MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – Visiting Fellow – Dave Williamson — April 24, 2016

Book Review – Visiting Fellow – Dave Williamson

Book Review – Visiting Fellow – Dave Williamson

visiting-fellow

Facts:

  •    Book: Visiting Fellow
  •    Author: Dave Williamson
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2016
  •    Read 357-page paperback edition in April 2016.

Book Description:

In the mid 1990s in Winnipeg, university professor Wally Baxter has a comfortable life from his career goals perspective.  He has even secured a sabbatical appointment in Tasmania, Australia, to serve as a visiting fellow at a university in a more exotic location from his home in Canada.  However, on the home front, he is struggling with an unpredictable ex wife who remains in his circle due to their 16 year old son, who is going through the usual pangs of adolescence.  Further, his attempts at dating have proven unsuccessful, until he meets the mysterious Carolyn, a kind but complicated widow.  How will his trip to Australia will play out, and who is he going to bring with him?

Book Review:

In this sixth novel from Winnipeg author Dave Williamson, one of the first things a reader can take note of is that the author does a wonderful job when it comes to the description of the setting around his characters.  The first half of the novel takes place in Winnipeg, and the latter half takes place in Tasmania.  Being a Winnipeg resident myself, I can attest that all of the author’s descriptions, from broad to minute detail, are bang-on, and it creates enjoyment to know that the author has taken care to give us accurate details, which increases the authenticity of the novel.

Furthermore, the author has done a nice job of building a lot of comedy into the book.  There are a few sections that are truly laugh out loud, seeing what the main character is put through, particularly the early stages of the novel on dating.

The plot of the novel is interesting and well paced, as we learn about all aspects of Wally Baxter’s life and thinking patterns.  The author also allows us to see into Carolyn’s thoughts as well, through the use of journal entries, a useful and effective approach so we can see two sides and two perspectives to an event.  This allows us to see the unfolding of Carolyn and Wally’s relationship, which is one of the key elements of the story.

One slight detraction in the story is that, at times, it feels that Carolyn is inconsistent as a character, to a slightly unbelievable point.  Although it is normal that anyone has happy and sad points in the course of the weeks and months, Carolyn’s inconsistency on these pages often comes without explanation, such as when she is happy with the prospects of a relationship with Wally, and then the next page unhappy, for no apparent reason.  These flip flops happen several times, and become confusing when they come over and over without clear explanation.

That is a slight issue though.  Overall, this is a fun, engaging novel, and the author has a strong voice that comes through the words.  It is definitely a novel recommended for those wanting a light and enjoyable read, with some thoughtful commentary on dating and travel.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Movie Review – Avatar (2009) — April 17, 2016

Movie Review – Avatar (2009)

Movie Review – Avatar (2009)

Print

Movie Synopsis:

In the future, the earth has used up many of its natural resources, and has now expanded to other places in the galaxy to find minerals and materials for exploitation and development.  One such place is a lush, habitable moon named Pandora.  A mining company is exploiting the surface for the valuable mineral unobtanium.

Jake Sully has been sent to the planet to connect with the humanoid species, the Na’vi, by operating an Avatar that allows him to appear in a form similar to them.  He must work with the science team who are also studying the planet and the Na’vi, but he is trying to find ways to negotiate with them so that the mining company can have easier access to the planet and its resources.

However, as Sully continues to interact with the Na’vi culture, he begins to question the human mission and presence on this lush, green planet.

avatar

Movie Review:

This film truly left me breathless!

I admit at the beginning of the film, I expected to feel bored at some point, given the running time is 161 minutes.  However, that was certainly not the case.

From a technical standpoint, this film broke many barriers and set new standards in 2009 when it was released.  The CGI used in the film is amazing, and helped to create a beautiful, stunning picture.  The different shots and scenes of the moon Pandora are incredible, and create a mesmerizing experience for the viewer.  Scenes of the forests, the mountains, the animal life, and the Na’vi people are amazing.  Director James Cameron and his crew have done a great job here.

The film has a series of strong messages, from the morality of development, to the decision by a culture with advanced technology to try and dominate other cultures, to environmental preservation.  These are thoughtful themes that leave the audience thinking after the film.  Even though this is taking place on a moon far away from earth, and far in the future, we can definitely relate these themes to our world today.

The characters in the film are also interesting and are played expertly by the cast that includes Sam Worthington, Zoe Salada, and Sigourney Weaver. We see the characters evolve over the course of the film, and also build relationships with each other, which is enjoyable and at times humourous.

Overall, this was an absolutely fantastic movie, technically beautiful and flawless, with rich characters and a powerful, meaningful story.

Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Hadwin’s Judgement (2015) — April 13, 2016

Movie Review – Hadwin’s Judgement (2015)

Movie Review – Hadwin’s Judgement (2015)

hadwins-judgement

Movie Synopsis:

This was a Canadian documentary on a highly important subject, which took the approach of looking at deforestation in the British Columbia rain forests from the point of view of a logging expert, who becomes disgusted with the industry he works within.  We follow the escapades of Hadwin, through the eyes of associates, colleagues, and neighbours, and see how his decision to leave the industry becomes a personal crusade to try and change the course of events in British Columbia, and beyond.

Movie Review:

This was an interesting documentary, with the approach taken that an actor standing in for Hadwin is followed around, and we become one with the forest in B.C., while we learn about his life and the forest from other speakers who join the conversation.  Often their comments are layered over the scenes of Hadwin, at peace in the forest, or looking anguished as he thinks of deforestation.  Certainly this approach to the documentary was an effective one, particularly when the audience saw the shots showing the true majesty of the forest.

The documentary succeeds when showcasing these beautiful pictures of the B.C. forest.  Furthermore, when the film goes into the Indigenous community of the Nisga’a First Nation, and interviews people who are very close to the land around them, the power of the film also resonates.

Another powerful sequence in the film occurs when we actually see destruction occurring, including a section several minutes long, where we see large tree after large tree cut in a clearcut fashion.  This was paired up with an explanation of where Hadwin really becomes disillusioned with his industry, and was a strong visual to help us really understand what he may have been feeling.

This praise all being said, a couple of detractions to this documentary.  Although it was very thoughtful, and at times this made sense, the pacing did feel somewhat slow in parts.  Furthermore, the conclusion of the documentary left the viewer somewhat hanging.  We spent a lot of time learning about this character, and trying to understand his motives.  Certainly the closing was mysterious.  However, the filmmakers did not leave us with a good sense of what Hadwin’s overall impact really was, both in Indigenous communities, and with the mainstream environmental movement in Canada.  This seemed like unnecessary loose ends that left the viewer wondering.

Overall, a documentary that is educational and thoughtful, definitely worth watching.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt — April 11, 2016

Book Review – The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt

Book Review – The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt

sisters-brothers

Facts:

  •    Book: The Sisters Brothers
  •    Author: Patrick deWitt
  •    Genre: Fiction / Western
  •    Year of Release: 2011
  •    Read 330-page hardcover edition in April 2016.

Book Description:

In his second novel, Patrick deWitt fuses together comedy and western, as we hear the tale of Eli and Charlie Sisters, two brothers who are responsible for tracking down and taking out people who have wronged the Commodore.  However, we learn some of the inner thoughts of each brother, particularly Eli, who as it turns out, is unsure if this life of murder and crime is what he wants.  Their latest task is to travel from Oregon City to California to find a man who wronged the Commodore.  However, what they discover on their journey may be something much more complicated and lead to surprising ends.

Book Review:

This novel from deWitt was funny, shocking, brutal, and thoughtful, and often multiple feelings could be felt at the same time.  This fact shows the skill deWitt has at taking some basic concepts of comedy and the western genre, and bringing them together in a fresh story.

deWitt does a fine job on both the plot side, and the character development side.  The Sisters Brothers, who are the two main characters in this story, are fascinating.  We see them interact in different ways as the plot progresses, and we also get to see the loyalty between the two, but also the major differences in their personalities.  The way they interact with other characters as they travel is fun and interesting, although at times it seems some characters are brought into the story but not fully explored and do not come back to the tale.  For example, a couple of characters early in the novel are explained and seem to be important to the story at hand, but don’t seem to come back to the story, and it makes one wonder why a chapter of writing was spent focused on them.

On the plot side, deWitt creates a fun, adventure tale in the context of the western genre, but creates enough dark comedy within the story that it feels fresh and new.  At times deWitt is blunt and bloody in his descriptions, and at other times he allows morbid dark humour to dull the shock of what is going on.  Overall, this is a creative approach that if enjoyable for the reader.

In summary, this novel truly showcases deWitt as a talented writer, and someone to watch going forward.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Movie Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) — April 3, 2016

Movie Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Movie Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10-cloverfield-lane

Movie Synopsis:

After a frightening car crash on the highway, Michelle wakes up with injuries, but more worrisome is the fact she wakes up in a bunker beneath the surface of the earth.  She eventually meets Howard, an odd, reclusive man, who tells her that he brought her, and one other man, underground due to a serious chemical attack on the surface.  Michelle must decide whether to trust either of the men she is underground with, or whether she should plot to escape to the unknown surface.

Movie Review:

This film, which was mainly a thriller but also had slight feelings of light horror, adventure, and taut drama as well, came together very nicely.

The story was very well laid out by the writers, and they did a great job building true suspense and fright for the audience.  There were no gimmicks here.  Furthermore, the writers did a nice job of writing some complex, believable, multi-faceted characters, who were played by skilled actors.  Howard was an interesting character, and the audience never knew quite what to make of him.  Dangerous predator, paranoid man with delusions, or some sort of wacky genius who had it right to build a liveable bunker underground?  The writers did a great job keeping the audience guessing.  John Goodman did a wonderful job bringing Howard to life.

The scenes between Howard, Michelle, and Emmett were suspenseful at times, fun and comedic at times, but always building towards the unknown conclusion of the movie.  The sense of impending doom was well established by the writing and directing team, and thus overall this film worked.

The one thing detracting from the stylistic beauty and strong narrative of the film was the last quarter.  Without revealing any spoilers, where the first three quarters of the film were suspenseful and believable, the last quarter of the film almost became too much, in terms of taking us in an entirely different direction.  Although this could have worked, it felt very jarring and the way it was filmed it felt strangely out of place with how the first three quarters of the film went.  For example, Michelle, who is an artsy person, all of a sudden is able to turn on some incredible skills in terms of self defense, attack, knowing how to survive sudden drops, rolling into an all out run, and so forth.  These amazing abilities from Michelle seem surprising and a little farfetched from what we know of her.

However, this aside, as a whole this is a successful thriller, and worth the watch.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Zootopia (2016) —

Movie Review – Zootopia (2016)

Movie Review – Zootopia (2016)

zootopia

Movie Synopsis:

In this animated film, rookie bunny cop, Officer Judy Hopps, has overcome stigma to graduate from the police academy as the first rabbit.  However, she continues to deal with stereotypes in the metropolis of Zootopia where she is now working.  She runs into a sly fox, Nick Wilde, who cons her and others out of money, she tries to do her part to make the city a better place.  However, she finds that she needs to team up with Nick and work with him to try and solve a larger conspiracy that threatens the entire city.

Movie Review:

This latest animated film by Disney was a fantastic one for young children, older children, and adults.

Most impressive is how the themes of the movie cover a lot of complex, important ground, including following your dreams, working hard to be whatever you want to be, and the dangers of stereotypes, prejudice, xenophobia, and making assumptions about others.  These are important themes to be exploring in this day and age, where sadly prejudice and racism continue to run rampant in society.  Further, these themes were presented clearly for the entire audience, making the film thought provoking for older audiences and accessible for younger audiences.  The writers should be commended for this success.

Furthermore, the writers did a nice job of balancing serious themes with a lot of humour that again works for all ages.  The music and the fun in the storyline make for an enjoyable ride.  Combined with all this is the mystery and adventure element of the story, and following our two main characters as they work together to solve a crime.  The story has elements of adventure, action, comedy, and serious themes being explored, and it all connects together brilliantly.

The casting and voice work done by the actors is brilliant, with Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman leading the way.

The animation is fantastic, particularly the way Zootopia is presented as a humming, bustling metropolis of diverse animals of all sizes.  The huge city feel and concept is brought to life perfectly on the screen.  Scenes that take place in other areas of the city that feel less like a modern day city, such as the rain forest and polar zones, also add value to the diversity on the screen.

In closing, this was a fun and entertaining movie that effectively explored important themes and topics for audiences of all ages.

Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars.