Beowulf

beowulfMany have heard of Beowulf, though many know nothing of it. Many actually believe that Beowulf is the monster in the tale. That certainly is not the case – at least, not a literal monster-in this tale. It’s one of the oldest fantasy tales ever written, and quite possibly the most and important as it had a heavy influence on modern day powerhouses such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

The story takes place in Europe, describing a great beast known as Grendel, who was said to be the descendant of Cain. He was in constant pain, while the Danish people were always happy and celebrating. One day, his anger and desires got the best him. Calling that which follows “gruesome” would be an understatement. Word gets out, and a famous warrior named Beowulf shows an interest in slaying the beast. I wouldn’t want to spoil the rest, but it is quite a tale.

Though I only read a shortened version of the epic in school, I was quite impressed with its deep symbolism and rich attention to detail. I’ll admit, I was underwhelmed at first, simply because the story can seem quite shallow and generic if merely looked through. But if looked through carefully, and with proper research, you can see the depth. For example, Grendel represents an outcast or an outsider, and since he is linked with the Bible, many also link him to the devil. It is symbols such as these that provide new layers of context to the tale, and sheds new light on the characters and their characteristics.

Also, being a fan of the medieval genre, I appreciated the world that the author created, with all of the traditional aspects that make a great fantasy story, from monsters to magic, kingdoms to knighthood. Beowulf is quite an impressive story, and a must read for any fantasy genre fan, since this is what truly kicked off the entire genre. There are different versions of Beowulf, so best to choose the one that suites your time and interest.

-Ahmed H., 12th grade

Beowulf is available, in various translations and critical thought, for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download on Overdrive and Hoopla

Finding Dory Review

findingdoryOver the last 20 years, Pixar Studios has cemented itself as one of, if not the best animation studios in the business. This is due to their consistency and devotion to their franchises. One of the most successful of these franchises was Finding Nemo, which was a critical and commercial success for Pixar. After 13 years, the sequel Finding Dory has finally been released.

Set after the events of the first movie, it is now Dory’s turn to go looking for someone, with Nemo and Marlin to help. What I really liked about the film was that the characters still have the same voices after nearly a decade. Especially Ellen DeGeneres who reprises her role as Dory. She had a fantastic performance, making you truly care about Dory and her struggles. Marlin is as uptight as ever, and provides a great contrast to Dory’s recklessness. The new characters in the film are all well done also.

I found the film to be paced very well also, with fantastic writing and humor to wrap it all up nicely. There are some genuinely hilarious moments in this movie, more than I was expecting. At the same time, there are very heartfelt and emotional moments that stick with you.

However, one thing I didn’t like about the film was the lack of innovation from the first. It explored similar themes of family, forgiveness, and hope, and while different events take place, they weren’t as unique as I would’ve liked. After Zootopia, I would’ve preferred a less clichéd story along with some social commentary. But these are just small nitpicks for an overall excellent experience.

Finding Dory is one of the best animated films in years, bringing back everything we loved from the original and reminding us how great Pixar can be. Anyone who enjoys animated movies, is a fan of Finding Nemo, or wants to have a fun time should go see this movie. In fact, the last word of the entire film describes this sequel perfectly: unforgettable.

-Ahmed H, grade 12

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

greatgatsby_fscottfitzgeraldPublished in 1925, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is one of the staples of American literature, and a favorite for high school English teachers. The novel takes place during the  early 1920s, called The Jazz Age by Fitzgerald. The narrator, Nick Carraway, just moved into the area, and is invited to his cousin Daisy’s home, who is married to Tom Buchanan. What follows is a drama-filled narrative revolving around a peculiar, mysterious man named Jay Gatsby.

I’ll admit at first I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book, especially due to, in my opinion, a slow first act that doesn’t engage me till a few chapters in. Despite the poor pacing of the opening chapters, I find the rest of the events of the book to be spread out well. The first person perspective of Nick is also used well, as it upholds the mysterious tone and uncertainty surrounding many of the characters. The characters themselves are also all well developed throughout the book and fairly different from each other, providing a unique story that blended many themes together.

Fitzgerald is known for his excellent symbolism and imagery, as many seemingly small events contain messages that foreshadow future events or provide commentary on society. I appreciated these as I went back and noticed them, or as my teacher explained them to me. Another element I enjoyed was the humor, as Fitzgerald poked fun at society and at the ignorance of characters, parodying the Roaring 20s’ American lifestyle.

Overall, I was very impressed with The Great Gatsby’s storytelling, characterization, symbolism, and social commentary, while somewhat disappointed by its less than thrilling first act. I would recommend The Great Gatsby to readers who like grounded dramas.

-Ahmed H., grade 12

The Great Gatsby is available, in all its versions and adaptations, for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.

Film Review: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

batmanvsupermanBatman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice is a film directed by Zack Snyder and produced largely by Warner Bros and DC Entertainment. It stars Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck. This has been a hugely anticipated movie for people of all ages, breaking box office records in its opening weekend and garnering the attention of nearly every comic fan.

If you couldn’t tell by the title of the movie, Batman V Superman pits two of the most iconic superheroes of all time against each other, but it’s not nearly as simple as that. Various characters such as Superman’s rival Lex Luthor and girlfriend Lois Lane impact and shape the story.

Unfortunately, I felt that the pacing of the movie was very poor. I was very uninterested for the first 45 minutes of the film, and if it weren’t for the fact that it was Superman and Batman, I might have fallen asleep. The movie constantly jumps between different characters and rarely stayed in one setting for longer than 10 minutes, which made the story feel broken instead of a seamless narrative. However, this also built each character a bit more as it revealed how each of them had their own motivations. Despite previous doubts, I felt that all of the actors delivered solid performances, especially Henry Cavill as Superman and Jesse Eisenberg who made a very entertaining Lex Luthor.

The action and special effects in the film are top notch, with all the explosions and brawling you could ever ask for, especially between some of the famous superheroes. The only time the CGI felt a little rough around the edges was in the beginning of the film.

Even so, I really felt this movie fell flat of its expectations. They put far too much plot and backstory into one movie, trying to introduce and establish multiple pivotal characters at the same time in the same movie. They wasted too much time on build up and seemingly rushed the actual fighting between Batman and Superman, which is not even close to the end of the movie. Whenever I thought they would stop adding more side stories and complicating the plot more, they kept pushing and pushing then seemingly threw it all away in the last 45 minutes. Without giving anything away, there were multiple events where I was just shaking my head, thinking “Why would you do that?”

Overall, I felt that Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice was very average as a movie and somewhat above average as a superhero movie. I’d recommend for anyone who is interested in action packed movies or is a superhero fan to go watch it. However, just appreciate it as a loud dumb popcorn movie and don’t think too hard about the story.

-Ahmed H.

 

The Martian Movie Review

martian_filmThe Martian is a sci-fi drama film directed and produced by Ridley Scott. It stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney and features other familiar faces like Jeff Daniels and Sean Bean. The movie takes place some time in the near future, when human technology has improved so that outer space travel to Mars has been achieved. Mark Watney and the other members of his crew are on an expedition on Mars when a storm hits and the team is forced to evacuate, accidentally leaving Watney behind.

What transpires for the whole movie is Watney trying to survive and NASA trying to contact him. The movie jumps back and forth between the two settings at various times. Obviously with a situation like this, tension runs high throughout the film, and indeed there are several thrilling moments. However, the high points of the film for me are the intimate, thoughtful moments that show the psychological and emotional stress Watney and NASA go through during this crisis.

It’s these quiet and well presented moments that make this movie so memorable and special. You truly grow to care about Watney and feel invested in his struggle. Matt Damon does a phenomenal job at bringing Mark Watney to life from the novel, with some of the best acting of his career. The Martian also has a very unexpected aspect: comedy. Mark Watney himself has a very good sense of humor, further increasing his likability. He is very optimistic and upbeat about each situation. It also helps that there are other great comedy actors such as Michael Peña and Donald Glover.

Overall, I found The Martian to be a really great movie. It wasn’t a huge spectacle or had the action of Interstellar or Gravity, but rather focuses on smaller moments, whether emotional or comedic, to drive its appeal. It does these very well, and I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys drama/thrillers, or science fiction films.

-Ahmed H.

Movie Review: The Dark Knight

darknightA superhero film isn’t meant to be incredibly serious. A superhero film isn’t meant to carry emotional weight. A superhero film isn’t meant to be regarded as one of the greatest films of the 21st century.

So when The Dark Knight was released back in 2008, it truly wowed fans and critics. The second installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it follows Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale, as he deals with a new threat, The Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger.

This isn’t so much a superhero film as it is a crime thriller. No special effects, no green screen, just unfiltered cinematic brilliance. First of all, the film is shot very well with perfect camera angles and music that fits each scene. The plot is a cat-and-mouse game, with Joker performing a series of attacks on Gotham City. Batman attempts to save the day only to find Joker one step ahead of him each time. The Gotham police department is led by Commissioner Gordon, played by Gary Oldman. The relationship between Batman and Gordon, and also attorney Harvey Dent, is what drives the hunt for the Joker.

What really makes this film so legendary are the performances. With an all-star cast, consisting of names such as Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, the supporting characters are all quite interesting and play essential roles in the story. Christian Bale of course does a marvelous job as Bruce Wayne. But Heath Ledger really steals the show as Joker, putting on one of the best performances of the last decade, probably the best villain performance of all time. Maniacal and psychotic, yet deep and compelling all at once, Joker owns nearly every scene he’s in.

The Dark Knight is not your average superhero movie. It provides better plot, performances, music, and cinematography than most movies you’ll see nowadays. Any fan of thrillers, crime dramas, action, or Batman should definitely go see this.

-Ahmed H, 11th grade

The Dark Knight is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library

Movie Review: Ant-Man

antmanI’m going to be honest, I’m a pretty big fan of superhero movies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t blown away by Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I was intrigued as to what Marvel would do with Ant-Man, a hero whom I never even heard of and whose name makes me laugh every time I see it. It’s safe to say they’ve surprised me again.

Ant-Man is directed by Peyton Reed and stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, and Evangeline Lilly as Hope Pym. It’s an action comedy set in present day United States. Hank Pym was a scientist who became the original Ant-Man after creating a substance that could shrink him down in size. Darren Cross, his former apprentice, wants to steal it to create his own super weapon. Hank asks help from Scott Lang, a former thief and divorced father failing at making a living.

What you’ll notice right away is just how humorous the movie really is. This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, since Marvel is known for their witty dialogue and new age comedy. However, this movie takes it a step further by having actual comedic actors, like Michael Pena, play large roles. This amount of comedy may seem unnecessary, but I felt it really added to the tone of the movie and situation very well. It still maintains enough seriousness to make you understand the weight of the situation, though I’m glad the director didn’t try to make it dark and brooding. After all, this is a movie about a guy who shrinks and controls ants, right?

The movie paces itself quite well, introducing and setting up the main characters in a short time, explaining back stories and character relationships within the earlier points in the movie. It has action sequences throughout, and has a spectacular finale. It also much more emotional depth than you’d expect from a movie like this, but it serves the story well. The entire scope of the movie is very small compared to Marvel’s more recent film, Age of Ultron, and that’s very good because it lets you explore the characters more and it, again, works for this hero.

Overall, Ant-Man is a fun, humorous, action-packed summer blockbuster that anyone can enjoy. Whether you’re a superhero fan, an action fan, comedy fan, or just a fan of movies in general, you will most likely enjoy this film.

Ahmed H., 11th grade