MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Movie Review – Anomalisa (2015) — July 24, 2016

Movie Review – Anomalisa (2015)

Movie Review – Anomalisa (2015)

anomalisa

Movie Synopsis:

In this animated film for adults, an author and expert in customer service, Michael Stone, is suffering from depression, where everything feels very repetitive in life and everyone looks the same. However, when he heads to a conference to speak to an audience, he meets a young woman in a hotel, and is shocked to see how different she seems and feels from other people around him.

Movie Review:

This animated film starring the voices of David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh definitely had some excellent elements. The use of animation and the puppets in the film were fantastic, and the ability to showcase human emotion through these characters was definitely a sign that the team responsible for this film knew what they were doing.

Furthermore, the voice talents in the film, particularly Thewlis, did a wonderful job of building mystery, intensity, and emotion into the animated film.

Themes put forward in the film, including feeling stalled in life, unsure about relationships, and wondering about mediocrity, are definitely themes people can relate to.

However, where this film stumbles is the slow pacing, and the feeling that as the film progresses, it starts to feel like a bit of a whiny adventure into Michael Stone’s life. Yes, we understand he feels upset about his current family and work life. And yes, being in this hotel allows him to explore these thoughts, and meet someone new. However, at times the story moves at a somewhat glacial pace. Audiences can understand the themes and what the plot is saying. They don’t need it to move so slowly to work it all out while they squirm in their seats.

Furthermore, the closing of the film feels a little sudden, and we are left wondering exactly what happens with Stone after his weekend at the hotel, and what he does next. It would be nice to have a bit more closure after spending so much time with Stone in this film.

Overall: 3 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Birdie – Tracey Lindberg —

Book Review – Birdie – Tracey Lindberg

Book Review – Birdie – Tracey Lindberg

birdie

Facts:

  •    Book: Birdie
  •    Author: Tracey Lindberg
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2015
  •    Read 288-page hardcover edition in July 2016.

Book Description:

This intense drama follows the life and discovery of Bernice Meetoos, a Cree woman who has left her home in northern Alberta and made her way to Gibsons, British Columbia, experiencing much tragedy and hardship along the way. Bernice, or Birdie, must use lessons from her people, and follow visions presented, to find a way out of trying and desperate situations. At the same time, her aunt Val and cousin Freda are trying to do what they can in the present time to help Birdie, knowing they were not there in the past when she needed help to escape horrific incidents.

Book Review:

This novel was certainly a moving portrayal of a complex and ultimately powerful woman, Birdie, who was also surrounded by other powerful female family members. This focus on powerful feminine Indigenous characters was certainly one of the strengths of the novel. It was welcome to read a novel where all main characters, and certainly the characters who were making a difference in the story and in helping each other, were a collection of women. Although nobody was perfect, and some of these characters admitted feeling shame or sadness at what had occurred in the past, they had made commitments to try and make things better in the present and future. Creating characters that were not perfect, and that instead had shades of grey in their past, was another positive element to this novel.

Author Tracey Lindberg has done a good job of creating a complex, nuanced, powerful story, and particularly in the second half of the novel, the drama and tension builds, and we start to really care about what is happening to these various women in the novel

That being said, one of the unfortunate things about this novel is that the first half is quite confusing in sections, and generally slow. It takes some time for us to get introduced to all the characters, and really understand how they relate to each other. Because the style of the novel is part vision quest, part poetry, part narrative, it is sometimes confusing to fully grasp what is going on. Although this may work for some people, for ohers the mix in style of writing, combined with the slow start, led to a lack of clarity around where the story was going until much later in the novel.

Overall, the novel did have a great second half, and the focus on female characters was positive. Learning more about these characters and about Indigenous women and issues as the novel got into the second half was a strong element. However, the first half of the novel felt slow, choppy, and confusing, and in that way it detracted from the overall story.

Overall: 3 stars out of 5 stars

Movie Review – Mountains May Depart (2015) — July 4, 2016

Movie Review – Mountains May Depart (2015)

Movie Review – Mountains May Depart (2015)

mountainsmaydepart

Movie Synopsis:

This Chinese film by acclaimed director Jia Zhangke looks at three distinct time periods.  The first, 1999 China, shows main characters and best friends Tao, Jinsheng, and Liangzi in a youthful and competitive love triangle during an exciting period of cultural development in China.  The second section of the film, 2014 China, shows a much darker time period in the life of Tao, as she tries to stay connected to her son Dollar after a bitter divorce.  The third section of the film, in a futuristic 2025 Australia, shows Dollar, now as a young man, trying to understand his place in the world.

Movie Review:

Although this film had a couple of flaws, one must give credit to Director and Screenwriter Jia Zhangke for a creative and powerful film that stays with the viewer long after its complete.

The main actor in the film, Tao Zhao, does an incredible job in her role as the female protagonist, leading us on a powerful story, complete with a variety of strong emotions throughout. She excels by providing us with youthful excitement and energy in part one of the film, and then a more painful portrayal of regret, sadness, and grief in later stages of the film. She does a fantastic job at portraying the complex emotions of the character, and is truly successful.

Other actors in the film also do a fine job in their assigned roles. Although at times it seems the storyline is a little farfetched or scattered, particularly as we move through the plot, this is more the fault of the script as opposed to the fine acting performances of all involved.

The music in the film is fantastic, with Go West from the Pet Shop Boys being used in an excellent, metaphorical way. Furthermore, more classical and modern Chinese music is utilized in the right places to help generate emotion and set the film in China.

The cinematography in China, and later in Australia, is fantastic, with Director Jia Zhangke doing a masterful job at setting a mood and tone that feels right for the story being told.

Although there are elements in the film which feel slightly out of place, and although the film feels slightly drawn out in places, the film is still a success of creativity and powerful messages of love, hope, regret, and the steady beat of time.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel — July 3, 2016

Book Review – The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel

Book Review – The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel

portugal

Facts:

  •    Book: The High Mountains of Portugal
  •    Author: Yann Martel
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2016
  •    Read 337-page paperback edition in June 2016.

Book Description:

This three part novel opens in the dawn of the 1900s, with spiritual Tomas taking a break from his job to search for a special archaeological find that he has read about. If he finds this object, somewhere in the High Mountains of Portugal, it will revolutionize Christianity itself. But he must also battle his own demons of guilt, sadness, and mourning.

In the second part, a pathologist in the 1940s who loves Agatha Chrisie novels reminisces about the love he has for his wife, before performing a bizarre autopsy on someone from the High Mountains of Portugal.

In the third part of the novel, a Canadian Senator in the 1980s who is grieving his recently deceased wife decides to return to his homeland in northern Portugal. Before he leaves however, he decides to bring along a chimpanzee that he has met in a sanctuary, and who he has grown attached to.

Book Review:

Looking at this novel, one can at first say that it was admittedly a difficult one to get involved in and get invested in. One reason for this is that the narrative in the three parts, while they do come together to some degree at the end, starts off quite slow. I would suggest that they are ordered from slowest and weakest in part one, to best and most interesting in part three.

However, a more important reason why this novel was difficult to become invested and interested with was that it was difficult to truly understand the purpose of the novel.

Although Martel does write this literary fiction with some great descriptions, observations on the human condition, and references to the Portuguese people and setting, the question that kept coming to my mind was what the real purpose of this novel was. There were long parts of narrative, particularly in part one, which seemed to be filler dialogue, making no sense as to why it was included or how it was important to the overall storyline. Long descriptions of the way an old car operates in part one, or even the Agatha Christie / Jesus Christ speech in part two, while interesting, sometimes felt too lengthy, and led to the reader losing interest.

Although some of the characters were intriguing and enjoyable to read about, such as Peter and Odo in part three, other characters did not hold the reader’s interest. Although there were some interesting elements in the novel, including the magical realism and modern-day fable sections in parts two and three, there were just as many sections of the novel that were too drawn out and plain uninteresting.

Overall, this had some interesting concepts, and the attempt to bring the three parts together was creative, but in the end, many sections of the novel, particularly early in the narrative, felt slow and draining.

Overall: 2.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – 11/22/63 – Stephen King —

Book Review – 11/22/63 – Stephen King

Book Review – 11/22/63 – Stephen King

11.22.63

Facts:

  •    Book: 11/22/63
  •    Author: Stephen King
  •    Genre: Thriller
  •    Year of Release: 2011
  •    Read 1089-page paperback edition in May 2016.

Book Description:

This thriller by Stephen King centres on school teacher Jake Epping, who is given an opportunity to go back in time to stop the assassination of JFK.  Jake encounters a time portal thanks to his ailing friend Al, who runs a diner and has found this conduit to 1958 in the back stock room. Jake decides there are a couple things he can do to make the world better by going back to this time period, and living in the 1958-1963 period, leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy. However, he quickly learns that changing the timeline, and the outcomes of changes, are not as easy as one might think.

Book Review:

This was a fantastic novel by the horror and thriller novelist Stephen King. While there are some graphically violent and frightening scenes in this novel, it is certainly more tame than some of his more intense fare, and therefore may be more accessible to a wider audience. That being said, it is also a page turner, with the 1000+ pages of the paperback flying by in a heartbeat, as the reader is desperate to find out what happens to Jake and his close friends next.

The story is well thought out and well plotted. The first section of the book has Jake (who uses the alias George Amberson for most of the book) going back in time, not to save JFK, but instead to rescue a friend, school janitor Harry, and Harry’s family, from a grisly fate at the hands of his father-in-law back in 1958.

The second section of the book has Jake going back in time again, this time to save Harry again, but then afterwards to stay in the 1958-1963 time period to try and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK. He also needs to confirm Oswald is the only one behind the assassination, to be sure he will stop the killing the day of the assassination.

Both of these sections in the novel do a wonderful job of showing us Jake’s life in the 1950s-1960s. King does a fabulous job illustrating how life was back in this day, and his commitment to researching American life in this era is clear. He doesn’t just showcase the relaxing life of rural America though, he also shows us the grim realities of the time period, like racism and segregation for example. These illustrations add value and context to the novel.

Overriding the narrative is a mysterious “Yellow Card Man” who seems to have knowledge of the time traveling Jake, and is trying to make it clear he is not happy with Jake’s intrusion into the past. This adds an ominous science-fiction feel to the novel, and builds further suspense.

Jake’s time in the south as he prepares for 1963 is enjoyable to read, particularly his growing relationship with Sadie and growing friendships in Texas. King writes with strength and adds scenes of romance, drama, and suspense to add to the main JFK assassination plot. The result is a powerful, intriguing, exciting novel, which truly is a page-turner.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars