MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Movie Review – Oblivion (2013) — December 31, 2015

Movie Review – Oblivion (2013)

Movie Review – Oblivion (2013)

oblivion

Movie Synopsis:

In the future, after an alien race called the Scavs has devastated most of Earth before being defeated, but due to the destruction, human kind has fled to a moon of Saturn. One of the last remaining human staff members on Earth, a drone repairman, is finishing up his work on security drone repairs, so that the remaining Earth resources can be utilized for the human colony.  But as he approaches the end of his multi-year assignment, he begins to question the purpose of his mission and the wider picture of what is going on.

Movie Review:

An interesting science fiction adventure, this film definitely had great visual effects and cinematography, with great imaginations of bases in the clouds of earth, desert-like former cities, and an oasis of greenery tucked away where nobody was aware of it. The images and effects in the film definitely created one that was fun and enjoyable to watch.

As the story unfolded, it was also nice to see how our main character, played by Tom Cruise, came to understand the various issues and lies that he had been told. Although there were some elements of the script that were classic science fiction, it did feel like there were some problems with the story.

One of the main issues was that other than the main character, a number of secondary characters in the film did not get adequate screen time in which to develop their characters and back stories. It was hard for viewers to really care about Morgan Freeman’s character, for example, when so little time was devoted to us understanding his motivations or experiences.

A second issue with the story was that while it did play off some classic science fiction themes, some of the scenes and sequences did feel a little too reminiscent of prior science fiction films, both recent past and distant past, to the point that it felt a little bit repetitious, as if we had seen pieces of this film before.

Although this was a fun and enjoyable movie to watch, for the reasons above I would suggest it didn’t stand out as something new to the science fiction genre.

Overall: 3 stars out of 5 stars.

Advertisements
Movie Review – The Danish Girl (2015) —

Movie Review – The Danish Girl (2015)

Movie Review – The Danish Girl (2015)

danishgirl

Movie Synopsis:

This drama, based on the lives of Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, revolves around the changing nature of the marriage between these two talented painters in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the early 1900s. The relationship is stretched, challenged, and changed as Lili explores and comes to understand her gender identity and begins her journey as a transgender pioneer in a world that doesn’t understand and is full of transphobia.

Movie Review:

This was a fantastic film that brought to the screen an emotional story focusing in on two characters struggling with different sets of circumstances. Director Tom Hooper does a nice job portraying the emotions of the characters inside the time period of the 1920s and 1930s in Denmark and France.  His ability to bring the art world to life, and showcase the scenery and architecture of the time, particularly of Denmark, brought additional vibrancy and beauty to the film.

Actor Eddie Redmayne does an amazing job portraying Lili, who is coming to understand her gender identity as a woman, and working to live her life with this understanding, despite the many challenges and setbacks she faced. Redmayne does an amazing job bringing forward several poignant and emotional scenes, which allow the viewer to get a glimpse of just how difficult this was for Lili. This kind of film can also be used as a means to bring greater understanding to the diverse transgender community today, and the continued efforts at understanding, acceptance, and equality.

Furthermore, Alicia Vikander does an impressive job playing Lili’s wife Gerda, and we see equally powerful scenes where Vikander is trying to understand what Lili’s transition and identity means for the person she loves, and what it means for her marriage as well.

Both Redmayne and Vikander have great chemistry together and do a wonderful job bringing this passionate and emotional story to life.

The only issue that this drama suffers from is that it sometimes feels slightly lengthy in duration, with some sections feeling a little too stretched out. Other than that however, this is a great film and one that is sure to generate discussion and further awareness.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

2015 in review —
Movie Review – Learning to Drive (2014) — December 27, 2015

Movie Review – Learning to Drive (2014)

Movie Review – Learning to Drive (2014)

learningtodrive

Movie Synopsis:

When a woman from New York faces a long-term marriage that is falling apart, she decides one of the many changes she is going to have to embrace is the need to learn how to drive a car for the first time.  She meets a Sikh immigrant from India who is her driving instructor, but teaches her much more about how to move forward with her life.  At the same time, he to is going through challenges in his own life, and we see the two navigate their stories and draw closer together.

Movie Review:

This was an interesting Canadian film, which felt very fresh and unique in the storyline and plot.  There were a variety of themes showcased in the film, including relationship challenges, immigration issues, racial tensions, and the impacts of stereotypes the majority has against minority groups.  The writing in the film does a good job of bringing this range of issues together.  Further, the film illustrates how they impact people, sometimes in a powerful way.  For example, the scenes when outright racism occurs is eye opening and jarring, and sadly all too real. The importance of bringing these issues to the screen, and combining them with other themes and elements in the story, was one of the successes of this film.

The acting in the film from the two principal actors is also strong, particularly from Ben Kingsley, who displays a great range of emotion as Darwan, who is working two full-time jobs and struggling with his own relationship pressures.  Patricia Clarkson does a nice job playing Wendy, whose marriage is breaking down and who is facing a lot of change in her life.  Sometimes the scenes with her and her daughter or ex-husband feel a little strained and not fully realized on the screen, but her scenes with Kingsley are excellent.

Overall, this is an enjoyable film and a thought provoking one on many levels and for many reasons.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) —

Movie Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Movie Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

starwars

Movie Synopsis:

It has been 30 years since the evil Galactic Empire was defeated by the resistance.  However. the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire, and have created a vast range of weaponry and soldiers prepared to take over the galaxy.  The resistance scrambles to try and face this rising threat, with new players and old heroes coming together to battle the new enemy.

Movie Review:

Episode VII of the Star Wars universe was launched to huge fanfare, after much speculation and hype.  Given this excitement, it was definitely a film that was facing high expectations.  Overall, the film did a great job of meeting those expectations for the most part.

The film is a huge improvement on the Episodes I-III that were launched 15 years ago.  Those films utilized technology of the day to create amazing action sequences and visuals, but had poor scripts which hampered the stories being told and the actors abilities to deliver solid performances.  The Force Awakens has a great script, with solid storylines and well thought out characters with interesting, diverse backgrounds.  The writers also did a great job of combining our old favourite characters from Episodes IV-VI with new characters that we can learn about and grow with in this new trilogy.

The acting in this film is excellent, with actors in all the main characters delivering solid performances that makes us care about the characters.  Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher do a wonderful job reprising their characters, and creating excitement, comedy, drama, romance, and mystery in their scenes.  Actors new to the Star Wars universe, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Adam Driver also do a nice job bringing their multi-faceted, diverse characters to life.

The action sequences, space visuals, and special effects are top notch in the film, and Director J.J. Abrams and his team have done a wonderful job bringing this film to life.  Scenes in the introduction such as on the planet X are beautiful and add vibrancy to the movie.  There are also some elements of comedy splashed amongst the firefights and intense scenes that help create a multi-dimensional movie experience.

The one thing that really takes away from making this film perfect is that in large part the storyline did often feel repetitive to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.  Many elements of the storyline were very familiar to us from that first Star Wars movie of many decades ago.  From droids with secret information inside them that are being chased by stormtroopers, to a young jedi abandoned and alone on a desert planet, to a fight against a large “death star” that can kill entire planets, there were many examples of plot points in this film that felt recycled from the first Star Wars movie of long ago.  Perhaps this will be more fully explained later in the trilogy, but at this juncture it did feel like the screenwriters recycled a little bit too much from previous stories and movies, and did not create new material where it could have been done.

That being said, this film succeeds in large part.  The film overall is a visual feast, with great acting, exciting developments, and a great return to the Star Wars universe that we love so much.  It creates great suspense for the next film in this new trilogy!

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) — December 21, 2015

Movie Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Movie Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

kingsman

Movie Synopsis:

It is a dangerous time, with a psychopathic terrorist prepared to destroy the entire planet in order to preserve only a portion of the population who are deemed worthy to repopulate a new earth.  A secret spy organization, not belonging to any government but rather independent, is aware of this dangerous man, and is trying to stop him.  However, his ability to remain illusive with his planning and weaponry makes it difficult to stop him.  The spy agency is also determining which new young folks to recruit from in order to continue fighting evil such as this, and a troubled young boy from England is rising to the top despite his past.

Movie Review:

This film definitely had many things going on.  It was firstly an action / adventure / spy thriller, having spy elements of Bond, action films like Mission Impossible, and even stylistic violent sequences reminiscent of Kill Bill or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

In addition, the film had many moments of comedy and jocularity fused within, almost in the spirit of Guardians of the Galaxy, but in a more earth-bound approach as opposed to traveling to other planets.

Unfortunately, when bringing all this together, sometimes the film felt a little confused or forced together in parts.  The various themes and ideas didn’t always fuse together nicely, and it felt choppy and unclear in portions.

I think the film was going for an overall comedy feel to it, and many times that is what it was.  But there were vast tracks without much humour, focusing instead on action and thriller plot lines, and therefore when it returned to the comedy and hilarity of the plot as a whole, it sometimes felt unnatural.

There were some great acting performances in the film, from the likes of Colin Firth and Samuel L Jackson, and the film definitely had its moments, but too often it was simply trying to be too many things all at the same time, and therefore it came up short.

 

Overall: 2.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Spotlight (2015) —

Movie Review – Spotlight (2015)

Movie Review – Spotlight (2015)

spotlight

Movie Synopsis:

In this film, based on true events, we watch the hard working and dedicated staff of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight magazine research and uncover the scandals of child molestation in the Catholic church.  What they first believe is a scandal involving a smaller number of priests and a cover up within leadership circles ends up ballooning into a global scandal with shocking impacts on a huge number of victims.

Movie Review:

This intense drama, which felt like a documentary at times, was an absolutely incredible and timely success.

This story of how journalists worked tirelessly against secrecy and coverups to expose the disgusting reality of child abuse from within the Catholic church was truly intense.  Writers Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, who also directed the film, do a wonderful job creating an analytical and biting film that is over 2 hours long but feels like it zooms along at a healthy speed.  They do a great job bringing together the overall plot of how the Boston Globe staff worked to expose the truth, but at the same time spending time building character backstories for the principle reporters.

Commentary on the church structure and on the city of Boston is also explained nicely in the film, so viewers get a sense of the context the reporters were working within.  This is a large story, and the clarity brought to it by the writers in this film provides a quality result to the viewer.

Acting in the film is top notch, with Mark Ruffalo delivering an exceptional and passionate performance as reporter Mike Rezendes.  Other acting performances by Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and others help create an exceptional film.

This was an important news story, and this film brings it home in every way, so that we can see the intense working world these reporters lived within, and the dedicated effort they put in which uncovered the ugly truth that had to be revealed.

Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker —

Book Review – The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker

Book Review – The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker

golemjinni

Facts:

  •    Book: The Golem and the Jinni
  •    Author: Helene Wecker
  •    Genre: Fantasy
  •    Year of Release: 2013
  •    Read 486-page hardcover edition in December 2015.

Book Description:

In her debut novel, author Helene Wecker weaves together Arab and Jewish mythology, bringing together a young Golem and an ancient Jinni in 1899 New York City.  The Golem Chava is trying to make sense of herself in the world, satisfying curiosity while at the same time being careful and cautious.  The Jinni Ahmad is living on the edge, trying to find excitement and outlets for his great energy.  When the two meet by chance, they begin a series of dynamic encounters, learning more about each other and about the world they inhabit.  However, a dangerous man from afar, who is not what he appears, means they both have more in common then they realize.

Book Review:

As 2015 comes to a close, I can say this novel was truly one of the best books I read this year!  Helene Wecker has written an amazing debut novel, one which is entertaining, emotional, raw, and thoughtful.

The novel has a perfect balance of plot/action and character development. Particularly in the first half of the novel, Wecker provides in-depth character analysis and development, helping us to understand the feelings and thoughts of the main and secondary characters we encounter.  This ensures we as the reader actually care about the intense plot twists and dangerous sequences that follow later on in the novel.  Wecker makes us invest in these characters so we care about what is happening, and the result is effective.

The main characters of Chava and Ahmad start off with their own introductions and their own stories of how they come to New York, their own character traits, but eventually Wecker weaves the two together into their own chapters as they meet each other and spend time together.  It is amazing how this is done, and how seamless the transition is.  Chava and Ahmad are very different in many ways, yet they are similar in other ways as well, and it is enjoyable for the reader to learn more about the two main characters.

At the same time, we learn a lot about the main antagonist in the novel as we read on, and we also see how Chava and Ahmad relate to the variety of secondary characters in the novel, from Little Syria and Jewish neighbourhoods in New York City circa 1899.  Wecker does a masterful job of filling in the details of these characters so we understand their motivations and feelings as well, and then Wecker does a great job bringing the various characters together and bringing the entire story together into one powerful and intense narrative towards the conclusion.

The conclusion of the novel is intense, filled with suspense, action, sacrifice, surprise, and more than one twist.  Wecker has done a lot in the novel to set things up, and there is a great pay off in the conclusion of the novel, which is well structured and well written.

Finally, Wecker has well-researched New York 1899 for this novel, and has infused elements of Jewish mythology and custom, as well as Arabic mythology and Syrian culture, into this novel.  She has written in such a way that this all blends together, and creates a beautiful and unique tapestry for a historical fantasy novel.

Overall, this is a highly recommended novel, and was extremely enjoyable!  Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars.