MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Movie Review – Ready Player One (2018) — June 10, 2018

Movie Review – Ready Player One (2018)

Movie Review – Ready Player One (2018)

readyplayermovie

Movie Synopsis:

In the adaptation of the novel of the same name, we see the high school student Wade Watts, who instead of school would rather focus his time in the virtual reality space called “The Oasis,” trying to solve the puzzle left by deceased creator James Halliday. Whoever solved the complex set of puzzles will inherit a huge amount of money, and more importantly control over the Oasis. Wade is trying to beat others to win this contest, and most importantly ensure evil corporation IOI does not take control of the Oasis.

Movie Review:

This was a fantastic adaptation of the novel Ready Player One. Screenplay being co-written by novelist Ernest Cline, and directed by Steven Spielberg, this movie is a feast for the eyes. The visual effects are completely amazing in this film, from start to finish. Spielberg and his team have done a great job at bringing this dystopian story set in 2045 to life. The movie is really enjoyable to watch from start to finish, with many memorable scenes that are imaginative, creative, action-oriented, and colourful.

The storyline is actually quite modified from the novel, with the challenges and components of the quest being quite changed, to bring some of the more individual-oriented and computer-oriented pieces to life on screen in a more accessible manner for a visual audience. Spielberg, Cline, and others have done a great job preparing some alternative challenges and quests for the characters to push through, and the result is differences from the novel that both respect the themes and work on screen.

The characters in the film adaptation also have differences from the novel, but in a positive way. The writers have built additional details into the characterization of the characters that are working with Wade against IOI, which is interesting and helps build the storyline in new directions. There is a good amount of diversity in the characters that doesn’t come across quite as effectively in the novel, which is another credit to the film. For the most part, the changes made in this area again are an impressive example of actually taking source material and making some additions for the screen that keep the spirit of the original and enhance it.

Overall, this is an exciting and visually appealing movie, for all ages.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.

PS. See my review of the novel Ready Player One here.

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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.

Movie Review – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) — July 2, 2017

Movie Review – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Movie Review – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

guardians2

Movie Synopsis:

In this sequel to the original Disney / Marvel production, our Guardians of the Galaxy return again. We see our heroes acting a little less than the standard heroes, with Rocket having stolen objects from the mysterious and powerful Sovereign species, leading to a spectacular chase and escape. Meanwhile, Peter has had an interesting encounter with a powerful man who claims to be his biological father, finally returning to him after all these years. However, Gamora and Drax begin to question his father’s motives, and it appears the Guardians, including Little Groot, may need to work to save the universe yet again.

Movie Review:

Watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was definitely a treat in many ways. The cinematography, special effects, and music were absolutely spectacular. The shots of the Ego planet for example were out of this world, with beautiful colour and creativity splashed across the planetary vistas. Director James Gunn and his team have done an amazing job, hands-down.

The ensemble cast has also down a great job for the most part. There are so many wonderful characters to explore in this film, and one of the challenges is actually ensuring that everyone has adequate screen time to fully develop character arcs and relationships. This challenge became clear, because one of the downsides of the film is that in some cases there is only some basic character development or relationship development occurring, in favour of the main story arc of the tale, a classic son / parent tale with Peter and his father. This story arc feels somewhat contrived and not at all unique, and James Gunn, who also wrote this screenplay, doesn’t appear to have created anything very new here in terms of the overall plot.

Another problem for the film relates to the fact it feels somewhat predictable and repetitive compared to the first one. When Guardians of the Galaxy was released, it felt very fresh, funny, and original, with an enjoyable selection of 70s and 80s music. This second film sometimes feels very forced, as if we are really trying to be convinced that the characters are having a great time with each other. Further, it is in many ways a case of “been there, done that” with this Vol. 2.

Overall, this is still a fun and enjoyable movie, one that is worth watching. However, it does feel a little like we are back for another entry of something that is not quite as original the second time around.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Alien: Covenant (2017) — May 28, 2017

Movie Review – Alien: Covenant (2017)

Movie Review – Alien: Covenant (2017)

alien_covenant

Movie Synopsis:

In this follow-up to the Alien Prometheus movie, still prequel to the original Alien movie, we see the colony ship Covenant heading to a world they plan to terraform. However, the crew is woken from cryo-stasis by their ship’s android when trouble hits the ship. As they deal with the astronomical event that has damaged the ship, the crew realizes there is another planet capable of supporting life close by, and that there is a human signal coming from the planet. They decide to change course and head for that planet. However, when they arrive, they encounter something shocking, which has serious consequences for all of them.

Movie Review:

This film sees Director Ridley Scott return to the Alien universe, with a new crew to terrorize with a couple of different styles and types of aliens.

First things first, looking at the positives of this film. Ridley Scott has done a wonderful job with the visuals and cinematography of the film. The shots in space and on the planet are fantastic, and we are definitely treated to some breathtaking views and scenes. Furthermore, some (not all) of the suspense and action sequences are well executed, and succeed in delivering a thrilling ride to the audience.

That being said, one of the problems with the film was the fact that this did feel somewhat predictable when considering the plots and story lines of prior Alien movies in the franchise. Although the special effects were certainly better and of 2017 quality, the fact was that a lot of the storyline felt predictable, and as such not all of the suspense and drama felt that surprising or frightening.

In addition, the film felt fairly safe and predictable in terms of what it covered as well. Instead of getting into more of the unanswered questions and exploring new content that had been brought up by the Prometheus movie, the film avoided much of these plot lines, in favour of more standard fare. This left many unanswered questions which felt a little bit unsatisfying on the whole.

Although the film was enjoyable as an action movie with great sequences, the film did leave a lot hanging, and wasn’t as broad in scope as it could have been.

 

 

Overall: 3 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Front Cover (2015) — March 11, 2017

Movie Review – Front Cover (2015)

Movie Review – Front Cover (2015)

front_cover

Movie Synopsis:

A gay fashion stylist who is still trying to figure out his place as a gay person and a Chinese-American living in New York City is told to work with a famous actor from China, who is in town to do some filming. As he spends more time with this man, they begin to grow very close, despite their differences, and they end up both going on journeys of self reflection and discovery.

Movie Review:

This independent film which won several awards at film festivals definitely has charm, intelligence, and grace, as it explores numerous subjects. The sensitivity with which Director and Writer Ray Yeung covers two men exploring their sexuality, their culture, and their developing feelings for each other is truly successful.

Main actors Jake Choi and James Chen also do a nice job playing Chinese men who both have challenges when it comes to really understanding who they are and how they can live comfortably in the world they inhabit. As they explore these questions together, the audience is treated to both humour and tenderness, and the film is definitely successful in this way.

The scene where the two characters spend time with Ryan’s parents, who also live in New York City, is truly an example of well executed comedy, and everyone can relate to this scene to some level, although certainly not to the extent that Ryan has to, given his situation. The audience was laughing throughout the opening of this extended scene, yet later there were tears flowing when the scene evolved to the touching one it became involving the older generation. This showcases the success of the directing, acting, and writing.

Overall, the film also succeeded for having a very practical ending as well, one that was believable and was not a perfect, happy ending, but one where everyone still made decisions and learned something.

This was definitely a fascinating and enjoyable film, looking at two Chinese men and their understanding of their own sexualities and cultures. The diversity of the film, and the focus on characters who were not straight white males, was definitely to be celebrated.

Well Done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Titan A.E. (2000) —

Movie Review – Titan A.E. (2000)

Movie Review – Titan A.E. (2000)

titan

Movie Synopsis:

In the 31st century, humans are on the verge of extinction, having been usurped by other species with much more power in the galaxy. The evil Drej species have destroyed Earth, and humans are scattered across the galaxy, often doing menial work to survive. However, when Cale is approached by a small crew led by a human captain, he is told that his deceased father had led a Titan Project, which would help restore the soul and spirit of the human race. Cale joins the crew to try and find the lost ship Titan, and save the human species.

Movie Review:

This animated film from the year 2000, which suffered production and distribution problems from Fox Animation, which was in the process of being shut down at the end of the film’s production, nonetheless does a fantastic job of bringing a passionate, touching, and action-packed science fiction story to the screen.

This film succeeds with great, diverse characters, both good and evil, voiced with talent by Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, Nathan Lane, and Jim Cummings.

Directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, who directed numerous films in the late 1900s including Anastasia, did a great job with this animated film switching to more computer animated techniques. The visuals of the film are stunning, and create an exciting sense of the wonders of the galaxy.

Furthermore, the music in the film is well done, with a variety of rock bands from the time period providing a variety of music with applicable lyrics to the story, and with a beat that keeps the action moving.

Finally, the plot itself, that of a young man trying to find himself and trying to help save humanity, has been explored before, but is nonetheless explored with excitement and enthusiasm here. The darker tones that are present in the storyline are welcome here for an animated film, and it almost makes you feel you are watching an American anime film.

Overall, this is an enjoyable, entertaining, and thoughtful science fiction animated film that was ahead of its time when it came out in 2000.

Well Done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Arrival (2016) — December 18, 2016

Movie Review – Arrival (2016)

Movie Review – Arrival (2016)

arrival

Movie Synopsis:

When a number of strange alien ships begin landing in various places around the globe, and they do not communicate or engage in any behaviour whatsoever, linguistics expert Louise Banks is called in by the American army to try and make contact with the aliens at the ship in Montana. She works with another scientist to try and understand the aliens and make sense of their strange language, while also trying to work with other experts around the world. However, as time ticks, and public fear escalates, various governments begin to express the need to take more decisive action against these alien ships. Banks works to overcome the grief in her own personal life and focus on understanding these alien lifeforms before things get out of control, which could spell disaster for the aliens and humanity.

Movie Review:

This was an absolute fantastic film, hands-down.

Firstly, the story, taken from a short story by Ted Chiang, was absorbing and unique. It was unique in the sense the story was intelligent rather than the usual “shoot em up” alien film with violence everywhere. It was absorbing in the sense that there were a variety of twists and turns throughout, particularly some major surprises for the audience towards the middle and end of the film. Without giving anything away, the plot twists are amazing and very satisfying when you as a viewer realize what is going on.

Secondly, director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) has done a fantastic job with putting together a thoughtful film that has scenes of action but many scenes of character development as well, and scenes where the audience is challenged to understand what is going on. Subdued cinematography (by Bradford Young) and music (by Johan Johannsson) was thoroughly successful at building tension and creating both beauty and suspense.

Thirdly, the acting in this film was superb. Amy Adams plays Louise Banks with poise and grace, portraying the grief the character feels as well as the strength when she is able to focus on what she knows best, linguistics. Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker turn in strong performances as a scientist working with Banks and a thoughtful army leader (turning stereotypes on their head, kudos to the writers and director).

Overall, this was a fantastic film. Although it sometimes felt a little bit long, with a runtime coming in just under 2 hours, this was pretty much a perfect film, and definitely not suffering from the problems of science fiction film Interstellar, which was way too long. In conclusion, this film is definitely worth seeing.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.