MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood — January 31, 2016

Book Review – Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

Book Review – Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

OryxAndCrake

Facts:

  •    Book: Oryx and Crake
  •    Authors: Margaret Atwood
  •    Genre: Speculative Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2003
  •    Read 378-page hardcover edition in January 2016.

Book Description:

In a post-apocalyptic world, Snowman, who was once called Jimmy, is struggling to continue, being possibly the last real human being alive on the earth.  He decides to go back to a science facility he used to work at, to get answers, and see if he can gather supplies but also learn something.  As he goes, he revisits the past years of his life, which show how he somehow ended up at the centre of the disaster that befell the earth and humanity.  This dystopian novel is an exploration of one man’s feelings and emotions, and also a cautionary tale of the future.

Book Review:

This was definitely a fascinating novel from renowned Canadian author Margaret Atwood, and was the first in her MaddAddam trilogy.

Admittedly, the beginning of the novel felt slow, and thankfully the pace and suspense picked up as we went along, creating more enjoyment for the reader.  The style of the novel was also challenging to fully absorb at the beginning, with changing tenses and timelines being told simultaneously.  Again, once you became acclimatized to the style, it became easier and more enjoyable to keep going.

In terms of the storyline itself, this was probably the strongest point of the novel.  The main character Snowman/Jimmy is telling us about both what is going on in the present moment, but also times before the doomsday event, where he lived in a future world similar but different than the one we know today.  But with ongoing advances, risks for humanity also increased, which led to a true, epic disaster.  As the plot unfolds, a variety of themes are presented by Atwood in an interesting and sometimes frightening way.  The use of technology, the use of drugs, the power of big corporations, ongoing disparity and classism, genetic modification, and environmental degradation are all explored in this fascinating novel.  Overall, the exploration of these themes in the novel is fascinating and makes this novel, at its heart, a success.

The main characters of Snowman/Jimmy, Crake, and Oryx are well written, and their intertwined relationships are definitely complicated and therefore fascinating.  At times a little more character development would have been nice, although perhaps knowing less, particularly of Oryx, may actually create more intrigue and mystery for the novel.

In closing, this was perhaps not the best dystopian novel, and perhaps not Margaret Atwood’s best novel, but it is definitely a worthy read with lots of great content by a skilled writer.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – When Marnie Was There (2015) —

Movie Review – When Marnie Was There (2015)

Movie Review – When Marnie Was There (2015)

when-marnie-was-there

Movie Synopsis:

Anna is a girl who feels like she doesn’t fit in with the kids around her, and who is developing pre-teen angst due to a variety of issues.  Her foster parents decide to send her out to the country for time with laid back relatives, hoping the change of scenery and the fresh air of small town life will help.  As Anna explores her immediate surroundings, and thinks about her own life and how she fits into the world, she comes across a girl names Marnie who lives in a run down home across the water.  However, events unfold which question who Marnie is, and how she may be connected to Anna.

Movie Review:

This latest film is yet another fantastic success by the talented team at Studio Ghibli.  From the animation, to the writing of characters and themes, to the direction, everything comes together to create a moving and emotionally powerful film for all ages.

The characters of Anna and Marnie are developed perfectly by the writing team.  The thoughtfulness with which they develop these two characters, and the decision to make these characters complex and imperfect, creates an excellent and relatable set of characters that we care about.  The overall plot and storyline is an interesting combination of light supernatural and ghostly ideas combined with more obvious current day issues affecting young people today, including body image, bullying, and kids in foster care.  Although the story does seem to go a little bit slow in parts, this seems to be a conscious decision to focus more on the thematic elements and take time building suspense and drama, which for the most part works.

As with all Studio Ghibli films, the animation in the film is perfect, creating a visual feast of landscape as well as showing us emotions of the characters.  This film does a great job of showing us that Studio Ghibli does a wonderful job even when there are very few animals or creatures in the story.

The music is beautiful and complements the emotions behind the characters and the plot as it moves forward.

Overall, this is a powerful, moving, and enjoyable film, which one thinks about and reflects on long after the credits scroll through.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – The Forest (2016) — January 17, 2016

Movie Review – The Forest (2016)

Movie Review – The Forest (2016)

forest

Movie Synopsis:

An American woman named Sara urgently travels to Japan to try and locate her missing twin sister, who had been traveling in the mysterious Aokigahara Forest.  The forest is known to be a common place for those contemplating suicide to enter.  And it is said to be a haunting place where dark spirits dwell.  Sara decides she has no choice but to enter, despite warnings against it, and see if she can find her sister, before anything happens to either one of them.

Movie Review:

This horror film, to be truthful, did not have much going for it.  Although there were a few successful scenes that made many in the theatre jump, overall this film was a poor one, with major plot holes, poor acting, convenient plot devices we see in many horror movies that aren’t trying too hard, and very predictable endings.

Furthermore, the attempts at humour by poking fun at Japan through stereotypical commentary were pretty low.

And to top it off, this supposed horror suspense really wasn’t all that scary.

Overall: 1.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Saturn Run – John Sandford and Ctein —

Book Review – Saturn Run – John Sandford and Ctein

Book Review – Saturn Run – John Sandford and Ctein

saturnrun

Facts:

  •    Book: Saturn Run
  •    Authors: John Sandford and Ctein
  •    Genre: Science Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2015
  •    Read 486-page hardcover edition in December 2015.

Book Description:

When Earth picks up evidence of a large spacecraft coming into the solar system and nestling into orbit around Saturn, there is a mad scramble by both America and China to send out separate space missions to see just who is out there, and what risks, or opportunities, might lie in store for their countries, and humanity. We follow the two crews as they work to launch their separate missions, and then head out to Saturn, to investigate this potentially risky, potentially rewarding, situation.

Book Review:

This was an engaging and enjoyable new stand alone novel from John Sandford, who has partnered with photographer and scientist Ctein to bring some strong hard science fiction to the reader. The authors do a great job though of ensuring the science is not overdone and is fairly approachable for most readers.

Although at times it would have been nice to have a little bit more character development in the novel, overall the authors succeed in this front as well. We learn about the personal lives and interactions of several people on the American space vessel, and later the Chinese ship as well.  By extension, what we learn often tells us about the world these people inhabit roughly 50 years from now as well, which is interesting.

The authors do a great job of building in space action, character drama, and international intrigue and politics into a story that increases in suspense over the course of the novel. Interestingly enough, the novel keeps more a focus on the human characters and the international politics on earth as the central focus of the story, rather than the possible aliens on Saturn.  This may be a detracting factor for some readers, but the authors still succeed in delivering a fully developed science fiction novel with action, drama, and suspense.

A couple of small details did frustrate the reader. One, there were several major items in the story that were referenced, but never fully explained to the reader’s satisfaction.  Given the novel is quite large, coming in at just under 500 pages, it seemed unfortunate to have loose threads at the conclusion, or plot points raised earlier in the book and never explored fully later in the story.  Furthermore, the novel’s depiction of the American versus Chinese situation, well exciting and interesting, seemed a little overly simplified at times.  We definitely had this novel told from an American perspective, but it sometimes felt a little bit too Americanized or patriotic in tone.  That being said, if it was being told from the perspective of the American crew, maybe that point makes sense.

Overall, these concerns are minor, and as a whole, this is a fun, suspenseful, exciting science fiction novel, with the write balance of hard science fiction and plot and character development as well.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage — January 5, 2016

Book Review – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Book Review – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami

tsukuru

Facts:

  •    Book: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
  •    Author: Haruki Murakami
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2014
  •    Read 386-page hardcover edition in December 2015.
  •    Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel.

Book Description:

Award-winning novelist Haruki Murakami tells the painful and complicated story of Tsukuru Tazaki, now a 36-year old, introspective, sad, independent person, with few, if any, friendships.  As he goes about his day job in downtown Tokyo, he considers what has brought his life to this point, and recollects the happier memories of high school days, when he and four friends made up a close group of five happy teenagers.  But something shocking and dramatic occurred which led to Tsukuru being cut out from the group.  That something may be unearthed as Tsukuru goes back into his past for understanding, so he can move forward in the present.

Book Review:

This was a complicated novel to review.  On the one hand, there are many positive things to say about it.  On the other hand, a couple of major issues with content in the plot leave it wanting.

Focusing on the many high points of the novel, one was the overall story itself.  For the most part, the author did a fantastic job of creating suspense and intrigue in the beginning, and then heightening the tension as we read through the novel, leading up to revelations in the middle and towards the end.  The result was a page turner of a novel that was enjoyable and fun to read.

Furthermore, the author did a nice job describing Japan, and giving us a sense of things such as Tokyo train and rail stations, city buildings, and the style and dress of white collar employees in Japan.  The author also did great research in preparing how to describe scenery of urban and rural Finland, which comes into play in the novel, and the mix of dialogue and setting description feels right for this story.

The characters we meet are diverse, and the author does a nice job of describing five high school students with various life goals and personality traits, but then coming back to them and showing us how their lives have changed and grown and become more complicated in the 20 or so years since they left high school.  Issues are nicely explored, such as the complexities of lgbt sexuality in conservative cities, how one really makes decisions, money versus happiness.

In general, the novel is a fun, suspenseful read, with a plot that makes you want to learn what happened, and gives you some chills and worries along the way.

That all being said, there were a couple items that took away from the novel overall.  One of these was the fact that there were a couple of substantial chunks in the early middle of the book which didn’t end up playing into the conclusion of the novel, and which didn’t provide us with clear understanding as to why they were even included.  The inclusion of the character Haida, and the story of the man playing the piano, were substantial time investments on the part of the author, yet we never saw fully how these were incorporated into the larger story of Tsukuru.  This made these sections feel disjointed looking back.

Furthermore, on the subject of Haida, and also with the burgeoning relationship Tsukuru may or may not have with Sara, it felt like story lines and plot threads were left unfinished and unanswered.  It wasn’t the way things are left for a possible sequel, but rather it felt like significant pieces of storyline were simply not wrapped up satisfactorily.

In conclusion, although there is much to like about this novel, there were also some key issues that served to pull this book back from the exceptional category.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro — January 1, 2016

Book Review – Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

Book Review – Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

neverletmego

Facts:

  •    Book: Never Let Me Go
  •    Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2005
  •    Read 263-page hardcover edition in December 2015.

Book Description:

This novel centres around three students of Hailsham boarding school in England. We follow Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth as they explore their life in the tranquil yet highly private and enclosed walls of Hailsham.  Although the students of the school seem to have an excellent experience, surrounded by caring teachers who focus on teaching art and literature, there is something very mysterious about their experience during and after their school lives.  We see the three protagonists slowly uncover just what is going on in the world around them.

Book Review:

This was a fantastic novel from renowned and talented author Kazuo Ishiguro. Like other novels, he takes components of other genres, in this case science fiction, mystery, and even horror to a degree, and combines them into an interesting and complex story.

Ishiguro’s style is lyrical and calming, and his ability to write in such a beautiful tone makes for an enjoyable read. Ishiguro is very talented in plotting out a novel and writing in a style that hooks readers.  In this case, because of the storyline, the language is very conversational in nature, and it works very well.

The three main characters are interesting, and Ishiguro does a job exposing their flaws and positive traits, so that we as the reader care about them all in various ways. Then, as they discover and decode the world order around them, we actually care about the discoveries and how it impacts them.

Ishiguro does a nice job of revealing the different pieces of the puzzle throughout the novel, creating a story that utilizes themes that may have been covered before in other fiction, but organizing them and combining them in different ways. The only slight downside to this novel is that at times the discoveries are slightly predictable, but the way they are described so beautifully by the author helps make up for this issue.

Overall, this novel is a thoughtful and melodic piece of literature, and definitely leaves the reader thinking after the conclusion.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Terminator Genisys (2015) —

Movie Review – Terminator Genisys (2015)

Movie Review – Terminator Genisys (2015)

terminatorg

Movie Synopsis:

In a last effort to save humankind, hero John Connor sends Sgt Kyle Reece back in time, in order to meet with Sarah Parker and ensure her safety and protection. However, he discovers a very different Sarah from what he expected, along with a Terminator who is also determined to keep her safe.  The three of them slowly begin to uncover just what they must do to try and save the planet from robot destruction.

Movie Review:

This science fiction film definitely had a lot of great visual effects and action sequences built into the story. This is exactly what one would expect from the next movie in this franchise.  Lots of explosions, thrills, chases, and fight scenes that are exciting and adrenaline-pumping for the audience.

Although this is a positive aspect to the film, there are many drawbacks to the movie that made it a less than stellar sequel. For one, the screenwriters tended to rely on the action sequences, and did not invest enough time in a more substantive plot.  The story felt re-hashed and repetitious from prior Terminator movies and other science fiction action films as well.  Any humour found in the movie also felt artificial and clunky, including when the writers attempted physical humour with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character.  There was simply a lack of interesting developments, a lack of uniqueness, and an overall lack of character development.

Although this movie had some excitement, overall it was more on the failure side of the spectrum.

Overall: 2 stars out of 5 stars.