich, who live in splendour and luxury in the space station Elysium orbiting earth, and the larger population of people who live with little resources in a polluted, crime-ridden world on earth.  When reformed criminal turned factory worker Max is affected by a radiation poisoning, he decided to take on a goal of reaching the spaceship above to try and find a cure for  himself and by extension to help others on earth.  However, every attempt by the forces of the orbiting spaceship will be made to stop him, led by the Secretary Delacourt.

Movie Review:

This science fiction film was very much one of the action-adventure variety, with a number of high intensity scenes, and great special effects.  The plot was fast moving and exciting.  The 109 minute film felt like it flew by, with a lot going on in the space station Elysium and on earth itself.  The visuals and cinematography were well done, with the bleakness of earth and the beauty of space and Elysium an interesting counterpoint.

Actors Matt Damon and Jodie Foster did an excellent job in their respective good and bad roles, and they definitely made the film more enjoyable for their presence.

What took away from making this film better was the lack of character development (in favour of more emphasis on the action), and also a lack of detail and illogical elements in the plot.  There were some scenes that just didn’t make sense, and that the storyline just didn’t explain well enough to the viewer.  For example, Jodie Foster as the defence secretary on Elysium is able to throw the elected President off the command centre in an emergency, which seemed strange and unrealistic at best.  There were a few points in the plot where things happened that were a little unbelievable, but were used simply to conveniently advance the story forward.

These frustrating issues aside, overall this is a fun science fiction film with a lot of energy and excitement.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Ex Machina (2015) —

Movie Review – Ex Machina (2015)

Movie Review – Ex Machina (2015)

ex_machina

Movie Synopsis:

Computer programmer Caleb wins a company contest for Bluebook, the technology empire he works for, and is flown to the owner Nathan’s vast residence in the middle of an evergreen, mountainous paradise.  When there, he is told he is being given a special one-week assignment.  The job is to conduct a Turing test on a robot that has been created by Nathan.  This robot may be self-aware, the ultimate achievement and the sign of true artificial intelligence.  As Caleb begins to administer the Turing test, getting to know the machine Ava, he starts to identify some major concerns around him in this isolated environment.  Tensions mount as things are not what they appear to be, and as Caleb begins to develop feelings for Ava.

Movie Review:

This British science fiction film is a complex, insightful piece, which for its slower pace still succeeds in gripping the viewer.  There are only several characters in the entire film, and the cinematography is beautiful, futuristic, and minimalistic at times.  The visuals help add to the thoughtful nature of the script.

The storyline is fresh and unique, and has number of complicated ideas that we as viewers are given time and space to explore.  What are our thoughts about machines and robots with consciousness?  Will they usurp humankind in the future?  Where is humankind going?  These are the ideas that this film sparks, and Director / Writer Alex Garland has done a nice job raising the questions but not getting too preachy, allowing viewers to think about the answers as well.

The acting in the film is fairly good, and the film does often focus on character development and story development as opposed to a lot of action scenes.  While the 1 hour 40 minute film does sometimes feel a bit slow and dragged out, overall the slower pacing does work to create a suspenseful, interesting sci-fi story.

The conclusion, without giving away any spoilers, has more than one shocking twist that will leave viewers likely surprised and probably thinking about the themes and ideas raised.  When this occurs, you know the film is successful.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – The Search for General Tso (2014) — November 15, 2015

Movie Review – The Search for General Tso (2014)

Movie Review – The Search for General Tso (2014)

tso

Movie Synopsis:

This documentary looks at the meaning and history behind the popular General Tso’s chicken dish, so common today in Americanized Chinese restaurants.  The documentary looks into who General Tso was, the history and experience of Chinese immigrants coming to America and starting up restaurants, and how the General Tso chicken dish was developed and became such a staggering success.

Movie Review:

This was a fascinating and informative work looking into something in more detail that the viewer may have taken for granted in the past, or may have wondered about vaguely but never had time to research.  Just what is this General Tso Chicken dish all about anyways?

The documentary did a good job of covering history and providing a great context into how Chinese food came to become such a staple in America, and further how decisions were made to “Americanize” the dishes to appeal to people in the United States.

Another nice aspect was the usage of graphics, cartoons, and pictures in addition to footage, to create a real sense of style and zest to the work.  The documentary felt fresh and enjoyable to watch.

The interviews of the various people in the film were also very enlightening, as we could hear some immigration stories and entrepreneurial stories from the Chinese restaurant owners themselves, and the next generation as well.

Two slight issues to the overall documentary.  Firstly, at the conclusion, I somehow got a sense that the entire story didn’t get fully wrapped up and tied together, and that the various components and sections of the documentary felt a little too loosely connected.  Ideally, it would have felt more a cohesive package.  Secondly, although the piece did a great job covering a range of relevant topics, I somehow got the sense that some sections o some topics did not get the full treatment of exploration that they should have received.  For example, the differences in America between Americanized Chinese food and more authentic Chinese food, and how these lead to different outcomes in terms of customer base, financial results, etc., and what this says about culture, food diversity, etc.

Overall however, this was a very intriguing topic, and one can feel at the conclusion that they have learned something that can be shared with others.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.