Movie Review – Puss in Boots 2: The Last Wish

Puss in Boots 2: The Last Wish was directed by Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado and released on December 21, 2022 by DreamWorks Animation. Rated PG, the movie is a sequel to the original Puss in Boots movie that was released 11 years ago, in 2011.

The star of the show is Puss in Boots, a spry and adventurous cat, originally from the “Shrek” movie world. Played by Antonio Banderas, Puss in Boots realizes that a bounty hunter Big Bad Wolf, played by Wagner Moura, is out to get him and that he’s on the last of his 9 lives. Puss makes a new and unexpected friend in a chihuahua hiding in a cat rescue and again finds his former rival and now girl-cat love interest Kitty SoftPaws, played by Salma Hayek. The 3 set off together to find the Wishing Star, thought to have the ability to restore Puss’ 9 lives. What ensues is a tale of adventure and overcoming obstacles as the trio make their way through fairytale lands in sometimes hilarious and sometimes frightening scenarios.

In my opinion, this 1 hour and 40 minutes is time well spent, especially if you liked the original Puss in Boots. While it is rated PG, there does seem to be some uproar from parents of young children not expecting the Big Bad Wolf to be, well, quite so big and bad and frightening. But overall, it was everything you expect from a tale of Puss in Boots in a fairytale world full of adventure and excitement. The outstanding graphics animation from DreamWorks never disappoints. It was even nominated for an Oscar at the 2023 Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature Film, so go see it before March 12, 2023, so you can decide for yourself if it was money well spent on a Saturday afternoon.

Video Game Review: Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet

Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet were developed by the video game development company called Game Freak and published by The Pokémon Company and Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch on November 18, 2022. They are reported to have sold more than 10 million copies combined in the first 3 days of sales. These games are completely different from all the previous installments in the series and considered the first role playing games in the 9th generation of Pokémon.  

The games have 3 separate story lines, each of which you can explore however you want and in any order you want. These open worlds allow you, the player, to travel wherever you want to, which is a first in a Pokémon game. It seems though that this feature may not have been fully though through, because as soon as you start the game and travel to somewhere far away from where you started, all of the Pokémon are at a higher level and can easily defeat you.

After playing through the game, I realized that there was a designated path that the player should have followed in a certain order. When you do this, in the correct order, then when you get to the higher levels, you are much more able to handle the stronger Pokémon and trainers. A major problem with this new release is the massive amount of performance issues, bugs, and frame rate issues. Many times, textures do not load properly and Pokémon models pop in and out constantly. There are also lighting problems, and crashes happen, more so than normal.

The idea of an open-world Pokémon game is very good in theory. I actually love the idea, but the execution of it did not turn out that well. I really liked everything else that was added into the game. If you look past the technical glitches of the game it is really fun and enjoyable. It’s definitely a different take on past versions of the Pokémon franchise and I do like the direction they are heading with the open world concept. I would recommend this game to anyone who already enjoys the Pokémon games have perhaps played some before and want to move further through the series. However, if you are new to Pokémon games in general, I would recommend that you play some of the other games available in the series prior to Pokémon Scarlet and Violet first, so that you can get a true feel for what the series is really all about and experience the game play that has made Pokémon a worldwide phenomenon.

A Fun Weekend Trip Idea – Death Valley

If you are looking for a fun weekend trip, look no further than our Nation’s largest National Park – Death Valley! Death Valley is about 270 miles from Mission Viejo and under a 5 hour drive time. There are various ways to get there by car, but I recommend heading out on the 1-15 and going through Baker, CA. In Baker, you can enjoy a quick stop at Alien Fresh Jerky, a really bizarre road side stop that houses a beef jerky shop and all the alien encounters you never wanted to experience. It’s basically just a cool store to look around, stretch your legs and maybe buy a quick snack, but definitely a fun experience. Once you reach Death Valley you’ll want to make sure you have a pass or purchase one there. After that, it’s up to you what to do. There are many interesting parts of the park to experience and all have their own unique features.

Furnace Creek is the main tourist area in the park with 2 different hotels, The Ranch and the Inn. There are very few places to sleep and eat in the park so be prepared to spend a lot of money if you want to do either. I do suggest bringing as much of your own food and drinks as possible. Furnace Creek also has the Visitor Center where you can learn the history of Death Valley and talk to a park ranger to get information on the best places to visit during your trip.

There are many points of interest in Death Valley and you could spend way longer than a weekend there, but I’d recommend starting at the Borax Museum where you can learn about how Death Valley was mined for Borax before it was a National Park and the company and people who pushed for it to become one. From there you can visit Zabriskie Point that overlooks a row of peaks and ridges that are multicolored and the Badwater area deep down in the canyon below. Then you’ll want to drive down into Badwater Basin which is the lowest point in North America at -282 feet below sea level. While there you can take a walk out to the salt polygons which are the result of the bottom of the lake that once was and is now all dried up.

After visiting Badwater Basin, you’ll want to head back North where you can drive through Artists Drive which is a 9 mile scenic one way loop drive through a lot of canyons where the hillsides are all sorts of colors. There are also some fun dips and narrow canyons to drive through on the way. If you are inclined to take a steep hike, you can stop at Artists Palette, named because the mountains look like an Artist just walked away with his empty color palette. They are actually truly amazing and like nothing you’ve probably seen before. On the same drive you can also stop at Golden Canyon or Natural Bridge, both of which are amazing short hikes of 1-4 miles where you can take a deeper look into the canyon walls and experience bridges carved out of rock and ancient petro glyphs.

On the other side of Furnace Creek from Badwater area is Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes which is another area you won’t want to miss. It’s almost like a scene from Star Wars with sand dunes reaching out as far as you can see. You can walk out as far as you want and run, slide and even roll down the dunes if you want to. Near Mesquite Dunes is the turn off towards Scotty’s Castle and a whole lot of other more off road vehicle type roads, many of which are currently closed due to flash floods that washed out roads this past summer.

As a last note, you’ll want to visit all these amazing places when you can actually walk around enjoy them without it being 120+ degrees outside. The weather in Death Valley can change quickly so definitely be prepared for anything that might come by checking the weather ahead of time and always carry lots of water and snacks, just in case. Death Valley is also known as the hottest place on Earth with the all time recorded temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913, so the best time to visit is now, or any other time between November to March.

Steps for Teens to Obtaining a California Driver’s License

Many of us look forward to our 16th birthday, when we can officially obtain our driver’s license in California. If you want to get your license on your 16th birthday, it’s best to start planning not too long after you turn 15 years old, especially with all of the other commitments teens have nowadays with school, sports, jobs, and volunteering.
There are a lot of steps that are sometimes confusing to teens and their parents, so hopefully this information is helpful to start.

To obtain a driver’s license in California if you are between 16-18 years old, you must first complete at least 25 hours of classroom instruction or a virtual class, 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training, and 50 hours of supervised driving practice that includes 10 hours of driving at night (

The first step is to obtain your learner’s permit which you can do as soon as you turn 15 ½. Before going to the DMV to obtain the learner’s permit, you will need to take the 25 hours of instruction and pass the class, usually with a test. There are many ways to do this in person and online and many companies that offer this service. You’ll have to research and find the one that works best for you.

After you complete the class, you will receive a certificate to take with you to the DMV to prove that you’ve passed the course. It’s best to make an appointment at the DMV to avoid waiting in long lines. You’ll also need to complete the DMV driver’s permit application and have a parent or legal guardian sign it. When you go to the DMV you’ll need to bring proof of residency, pay an application fee, pass a vision test, take your picture and take a written test of your knowledge of driving laws. You must pass the multiple choice test with at least 80% of the questions answered correctly. Once you have done all that you may begin your behind the wheel training. If you pass, congratulations, you will be issued a learner’s permit and be allowed to begin your behind-the-wheel training. If you don’t pass the first time, its ok, you can try again, but you’ll have to wait at least 7 days and make sure to study hard during that time.

You’ll then need to complete at least 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training with an actual driver’s program. You’ll also need to complete 50 hours of driving behind the wheel with a parent or guardian who is at least 25 years old and has a CA driver’s license. Ten of those 50 hours need to be done at night.

After all of this, once you have had your provisional permit for at least 6 months and you are at least 16 years old, you can make an appointment at the DMV to take your in-car driving test. They’ll ask for current insurance documentation and give you a behind the wheel test. If you pass, YEAH! You’ll be an officially licensed driver in the State of California. You’ll be issued a temporary paper license, valid for 60 days or until you receive your official license in the mail. If you don’t pass, you’ll have to wait 14 days and try again and pay an additional fee. You can try 3 times before you are required to start the entire process all over again. This is why it’s especially important to make sure you are ready the first time around.

Requirements can always change, so please refer to the most recent information available at

Drive Safe!

Cruising – A Different Type of Vacation

Have you ever gone down a waterslide, ridden a roller coaster, rock climbed or tried walking across a tightrope hundreds of feet above the ocean? Sounds crazy, right? But a vacation cruise allows you to have these sorts of adventures and more! With so many of us planning our next vacation after such a long time dealing with COVID having shut so many things down for so long, I encourage you to take a look at all that cruising has to offer.

With over 50 different cruise lines available with over 320 different ships to choose from in the world currently, there are TONS of options for every type of traveler. There are cruise ships that sail in the ocean and ships that are solely built for cruising along rivers. Cruises can be as short as 2 nights or, currently, the longest cruise is 274 nights and offers its passengers a trip around the world, literally.

I recently had the opportunity to take a short cruise out of the nearby port in Long Beach, CA and visited Catalina, CA and Ensenada, Mexico. It was a great adventure, as I had never been on a cruise before. Before your cruise even starts, you decide what type of cabin you want, and there are lots to choose from, everything from an inside cabin, an ocean view, a balcony or different types of suites. What you choose depends on your preference and also on how much money you want to spend. Many people think cruising would never be an option because it’s too expensive, but there are cruises available for less than the cost of a hotel per night, if you really look for them. You might have to be flexible on your accommodations, however.

Once you are on the cruise there are so many things to do. Whether you like sitting around relaxing by the pool, playing Bingo or trivia for fun prizes, watching a show, or even playing basketball or miniature golf, there will always be something fun for you to do. There are special areas just for kids and teens, broken up by age group so you can meet others on board your age. The rooms have activities geared towards the specific age group including games, activities and video games and special parties. There’s also a variety of restaurants on board including a buffet, a main dining room or even special fine dining restaurants where you pay an additional fee, otherwise most food is included, which may result in you eating way more than you normally do in a day.

Sometimes you choose a cruise just for the cruise itself, and sometimes you choose a cruise for the ports you will visit. My family chose our destination just as a fun getaway right before school started back up, so it was a little bit of both, just to experience what a cruise was like and to visit a few places. Once in port, you can explore the town on your own or take a tour to a location that interests you. Every person who goes on a cruise will have a different experience based upon your likes and dislikes, so next time you don’t know where you should head out on vacation, check out all of the available cruising options as a different kind of vacation, especially if you’ve never experienced one before. You won’t be disappointed!

Movie Review: Minions: The Rise of Gru

Are you looking for a fun activity to do with friends or family before everyone heads back to school?  If you want a fun, comical and entertaining movie to watch together, look no further than Minions: The Rise of Gru. Released on July 1, 2022 by Illumination and Universal Pictures this animated movie is sure to put a smile on your face. This new prequel sequel to the Despicable Me franchise, “Minions 2” tells the story of Gru growing up in the 1970s. Kevin, Stuart and Bob are all back with their new “boss” eleven year old Gru. Added to the bunch is Otto, a new minion. Having always admired the “Vicious 6” a group of dangerous criminals and the world’s greatest super villains, Gru is excited to get to interview to become one of them and the chaos ensues.

Typical of what you’d expect from a Minion movie, mayhem and destruction, explosions, fights and battles take place during the approximately 90 minute movie. This issue of the franchise was particularly amusing as Gru is kidnapped and taken to San Francisco where a group of minions travel to rescue Gru.  You will see places you may have visited like Chinatown in true to life animation. Without revealing too much of the storyline, you can assume much of the movie revolves around comical criminal activity and hysterical animation including seeing the backside of minions with and without their trunks on. Rated PG for action/violence and rude humor, this is an animated movie that is fairly family friendly if only for a few crude jokes and animated bombings and similar. I’d recommend it to all of my family and friends looking for some lighthearted fun where you can laugh your worries away whether you are 1 or 101.

A Trip Around Lake Erie

Summer has just begun and now that Covid is clearing up many people are taking their long-due vacations. For vacation this summer, my family and I decided to go for a trip around Lake Erie which is one of the 5 great lakes in the northeastern part of the United States. During our time there we drove through 4 different states and a different country.

We decided to start by taking a four hour flight over to Cleveland, Ohio and from there we took a short drive to Cedar Point. Cedar Point is an amusement park in Ohio that my dad has been wanting to go to for years. We spent a couple days there, then went on a ferry to a little island called Put-in-Bay. Put-in-Bay is a village on South Bass Island in the middle of Lake Erie about a mile from Sandusky, Ohio. We spent a day there driving around in a golf cart and exploring the island. While the island is very small, it houses a US National Park called Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial which is a memorial to those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812.  After we got back to the mainland, we went to another amusement park called Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, and we spent another 2 days there.

After fully exploring these fun places in Ohio, we packed up and took about an 8 hour car ride towards Toronto, Canada. At the US/Canadian border we were stopped by border agents who asked us many questions about where we had come from and where we were going. They also made sure we had properly completed the ArriveCan app information which is an app required to enter Canada now due to COVID. We stayed in a small suburb of Toronto called Vaughan where Canada’ Wonderland is located.

All 3 of these amusement parks are owned by the same company that owns Knott’s Berry Farm here in Orange County. While the idea is the same, ride rides and eat lots of food, the environments and the experiences at each park were quite different. I enjoyed them all in different ways. When we were done with our amusement park thrills we headed over to Niagara Falls where we went on the Maid of the Mist which is a boat that takes you right up to the bottom of the falls. While they do provide you with ponchos our entire family still ended up getting soaked.  After Niagara Falls, we drove all the way back to the Cleveland airport through Pennsylvania and back to Ohio, then flew all the way back to California. It was a great adventure with a lot of new experiences including the theme parks and multiple thunderstorms unlike anything we have in California. While I enjoyed it greatly, it’s nice to be home.

Book Review: Animal Farm

Animal Farm is a novel written by George Orwell and published in 1945. Animal Farm is about a group of mistreated and malnourished animals on a farm that is run by an alcoholic farmer that neglected his duties as a farmer. The fable reflects the events leading up to the Russian Revolution and into the Stalinist era of communism and the Soviet Union in the form of animals on a farm.

The book starts off with Old Major, oldest and wisest pig telling all the animals that he has a dream of a society where the animals would have control of the farm and everyone would have equal jobs and roles in the farm. A day passes and Old Major passes away and the rest of the animals decide to make Old Major’s dream come true and decide to start a revolution and kick the farmer off his own farm. The animals create a set of rules that make them all equal and have the same rights. The pigs are appointed to run the farm because they are the smartest and the pigs decide to slowly change the rules of the farm for their own benefit. The animals begin to run the farm and discover that the pigs are slowly becoming more human-like which was exactly what they didn’t want to happen.

I really liked this book. It is very interesting how the society slowly evolves and the pigs begin to manipulate the rules for themselves.  I found it interesting how every character and type of animal each have their own traits that represented an aspect of the Russian Revolution and Stalinist era. Animal Farm is a true classic novel that I would recommend to anyone interested in reading it.

Animal Farm by George Orwell is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Movie Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog is without a doubt one of the most popular and well known video game characters. He is a fast, funny, and blue hedgehog. What’s not to love about him? Sonic made his big screen debut originally in September 2020. Two years later, Sonic found himself on the big screen again in the sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which hit theater screens in the United States on April 8, 2022.

The film stars Ben Schwartz as Sonic and Colleen O’Shaughnessey as Tails, a fox who has two tails and aspires to be as cool as Sonic. Together, they take on Jim Carrey as Dr. Eggman and Knuckles the Echidna played by Idris Elba, who are trying to take control of the Master Emerald. With the power of the Master Emerald the person who controls the emerald has the ability to turn thoughts into reality. The movie revolves around Sonic and Tails trying to track down the Master Emerald before Dr. Eggman and Knuckles get to it.

I really enjoyed this movie. I loved the interactions between Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and the humans. I liked the story for the most part, but there were some loose ends and pointless scenes revolving around the humans that took up about 40 minutes of the already long 2 hour movie that wasn’t even part of the main storyline. I think this part really could have been tightened up a bit. I did, however, really enjoy the CGI battles between Sonic and Knuckles, and the way they showed Sonic’s speed compared to the other characters.

Overall, I would give this movie a thumbs up and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who just wants to see a fun, lighthearted movie with friends or family.

-Brandon G.

Game Review: Pokemon Legends Arceus

Pokemon Legends Arceus is a Pokemon game unlike any other we have seen before. Published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch, this new take on the Pokemon genre completely changes the formula of all the games before it.  Pokemon Legends Arceus takes place in the Hisui region based upon the island of Hokkaido in Japan in ancient times. It serves as a prequel to Nintendo’s previous releases of Pokemon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum set in the Sinnoh Region based on modern day Hokkaido. Pokemon Legends Arceus is an open world, action role-playing game in which the objective is to explore the entire region by riding different Pokemon, and to catch all 242 Pokemon available throughout all of the five different biomes in the region in order to catch Arceus who is the Pokemon that sets you out on your journey.

With Pokemon Legends comes a completely new battle and catching system unlike anything else. Instead of having to engage in battles in order to catch Pokemon, you can instead catch them in the environment with a variety of different Pokeballs. The Pokemon can interact with the environment, other Pokemon, and the player. In addition to this, instead of battles being turn based, the player can alter the turn order by using agile style moves, which makes their next turn come sooner but decreases power, or strong style moves, that are stronger, but makes their next turn come later. Some other features include alpha Pokemon, which are stronger and bigger Pokemon, Mass Outbreaks, which are swarms of specific Pokemon that occasionally spawn. 

I really enjoyed this game and have nearly completed it. The gameplay is so different from other Pokemon games and has many new features. I really loved the hub world, Jubilife Village, and the many side quests that you could accept. I also liked the starter Pokemon that you could pick: Oshawott, a water sea otter; Cyndaquil, a fire mouse; and my personal favorite, Rowlet, a grass owl. I would recommend this game to anyone who loves Pokemon or is interested in checking out why everything Pokemon has become an international phenomenon.

-Brandon G.