MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – Night Walking – Matthew Beaumont — December 30, 2017

Book Review – Night Walking – Matthew Beaumont

Book Review – Night Walking – Matthew Beaumont

night_walking

Facts:

Book: Night Walking
Author: Matthew Beaumont
Genre: Non-Fiction
Year of Release: 2015
Read 413-page paperback edition in December 2017.

Book Description:

This non fiction book is a detailed history of the practice of night walking, specifically in London. In particular, going back to the days before gas lamps were prevalent, walking at night had a very different connotation. Depending on the time period, and who you were and what class you might be, there were different aspects to walking at night that applied.  The book focuses not only on walking itself, but on the poor who lived in the streets and were persecuted for being outdoors at night, even though they didn’t have a home to go to. This book provides detail around the history of walking at night over the past several centuries in London and the surrounding area.

Book Review:

Author Matthew Beaumont has done a very thorough research job with this book, which has a copious amount of detail around citizens and people who walk at night, either by choice or because they are homeless and have nowhere else to go.

Beaumont focuses at times on the rationale for walking at night, and at other times he focuses more on the culture, society, principles of justice, and politics that relate to night walking.  Beaumont takes a chronological approach in principle, although he does jump around at times in the book, looking at night walking and the peoples in the streets at various points in London’s history.

Beaumont does best when focusing on specific people or issues, like the last couple of chapters specifically focused on an interesting historical figure, Charles Dickens.  Reading about his habit of night walking, and why he did it and how it helped him with creativity and deal with insomnia, was fascinating.

However, in other areas of the book, Beaumont tends to be a little bit jumpy, moving from topic to topic in a somewhat disorganized and haphazard style. Further, in some chapters particularly in th emiddle of the book, Beaumont tends to allow th narrative to get buried in areas of detail that are likely uninteresting to the majority of readers who pick up the book wanting to learn about night walking in London. Although perhaps fascinating from a scholarly point of view, it gets off topic for a mainstream non fiction book.

In conclusion, this book does have some interesting areas of focus for readers, however readers will often have to endure side trips into areas that are meandering and removed.

Overall: 2.5 stars out of 5 stars

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Movie Review – Thor: Ragnarok (2017) — December 16, 2017

Movie Review – Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Movie Review – Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor_Ragnarok

Movie Synopsis:

In the third instalment of the Thor storyline, we see serious problems in Asgard, and Thor trapped without his hammer and unable to help in time.  Hela, a dangerous and powerful woman from the past, has returned with a mission to destroy Asgard and enslave everyone. Thor must get back to save his home, and at the same time, find allies in strange places along the way.

Movie Review:

With this third Thor film, the producers have finally done the right thing with this franchise, which is turn to comedy as opposed to only action sequences. The comedy in this film is present throughout, and it is completely successful. Although over the top once or twice, for the most part it is spot-on, with fun and laughs all the way through this action-packed visual feast.

The visual effects and bright colours in this film are incredible, and are truly a spectacle to watch. The plot, although not always airtight, keeps things moving at a brisk pace. We meet new and returning characters throughout, including great performances by Benedict Cumberbatch (doctor Strange) and Mark Ruffalo (Hulk) who join Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and provide fantastic comic relief as well as furthering the action.

The villain Hela (played expertly by Cate Blanchett) is fantastic, and a great adversary for the main cast of heroes. Hela adds intensity and power to the storyline, and furthers along the suspense and force.

In summary, this is a fantastic action film, but what it does better than prior Thor films is combine an action film with great comedy throughout, so not only are we watching action-packed superhero scenes, but also laughing throughout. It’s great to see this series not take itself too seriously. It definitely works better this way.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Life (2017) —

Movie Review – Life (2017)

Movie Review – Life (2017)

life

Movie Synopsis:

On board the International Space Station, the six-member crew is excited to study the first life form that has been found and brought back from Mars. This is an opportunity to learn more about life than ever before.

However, what starts as simple, safe analysis with organisms in the lab becomes an intense, destructive experience on board the station. The crew must try and stay alive long enough to escape or be rescued, as the Mars organism proves more deadly than first believed.

Movie Review:

This film brought up memories of particularly the Alien franchise, but also other recent science fiction movies like The Arrival. Although this film is not quite as good as these ones, given at times it felt like the film was copying some of these earlier outings, it was still an enjoyable, suspenseful, and exciting ride, as we watch whether our six humans can survive against “Calvin” the alien from Mars.

The cast in the film, which is diverse and representative of what one wants to see, does a great job portraying the sense of adventure, and later feelings of fear and anxiety, as Calvin goes about destroying the station.

The plot is filled with suspenseful moments, and the writers and director do a pretty good job of avoiding any troupes of the horror or science fiction genre. However, as said, they can’t quite avoid the fact that this looks and feels like Alien-lite.

Still, this is an enjoyable science fiction / suspense thriller.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Passengers (2016) —

Movie Review – Passengers (2016)

Movie Review – Passengers (2016)

passengers

Movie Synopsis:

On a 120-year voyage to another planet with the purposes of colonization, the colonists are all in cryonic sleep. However, when Jim Preston accidentally wakes up 30 years into the voyage, and can’t get back to sleep, he is faced with the prospect of being alone on the ship for the rest of his life as it continues on its journey through space. Not wanting to face that, he wakes up another colonist, Aurora Lane, so he has someone to be with. He decides not to tell Lane that he woke her, as they grow closer. But can he keep the secret?

Furthermore, when they realize there is something seriously wrong with the ship, they must find a way to save the ship, and all life on board.

Movie Review:

This film definitely had some potential, and there were some great things going for it. The visual effects in space and in the ship were fantastic, and a great visual treat to watch. Furthermore, the main actors of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence do a great job in their roles, and have great chemistry together.

However, although there was potential for the plot of this film, there were some major problems with the film in its execution of the story.

First, although the film did try to bring up the issues and moral concerns of Pratt’s character waking up Lawrence’s character early, it didn’t go far enough to push the envelope on this and really question this. What is the outcome or punishment for Preston of making this very serious decision against another person when he brought Lane out of cryostasis? It seems this gets forgotten and does not have the level of serious impact it should have had, in favour of a happier ending for everyone.

Secondly, rather than focus on some of the bigger issues that do come up at times, such as the major problem on the ship, the need to get out of serious trouble, more interaction with the crew which would have added additional characters into the film, the focus really was on the romantic relationship and then fighting with Preston and Lane, which felt like an unnecessary focus given where the plot could have gone.

Overall, although there was potential for this film given the star power of the two main characters, instead it did feel like a bit of a let down when all was said and done.

Overall: 2.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Murder on the Orient Express (2017) —

Movie Review – Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Movie Review – Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

murder_express

Movie Synopsis:

In this latest film adaptation to the classic whodunit novel by Agatha Christie, famed detective Mr. Hercule Poirot is traveling back to England on the famed Orient Express train. Many other guests are on board, and Mr. Poirot simply wants a calm journey before he gets back to the hustle and bustle of London.  However, when a man turns up dead in the train, and the train is derailed in the mountains in a snowstorm, it is up to Mr. Poirot to calm the passengers, and conduct an investigation into who the murderer is.  As the investigation unfolds, the detective uncovers a complex situation, and motives everywhere.

Movie Review:

This film was a highly enjoyable murder mystery, which had a lot going for it. For starters, the cinematography of the film was fantastic, with scenes both on the train and visuals of the train traveling through European and Middle Eastern countryside and urban areas extremely satisfying and picturesque. Scenes when the train is derailed on a snowy cliff are also well executed.

Another major plus for the film was the ensemble cast, which was top notch.  Kenneth Branagh does an incredibly convincing job as the aloof but sensible and moral Inspector Poirot.  Branagh really embodies the character and does a great job showing how the detective thinks as he pursues the case. Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, and others round out an array of cast members with different backgrounds, issues, and shades of grey. The result is a combination of characters with differing levels of chemistry, making for a number of taut scenes that are enjoyable for the audience to watch, as we work with Poirot to try and figure out the case.

The one negative side to this film was that in a few small areas, the pacing felt a little bit slow, which is also one element to the book itself that can be challenging. The train is stuck in the snow for a long time, and at times the pacing feels a bit slowed down as well.  However, this is a minor issue, and overall this is a fantastic film that is enjoyable and fun to watch.

It is definitely a strongly recommended movie to enjoy!

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World – Cal Newport — December 11, 2017

Book Review – Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World – Cal Newport

Book Review – Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World – Cal Newport

deep_work

Facts:

Book: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Author: Cal Newport
Genre: Non-Fiction
Year of Release: 2016
Read 263-page hardcover edition in December 2017.

Book Description:

In this business non-fiction book, computer science professor Cal Newport discusses the concept of deep work versus shallow work. So many knowledge workers in today’s business environment are trapped in hours of shallow work per day, answering emails and attending meetings. Meanwhile, the true “deep work” that is value added and moves new ideas forward does not get done. How do we change this?

Newport explains these terms in detail, advances the argument that deep work is paramount to an individual and to an organization, and provides rules for more focus on deep work.

Book Review:

This was a fantastic book that showcases how to write a business book right!  In place of a lot of unnecessary jargon, Newport uses case studies and examples of real people, past and present, to present his arguments and prove his theories. Newport’s examples really help us understand the facts behind his points, and understand why his case for deep work makes sense.

Newport also provides a variety of great practical lessons and solutions for readers, so that knowledge workers can take actual practical concepts back into their workplaces and personal lives, and try them out. Rather than read about abstract theories that may or may not apply easily, this book lays out some great steps to take to get on the path to deep work. Lessons around email management and reduction, more efficient and less frequency of meetings, and the need for focused, quiet, “deep” work, are provided, along with the case that fractured time constantly checking inboxes and social media are causing disturbances to moving concepts forward. This is detrimental to individual career advancement and to the organization as a whole.

Overall, this is a fascinating, insightful, and useful book, and one which the reader can jot down some of the helpful tips and tools (and rules) to try, and work towards achieving more deep work in their workplace.

Well Done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor —

Book Review – The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor

Book Review – The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor

ashes_london

Facts:

Book: The Ashes of London
Author: Andrew Taylor
Genre: Historical Fiction
Year of Release: 2016
Read 482-page hardcover edition in November 2017.

Book Description:

During September 1666, the Great Fire ravaged London. Nearly destroying the entire city, the fire caused mass confusion amidst a politically sensitive time.

One of those living through this frightening time was Marwood, son of a disgraced man. Marwood is trying to maintain a quiet life out of trouble, when the government and Crown asks him to investigate a serial murderer, who has taken the opportunity of the Great Fire to begin killing.

While Marwood investigates, the young Catherine Lovett is trying to escape an arranged marriage with a nobleman from another rich family. Her well-to-do aunt and uncle don’t care about her opinions, and so Lovett takes the opportunity of chaos during the time of the Fire to run away.

Marwood and Lovett see their stories slowly intertwine, as they both face dangers and trials.

Book Review:

This novel was in part historical fiction, part mystery, and part thriller.  The two main characters were somewhat interesting, and we learned some facts about them, although not quite as much character exploration as would have befitted a book of this size. For example, we learned a fair amount of Marwood’s father and past life, and how he was caring for his father who was suffering from ailments of old age, however it would have been nice to really get a clear sense of Marwood’s emotions and feelings. Often this description felt a little cold and distant, rather than close and emotional.

From a style point of view, the author chose to use first person when telling the chapters about Marwood, and third person when focusing on Lovett. This was an interesting decision, and made the novel enjoyable to read, and easy to differentiate and go back and forth between the two characters and stories.

The setting was very apt for a thriller, with the backdrop of the Great Fire of 1666 a strong place to set this story. Descriptions of the fire and the characters reacting to the situation in London added to the flavour of the novel.

The plot of the novel was fairly fast-paced, and enticed the reader to keep reading and learn more about what was going on, both in the lives of the main characters and regarding the investigation of the murders.

Overall, this was definitely an interesting novel, and something enjoyable to read particularly if wanting to read a mystery / thriller set in the Great Fire of London.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins —

Book Review – The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

Book Review – The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

girl_train

Facts:

Book: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Genre: Thriller
Year of Release: 2015
Read 317-page paperback edition in November 2017.

Book Description:

Rachel is a lonely commuter, heading from the suburbs to London every day for a boring job. She loves the time she spends on the train, looking out at people living in their houses, carrying about their day. She has grown fascinated with a couple she sees from afar, thinking their lives are perfect, much better than her recently divorced circumstances.

However, when she sees something briefly, but shockingly, she decides she needs to get involved in the situation involving this couple. When she does so, she finds herself involved in a serious police investigation, and begins to wonder why she can’t remember everything about a fateful day in the recent past, and whether she has done actual harm to these people.

Book Review:

This was a fun and fast read by debut British novelist Hawkins. The thriller was definitely exciting, and the jumps between the different character points of view, the jumps back and forth through time, and the short chapters, made this a novel that the reader wants to read through quickly, to find out what is going on, and who did what.

Hawkins does a great job demonstrating the enjoyment to the reader of multiple characters who are not black and white, and instead have shades of grey.  She also does a great job creating several unreliable narrators, so that we as the reader don’t know who and what to believe.

Overall, the plot moves fairly quickly, and we are motivated to keep reading and find out what happens next. Deep character development doesn’t really occur here, in favour of the focus on a suspenseful plot, but that’s for the most part okay in this thrill ride of a novel.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars