MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – The Bat – Jo Nesbo — February 29, 2016

Book Review – The Bat – Jo Nesbo

Book Review – The Bat – Jo Nesbo

the-bat

Facts:

  •    Book: The Bat
  •    Author: Jo Nesbo
  •    Genre: Mystery
  •    Year of Release: 1997
  •    Read 374-page paperback edition in February 2016.

Book Description:

The first novel in the series featuring Norwegian police inspector Harry Hole, we meet Harry in Australia, investigating the murder of a Norwegian citizen.  Harry works with his counterparts in Australia to get to the bottom of the strange killing, but as the truth begins to unravel, he realizes that the killer may be much closer to him than he first thought.  Furthermore, his romantic relationship with an Australian woman is complicated by the case and by his dark past.

Book Review:

The Harry Hole series now has many books in it, and the series and author Jo Nesbo are internationally acclaimed.  However, this first novel feels like it comes up short when looking at what a good mystery or thriller should offer.

It should be said there were some excellent beginnings here to build a series around flawed but fascinating Harry Hole.  It is excellent to have a character that feels very real for the reader, one who has a dark side and a complicated side, who isn’t perfect.  There is definitely a lot of promise, and the end of the book does succeed in making you wonder what happens to this character when he goes home to Norway.  This makes you want to read the next novel in the series, which shows that things did go right when it came to sketching out the main protagonist.

That being said, the issues with this particular novel itself centred more around some plot holes of the story here.  The novel felt a little bit disjointed and inconsistent in places, for example when Harry is told at the beginning by the Chief of Police in the Australian detachment that he is to stay out of the way while the Australians handle the case, yet right after this and for the rest of the novel, Harry is a central figure in the investigations that occur.  This is a good thing of course given he is our main character, but then why say the initial statement at all?

The novel does a good job of featuring Harry’s thought process, and having him relive some past memories, so we get to learn more about him.  However, at times these thought processes and past recollections get in the way of telling the current crime story around us, and the result can be a sometimes choppy plot and interrupted pacing when looking at this novel itself.

There is a lot of promise for sure when we look at this character and the series.  It should also be said that future books in the series generally get much more favourable reviews by fans then the first outing here.  This is still an okay book, and for those who may not enjoy the novel, it may be wise to give Harry Hole another chance with another book in the series.

Overall: 3 stars out of 5 stars.

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Movie Review – Now You See Me (2013) — February 28, 2016

Movie Review – Now You See Me (2013)

Movie Review – Now You See Me (2013)

now you see me

Movie Synopsis:

A frustrated FBI agent is forced to team up with a calm, smart Interpol detective from Europe, when several high profile heists and robberies occur by the so-called “X”, a collection of well-known illusionists and magicians.  The question is, how does one prove they are behind the crime, when they are so good at leaving no evidence?  Furthermore, who is the mastermind behind the group?

Movie Review:

This action comedy starring a plethora of well-known actors (Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, and Melanie Laurent) definitely had a lot energy from the very beginning.  The opening sequences were interesting, exciting, and piqued the interest of the audience.  They helped the audience buy into the film early on, have fun, and even sympathize with these unique characters, even if some of them were potentially involved in criminal behaviour.

The story itself was dynamic, with a main plot of trying to prove the magicians were behind the thefts, well at the same time having some sub-plots, mainly focused on the characters played by Ruffalo and Freeman.  The two did a great job playing up irrational intensity and mysterious thoughtfulness, respectively.

The storyline of magicians and thefts have been done and re-done over the past decade, and at times there was a bit of a feeling that this had been done before, and there wasn’t much new here.  That being said, the writers should be commended for some great twists and turns in the plot, as well as some true surprises that come out.  The acting definitely helps sell the story, with such a strong cast.

In closing, this movie is not a stellar success that stands out from similar other movies, but it definitely was an enjoyable and fun movie, with solid acting performances.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman —

Book Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

Book Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

ocean-end-lane

Facts:

  •    Book: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  •    Authors: Neil Gaiman
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2013
  •    Read 181-page hardcover edition in February 2016.

Book Description:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane concerns a man who returns to his childhood neighbourhood, and remembers a frightening, cryptic series of incidents that occurred when he was a seven-year old boy. His seven-year old self is helped during this time by a unique 11-year old girl and her mother and grandmother.

Book Review:

 

Bestselling author Neil Gaiman is back with a dark, fantastical work of fiction, in the short novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Gaiman’s original concept was to write this as a short story, but there was so much to say that it grew into the novel that is before readers now.

Gaiman, known for bestselling works like American Gods, has done an incredible job at developing some very unique ideas and concepts, and building them into a page-turner that ideally should be read in one or two sittings.

Gaiman is accomplished at using description to frighten and entertain the reader, and we get a wonderful tale in this novel that has elements of fantasy and even mythology.

This work is somewhat similar to Gaiman’s earlier novel Coraline in some ways, where a young person is trying to make there way through a strange world that doesn’t make sense and is fraught with supernatural frights and dangers. Gaiman succeeds when he is writing the plot and setting up intense sequences for our protagonist and his unique 11-year old protector. Gaiman’s ability to create fear in multiple gripping scenes is clear, and it allows for a fast moving narrative that pulls the reader into the story. Gaiman includes frightening scenes with the seven-year old alone with his fears, which heightens the sense of foreboding and suspense embedded throughout the novel. The reader can relate, as everyone can remember a time when they were a child and afraid of something.

Furthermore, these scenes are written with Gaiman’s short, sharp prose. An example: “The flints of the lane hurt my feat as I ran, but I did not care. Soon enough, the thing that was Ursula Monkton would be finished with my father. Perhaps they would go up to check on me together. She would find that I was gone and she would come after me.”

Comparing to his similar work Coraline, one area where The Ocean at the End of the Lane is stronger would be in Gaiman’s ability to create a unique mythology behind the supernatural beings and forces in the story. He does a great job at building powerful concepts and ideas in a relatively short amount of time.

Conversely, it should be noted that one of the weaknesses in this novel versus his previous work Coraline is that Gaiman does not build as much humour into the story. Coraline was equally frightening in parts, but it had some great humourous moments, including bizarre quotes from characters. It seems like there were opportunities to build some of that into The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but Gaiman doesn’t take advantage of this as much.

Another slight issue with the novel was that our narrator is the adult version of the seven-year old child, who is recounting this story to the audience. However, despite some of the shocking things that occur in the plot, the narrator never seems overly shocked, emotional, or dismayed. One would think the writing would sound more passionate and emotional, where at times it feels a bit too flat and passive.

These issues do detract slightly from the story, but overall one has to give Gaiman a lot of credit here. The characters, both human and supernatural, are interesting and exciting. The plot is truly fast-moving, with lots of action, suspense, and thrills. There are complexities and surprises that strengthen the novel.

Overall, this is a great novel from a talented writer, and a great addition to Neil Gaiman’s collection of work.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Le Coeur de Madame Sabali (2015) — February 22, 2016

Movie Review – Le Coeur de Madame Sabali (2015)

Movie Review – Le Coeur de Madame Sabali (2015)

madame-sabali

Movie Synopsis:

This colourful French Canadian comedy focuses on the life of Jeannette, a woman in Montreal who suffers from a heart condition and endures a bad relationship with a boyfriend who treats her poorly.  However, a donor heart is found for her, and she takes time off from her job selling tickets at the train station.  When she is recovering however, she begins to recall people and scenes from her donor’s prior life, and this leads her to connect with the donor’s son and family, and also question her life and her relationships with men in her own life.

Movie Review:

This film was very colourful and interesting from an artistic point of view.  The dream sequences that Jeannette sometimes has, and the various colours we see in some of the scenes, are well executed and create a visual feast at times.  Director Ryan McKenna can certainly be commended for uniqueness.

However, at times the comedy in this film felt a little over the top.  It was strange, because at times the comedy was more general and standard, but then at times it was completely ludicrous.  The result was a film that sometimes felt more realistic and artistic, but then at times it simply went off the tracks (no pun intended) into another world completely.

On that note, the plot also felt this way at times.  There were multiple storylines happening all at once.  Jeannette’s relationship with her long-time boyfriend.  Her relationship with a new man.  The shock of who this new man is.  The getting to know the family and son of her donor.  The murder of her donor and what had happened there, including the flashbacks Jeannette experiences.  Her job at the train station.  The script at times jumped from storyline to storyline, however it didn’t always feel clean and not all the storylines and plot points were fully executed or realized by the end.

Overall, although this film was funny at times and definitely cinematically beautiful, there were several issues that left the viewer perplexed and ultimately unfulfilled.

Overall: 2.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp – Ben Rawlence —

Book Review – City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp – Ben Rawlence

Book Review – City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp – Ben Rawlence

city of thorns

Facts:

  •    Book: City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp
  •    Authors: Ben Rawlence
  •    Genre: Non-Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2015
  •    Read 384-page hardcover edition in February 2016.

Book Description:

In this non fiction work by former Human Rights Watch correspondent Ben Rawlence, we enter the refugee camp of Dadaab in Kenya near the Somalian border.  This is the world’s largest refugee camp, and has been around long enough for multiple generations of people to be born in what was supposed to be a temporary camp.  Due to instability in Somalia and the region in general, this camp is a refuge for 400,000+ people.  However, the book takes a personal approach, looking at the life and death struggle of nine individuals living in the camp, their feelings, their decisions, and how life really is inside this UN-run camp.

Book Review:

This was an important, shocking, and unflinching look at the Dadaab refugee camp by a thoughtful and caring writer.

Ben Rawlence has done a great job, with multiple research trips to the camp and other research in Africa and elsewhere, which he meticulously documents in Notes at the end of the book.  Rawlence also helpfully sets up a list of the individuals he is following at the beginning of the book, so we can refer back when needed.  His inclusion of maps and a list of further readings also adds value to this strong and well-defined book.

Rawlence does a great job at reporting the facts and keeping neutral as the author, allowing the feelings and emotions of the individuals themselves come through inside.  Although when Rawlence does comment on his personal feelings and views, it works well as well.  We as the reader are emotionally touched numerous times when we learn more about the poor conditions in this refugee camp that people are going through.  It is shocking to read about how conditions in the camp are so poor, despite the fact so many aid agencies and the UN are supposedly running this camp.

Furthermore, Rawlence highlights the corruption of the Kenyan government, Kenyan police, and privately hired security in the camp, and showcases how that makes things more difficult for refugees caught in a huge, often out of control system.  Rawlence makes a great decision by focusing on the individuals and their thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and struggles.  Then when he describes the corrupt and ridiculous politics of the region, we also get a sense of things from a broader level as well, and how that impacts the individuals in the camp.  Rawlence also shows how refugees are scapegoated and blamed for terrorism and other events in the region when in many cases these are based on unfounded accusations.

And it is not just the Kenyan authorities or al-Shabaab in Somalia that Rawlence points to when it comes to how the situation in the region is being poorly managed.  He looks at things from a geopolitical lens as well, looking at countries in the G7 and the UN and aid agencies as well, albeit to a lesser degree.

 

Rawlence does an incredible job taking a complex, multi-dimensional issue, and writing a book that is accessible, understandable, and powerful. By focusing on people, he humanizes a camp with hundreds of thousands of people.  We have learned about individuals, and we can understand and appreciate that these are people who just want a better life.

One other matter that could have been included is how citizens from all over the world could get involved to help.  Which aid agencies are best for us to donate in?  How can we help lobby politicians to be more active in this important area?  Are there others we should lobby as individual citizens? Rawlence doesn’t cover these questions.
Overall though, this is a great collection of individual stories in one of the most difficult places to live in the world.  In this age of migration crises and refugee crises, the subject matter of this book can’t be more important. This is a timely book, that is recommended for all.

 

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Ninth Floor (2015) — February 2, 2016

Movie Review – Ninth Floor (2015)

Movie Review – Ninth Floor (2015)

ninth_floor

Movie Synopsis:

This Canadian documentary tells a surprisingly little known story of overt racism that is part of Canada’s history.  In 1969, after experiencing racism in a university in Montreal, several students of Caribbean descent file complaints with school administration.  However, when they receive little action on their concerns from those at the university with power, mainly white men, numerous students take control of the computer data centre on the ninth floor of one of the buildings, and hold a sit-in to demand change.

Movie Review:

This was a fascinating look into something from Canada’s history that is not well known.  In large part this story was not told after it occurred, and the producer of the film has since commented that the documentary’s release has allowed many people who participated or were connected to the protest in 1969 to finally feel that their voice was heard, which is such a powerful and important thing.

Writer and Director Mina Shum and Producer Selwyn Jacob do a fantastic job bringing this story to life.  The utilization of props, architecture, close up shots, and long shots to tell the story from differing angles.  She also uses a combination of video and pictures from the 1960s, coupled with present-day interviews with those who participated in the protest in 1969, provide us with a detailed account of what occurred, the motivations behind the students, the completely valid concerns of the students, and their thoughts on why the events happened the way they did.  There are also taped interviews with administrators of the day, which help us to see the overt, institutionalized racism that was present in the university, and by extension in Canada.  This is an important message for us today, because how can we make our country better if we don’t learn these lessons from the past?  The filmmakers have done a great job bringing this to the forefront.

The interviews with others, such as the now-adult children of students from the protest and even the professor who was accused of racism, also added depth to the documentary, as well as some complexity.

The filmmakers tried to bring in some additional information on how this incident in 1969 had an impact on how Caribbean countries viewed Canada, and how it played a part in Caribbean politics and economics.  This was a quick mention, and it probably should have been expanded or removed, as it wasn’t a full enough picture for viewers.

 

In summary, this was a knowledgable and important documentary that should be required viewing for all Canadians, as it shines a lens on the reality of racism and the issues we need to work to overcome, in our own country.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.