MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

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.

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.

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.

Movie Review – Theeb (2014) — May 15, 2016

Movie Review – Theeb (2014)

Movie Review – Theeb (2014)

theeb

Movie Synopsis:

This Jordanian film focuses on the Ottoman Empire during World War I.  An English officer comes to a peaceful settlement, wanting a guide to a strategic location on the newly built Ottoman railway.  Theeb’s brother volunteers to lead him, following customs of hospitality to guests.  Young Theeb secretly follows them, and eventually joins them.  It’s too late to turn back, so they must include him in the journey forward.  However, when they are beset by raiders on the dangerous path, Theeb must find a way to survive in a frightening desert wilderness.

Movie Review:

 

This film was a fascinating, and ultimately successful drama/adventure.   The combination of immediate plot combined with a broader commentary on the history and development of this land during the early 1900s was well put together.  The idea that the coming railway and advance of other societies was creating change and impact on the local peoples of the Ottoman Empire was referenced in this thoughtful film.

Director Naji Abu Nowar did a wonderful job bringing to life the Ottoman empire of the early 1900s.  The cinematography and shots of the landscape was beautiful and majestic.  The soundtrack to go along with this was also fantastic and added a lot of substance to the film.

The story of Theeb, and following him through some difficult and dangerous times, created tension and emotion.  Theeb was a character the audience really cared about, and child actor Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat did an excellent job showing curiosity, adventurous spirit, and sadness.

The one downside to the film was that the few main characters of the film were not as well defined and explored as they may have been.  If we had more details of the characters thoughts and motivations, it may have added additional depth to the film.

Overall however, this was an enjoyable, thoughtful, and powerful film that told a story from an Arabic point of view.  This is always vital when trying to understand events and situations.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Captain America: Civil War (2016) —

Movie Review – Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Movie Review – Captain America: Civil War (2016)

captain-america-civil-war

Movie Synopsis:

In this latest Marvel outing, we see Tony Stark still reeling from what occurred in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where his efforts led to near worldwide destruction.  He is trying to be more careful going forward.  Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers, are trying to make a difference to make the world safer, but yet another problem has led to innocent civilian casualties.

The United Nations, as a response, and with Tony Stark’s support, proposes that the UN have more say in how and when the Avengers will get involved in world threats.  Stark and several Avengers agree, while Captain America and several other Avengers disagree with this.

What unfolds is disagreement and dissension amongst the group, and infighting, while at the same time a dangerous criminal from the past hopes to use the situation to create havoc for the Avengers, for his own ends.

Movie Review:

 

This movie was definitely a good follow-up to Avengers: Age of Ultron, where the story picks up from the conclusion of that film.  The writers of this film did an excellent job on two fronts: showing the emotions of the super heroes, and creating a unique story that is different from the usual.

Emotions of the super heroes, particularly Tony Stark and his desire to ensure the Avengers do not take matters into their own hands to the point civilians are lost, was an interesting and logical next step, given what happened in the last film.  The fact Captain America didn’t agree created an interesting difference of opinion for all the Avengers, and there emotional responses to this philosophical divide was interesting to watch.  Although some characters had less focus and air time than others, the ones that were focused on were interesting to watch.

This question of the role of the Avengers and their relation to oversight from the United Nations was a fascinating central question for this movie, and it created a unique plot for the film.  There were obviously battle sequences and scenes of action, but the fact we had these internal questions being asked by our heroes created a unique premise for a movie.  We have seen many of these movies where it is battling huge and powerful evil characters trying to blow up cities and the planet itself.  Seeing something different in this film was a positive development, and one can hope this continues as we move forward with many other Marvel movies coming up over the coming years.

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.