Film Review: The Mule

Earl Stone is a senescent horticulturist and veteran from the Korean War. For all of his life, he has dedicated his time to nurturing his plants and prioritizing work before anything. Due to this reason, he is greatly estranged from his daughter and his wife Mary. At the beginning of the movie, Earl is still earning popularity and money by selling plants to people. However, as the years passed, the internet is the new way of how people sell stuff. Due to this reason, Earl’s business has greatly fallen behind and he was facing a financial crisis. After a heated argument with his wife on how he missed his daughter’s graduation and even the wedding, Earl was headed out of the house. Nevertheless, one strange man approached him and told him to transport some cargoes which can earn him plenty of money. Earl easily agreed and that’s how he came to be the courier of illegal drugs.

There are two reasons why I believe this movie deserves some attention and views. First, it has a central theme of racism that is not outright spoken but can be clearly felt. Due to Earl’s identity as a white man, police officers didn’t bother to check his truck even after the dog has barked after the smell of the drugs. He easily believed Earl when he claims that the dog barks because of the liniment he applies to his hands for medication purposes. The second time the police officers arrested the two Hispanic bodyguards along with him but didn’t arrest Earl due to his race. The third time the police officers directly skipped Earl’s hotel room and only interrogated people of color.

The second reason is that although this movie mainly focuses on crime, its central theme is family. Earl never knows how important family is to him until he attended the performance of his granddaughter. The money he paid for her tuition is illegally earned, but it made him feel special and purposeful about being appreciated by his family members. When his wife Mary died, he deeply regrets the limited amount of time and attention he spent on her until she’s no longer with him.

Therefore, it is important that we recognize and cherish the people and things around us before they are gone.

-Coreen C.

The Mule is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Organic Strawberry Growing for Dummies

My strawberry plants are very happy right now, and I am harvesting strawberries. In clearing space for some plants, I had to pick a lot of strawberry plants out. Most people just compost old plants, but I decided to have some fun by giving them away. I put them in pots and gave them to strangers who walked by, as well as friends as family. I’d like to share my knowledge with anyone who is interested in strawberry growing.

I’ve learned some strawberry knowledge, and I am going to bless you with my knowledge from my EXTREMELY limited experience.

Gardening is a great way to use up free time, and it’s very rewarding and therapeutic. Mother Nature is powerful, and who knows what horrors you can put your plants through that they might bounce back from. But is that what you want? That’s the beauty of gardening. There’s no right or wrong, and nature has a wonderful way of adapting to things in unexpected ways. Plants need soil, light, and water. Mulching and fertilizing are two things that might seem expendable. And, you might be right. It really depends how well you want to take care of your plants. Do you just want to keep them barely alive, or do you want as many strawberries as possible? Do you just want them to be green and look pretty?

Okay, so, let’s say you have bought the most beautiful strawberry plant in a pot that comes with nice soil. If you just want to keep it alive, you have to put it in light and water it an inch a week. That’s the bare minimum.

June-bearing, Everbearing, or Day-neutral?

These are the three types of strawberry plants. But also more. It’s super confusing. Honestly I don’t get it. But here’s what the internet says: June-bearing is the most common, and produces the most and the largest strawberries for only a 2-3 week period around June once a year. Everbearing has 2-3 harvests per year, with a smaller harvest. Day-neutral varieties are the new fancy kind that produce berries throughout the summer. It’s super confusing, but if you’re looking into buying strawberry plants, I would do more research, because the kinds produce fruit at very different times.

Pot or Ground?

You can plant your strawberry plant in the ground, but the strawberries will be MUCH easier to pick if the plant is in a pot. If you plant them, they will spread everywhere. The berries themselves can’t touch the ground at ALL, or the entire strawberry will be ruined. While they are bearing strawberries, it is necessary to dig around the plants deep into the ground so the strawberries hanging off the plants don’t touch soil. Going from pot to soil and expecting non-moldy strawberries requires a bare minimum of digging deeply around the plants. The advantage of putting your plant in the ground, however, is that it will spread. The original plants will put out shoots that will root and create more plants. More strawberry plants means more strawberries (yay!). But more strawberry plants also means more work. Because they put out shoots and spread, every year it will become a thick strawberry tangled mess. You will have to remove a bunch of the plants to make space and dig around them. If you are willing to put in a lot of work, ground is a great way to get more crops. If you know you’re not going to put in the extra effort, pots are MUCH easier because they keep the berries off the ground as they hang over the edge.

Cut off Dead Stuff

If something happened to your berry plants and they’re looking very brown, cut off ALL the leaves and vines, and they will make new, more productive leaves and shoots leading to new plants. Every year after the growing season, you’re supposed to cut off all the leaves so new ones grow. It’s up to you if you want to do that, but I would advise it. Old strawberry plants don’t produce many berries, and the few berries get smaller and smaller as years go by. Plants are also very susceptible to disease, unfortunately. Berries you buy in the store are covered in chemicals because growing huge, red, glossy berries requires them to be eaten within an hour of being picked, not touch the ground, and all organisms to stay away. The reality of organic growing is lots of VERY ugly strawberries that go bad within 20 minutes. Cut off dead stuff as frequently as possible. If a tiny bit of a leaf in grown, just cut off the whole thing. That leaf is diseased and will just create more diseased leaves, and then diseased strawberries. If your strawberries look funny research strawberry diseases to try to help your sick strawberries.

Mulching?

Mulching is when you put something around the base of the plant to retain moisture, such as straw. Strawberries love this consistent moisture. Hence the name. STRAWberries. So, yes, mulching your plants is a great idea. Look up some mulching materials and mulch your berries to really see why they put the straw in strawberry! But honestly the plant will survive if you don’t. It’s worth the extra effort, though.

Fertilizing?

Strawberries really like nitrogen, so look up online ways to make your soil nitrogen-rich. Blood meal is a great, organic source (if you buy organic blood meal) of nitrogen.

Harvesting!

The basics are to harvest strawberries every 3 days, pick strawberries by clipping them a 1/2 inch from the stem of the berry, and pick them when ripe. Picking them when ripe is the hard part. Organic strawberries are some of the most difficult crops to grow. Once you pick them, they will not ripen anymore. So picking them before they are ripe will lead to strawberries that don’t have much flavor. The longer they ripen on the vine, the sweeter they get. They are ready to pick once they are a deep red. Even if they are deep red and smaller than a blueberry, they will unfortunately not get any bigger once they turn that dark red. I eat the tiny ones, but even if you don’t want to eat them, pick the tiny dark red strawberries so the plant doesn’t keep putting energy into them. After they turn dark red, all berries will rot and be eaten by other animals. Once they get that deep red pick them right away. Pick strawberries at least every 3 days, cutting away old berries you missed as well as ripe ones. They are frustrating to grow because sometimes bugs or birds or whatever get to them before they achieve a nice deep red. It’s an imperfect science at best. You’ll learn as you go. You got this.

Watering

Probably the most important thing, but also the simplest. Water your plants a little bit every day, about an inch a week. Think about an 1/8 cup of water a day. They have a reputation of rotting when overwatered, and people are hesitant to water them frequently. But in Southern California it is very hot, so please just water them a teeny bit every day if you are not good with watering plants. Ideally, don’t keep track of how often, because the most important thing is how the plant is doing. Maintain consistently moist soil around the roots. Check by putting your finger in the soil to feel the moisture the roots are experiencing. Having a 24 hour period of no water will damage the plant, and having a 24 hour period of too much water will cause the roots to rot and severely damage the plant. Thus, constant light moisture.

In a perfect world, you should put your plants in full sunlight, water them, cut off dead stuff, mulch, and fertilize them with nitrogen-rich soil. Do what you can. Happy strawberry growing!

Adding More Scientific Realism to Sci-Fi in Space: Star Wars The Clone Wars

How Just a Bit of Realism In Your Story can Deepen Your World and Enthrall Your Reader

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (TV Series 2008–2020) - IMDb

Last summer, I spent many late nights toying with the idea of a space novel. There were so many questions I had, so many things I wanted to know about the world I was attempting to create, and at times I had no idea where to begin.

As school began and I got busy, my space novel project got worked on less, but I kept world-building in small ways when inspiration came.

Now, on this extended break from school, I have had much more time freed up. One of the things I have done with that time is watch Star Wars The Clone Wars, which is, in my opinion, an incredible expansion to the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars The Clone Wars TV show was one of the many space-fiction stories that inspired my story. Star Wars is something almost everyone, even someone who isn’t a fan, will recognize as trendsetting space fiction. It was a pop culture phenomenon at its birth and continues to be today. I have always loved the light-saber as a weapon, the many well developed characters, and the expansive galaxy enriched by each new location we visit in the franchise.

Through my writer’s eye, I saw the show in a whole new light. With many different military groups, independent systems, the Republic and the Separatists, the Trade Federation and each different type of planetary government, it is an incredible example of how intergalactic politics might work!

While the plot, characters, and lore remain interesting, and model-worthy as well, I did notice a pattern of something missing. Let’s face it, if there is anything this show lacks, it is the realistic elements of science that pull the reader, or watcher, deeper into a new and different world.

Science fiction doesn’t necessarily have to be very realistic, but some great science fiction (Adrift by Rob Boffard and The Martian for example) have used more realistic depictions of other worlds and future technology to make us believe we are reading something that could truly happen in the future, or is happening in a faraway galaxy.

The Clone Wars, for me, raised many questions about some scientific things not fully explained, or certain elements of the “realism” in the story that if tweaked or expanded upon, might make your story much more realistic and appealing. So without further ado, here’s my writing tips takeaway!

Firstly, how do species on different planets evolve, it seems very unlikely they could all be humanoid, get creative! More creatures like Jabba the Hut! This also rings true for making planets at different stages of carrying life, maybe not all planets your character visits have sentient life forms yet. Keeping with life forms, many planets in this show seem to have only one environment. While that can be cool, remember how diverse Earth is! Depending on how you write your story, a planet with multiple environments and lots of different flora and fauna will certainly enrich the story.

Speaking of planets, perhaps the biggest thing that takes me out of the story in this show is the fact that every planet our Jedi heroes visit appears to have the same atmosphere composition, gravity, and relative temperature. Not even two planets in our solar system have the same gravity or atmosphere.

Instead of ignoring these scientific elements, use them! Create a challenge for your characters and interesting worlds with limited gravity that causes cities to be tethered to the planet! Create technology that filters nitrogen or sulfur-rich air so it is breathable. Have suits that need to be worn by your characters in certain acidic or too hot/cold planets for survival. Play around with the environment, and show how your characters would adapt!

Some more questions to ask; How do the conditions of a certain planet affect how life there has developed if there is life? What would an organism from that planet need to survive if it left? How would a sentient being from a specific planet talk, based on air composition (guttural, high pitched, etc.)? Are there different languages, different races, and cultures on each planet? The more diverse a planet, the more real I find it becomes to the reader/watcher.

These are many of the major questions Star Wars The Clone Wars made me ask about my own book, and they inspire a lot of creative thinking for world-building. For my fellow aspiring writers, perhaps the best piece of advice I can offer is to constantly ask questions about the things you write about, challenge the way you think about things to broaden your creativity, and don’t hesitate to add flair and detail to the world you are creating.

-Sebastian E.

Star Wars books, films, and television shows are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. Additional material can be found online for free through Overdrive

Light In August by William Faulkner

This is perhaps my favorite writing so far done by Faulkner. In this novel, he explores the prejudice Americans have against each other. Diversity in this country oftentimes is merely seen as a glorification of racism. Back in the days when this book was written, southerners didn’t like northerners which is why Miss Burden had to suffer so much. Not that she was a huge advocate of the north, but that her attempt to live a peaceful and honorable life at the south was denied because of her heritage. Residents in Mississippi, a typical southern state, are not willing to give her a second chance at life merely because of her heritage, instead of other wrongdoings she has committed before, reflecting the deep-rooted bigotry people used to have and still remain today.

Joe Christmas, my favorite character in this novel, is no different. His cold and even brutal personality is a product of his upbringing in an orphanage. When he once caught the dietician making love to a male doctor while vomiting because of eating too much toothpaste, he denied the bribery which the dietitian offered—one dollar. Later on, because of his biracial ethnicity, he was sent to a black orphanage by the janitor who always watched him but later recalled by the matron. Christmas was adopted and got his name changed to McEachern because his father, a religious man thought the name represented sacrilege.

Joe Christmas’s life reminded me of his sense of repugnance for this world when he didn’t belong anywhere. Since he never received love, he didn’t have much to give. He has no fear in life and fears himself to some degree. His mixed-race endowed him with endless audacity but also imposed extremely low self-esteem upon him. In modern days, perhaps the reason why there are so fewer personages who are not white is not because of their inability to do well and contribute to the country, but because they felt disparagement and disenfranchisement from white supremacists who might be discouraging from having confidence and speaking for what they believe in.

-Coreen C. 

Light In August by William Faulkner is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

 

Film Review: The Secret Life of Pets 2

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) Final Poster.jpg

I know it might sound a little bit childish for some of the people out there, but The Secret Life of Pets 2 was definitely a very good movie for me. At least, in my opinion, the addition of more characters added more flavor to the movie as a whole. Not only was it funny, but it also portrayed the theme of family, love, friendship, and loyalty

To start off, family has always been a big thing throughout the two movies. It was first the introduction of Duke, and then Liam the son of the family. By overcoming jealousy and eventually falling in love with the new members of the family, Max has demonstrated what the firstborn of many families have gone through.

And as for love, it would be the next stage of family. For one thing, Max became overprotective over Liam and was unwilling to let him cross the street, run into people and different things, and go to preschool. It was not after when Max himself was trained by Rooster to save the little lamb hanging on a branch did he know how important independence is to a person.

Friendship has always been a big thing for the movie series. From Max saving Hu to Daisy fighting off the wolves, it’s all revolving around friendship. And again, through a series of adventures and dangers, the white tiger cub was saved.

Lastly, what I really wanted to mention in this movie is something people normally don’t pay attention to—the wolves. They might look very evil, malicious, and atrocious, but at the same time, they are very loyal to Sergei no matter what he does to them. I’m pretty sure they could’ve just run away since they weren’t chained anyways. Under the threat of killing them and not giving meals, the wolves still strived to complete their missions and obey every single command Sergei the circus owner gives. This way, I think that they resemble dogs for their loyalty but not amiability.

-Coreen C.

Film Review: A Star is Born (2018)

So, I know I’m late to the A Star is Born party, but I do see what all the buzz was about. Before I get into the thick of this review, there are a couple warnings I need to distribute. First, this movie is R-Rated, and if you’re uncomfortable with that, then you should stop reading now. Additionally, if you are triggered by mentions as well as depictions of suicide, this review is not for you; people who are triggered or uncomfortable with detailed depictions of alcohol/drug abuse should also stop reading here.

A Star is Born (2018) is the third remake of a film released in 1937. The other remakes were released in 1954 and 1976. While they all have pretty similar storylines, there are slight differences and variances between all of them. The story itself is seemingly cliche: seasoned and successful musician/actor accidentally meets struggling young musician/actor, the seasoned artist helps young artist gain fame and success. The seasoned artist’s career dwindles due to drugs and alcohol, which he abused due to deeply rooted issues stemming from an alcoholic absentee father; meanwhile, the young artist’s career skyrockets, and she is ecstatic, until tragedy strikes.

The decline of his career becomes too much for the seasoned musician/actor, and he falls deeper and deeper into the pit of drug abuse. His young lover does her best to dig him out and help him, but it becomes a bigger and bigger problem, until he can’t take it anymore, and ends his own life. This begins a new chapter for the young star, who now has to navigate the cruel world of the elite on her own, all while heartless things are being said about her late lover.

Overall, this movie was an emotional roller-coaster, and I strongly recommend it if you want to vent some of your own emotions by crying and blame it on a movie. However, if you don’t really feel like being emotionally wrecked over a movie, I would not suggest watching A Star is Born (2018). But nonetheless, I loved it. Also, I love Lady Gaga. Her performance was absolutely stunning.

-Arushi S. 

A Star Is Born, starring Bradly Cooper and Lady Gaga, is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Carrie Meeber is from a small city who seeks to go to her sister in Chicago to have a better life. However, when she gets there she realizes the fact that her sister and her brother in law are in a very wretched condition together with their daughter. Unable to endure their apathy when she fails to secure herself a job, Carrie decided to leave. Before she even arrived in Chicago, she met Druet, a wealthy young man on the train who really likes her due to her beauty. So right after quitting her job at the factory, Carrie accidentally met Drouet around the street corners. He treats her a meal and often buys her beautiful clothing and jewelry which made her think in his favor. And thus, soon they were living together in a comfortable flat.

But it wasn’t soon when Drouet introduced Carrie to his manager friend Hurstwood. Lured by his gentleness and suave manner, Carrie fell in love with him and he with her. However, since Hurstwood was not in a relationship with his wife and his children, he lied to Carrie and said that he was unmarried. One day, Hurstwood under the influence of alcohol accidentally took ten thousand dollars from the cashier’s unlocked box and decided to flee to New York. He wheedled Carrie into escaping with him as well and so the two left for New York. However, life was not as easy there because everything was more expensive. After several unsuccessful attempts at finding a satisfactory job, Hurstwood depended on Carrie to earn and they again fell into the state of poverty.

Just then, due to her looks, passion, and aptitude for singing and acting, Carrie made a career in the theatre. She was well-liked by a lot of rich people and thus deserted Hurstwood. Although she regularly supported him somewhat, she severed the relationship at last when Hurstwood, due to his pride, stopped asking money from Carrie and suicided at last.

-Coreen C.

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

 

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

Although this movie released in May, I didn’t see it in theaters because the feedback wasn’t all that stellar. In fact, I only got around to watching it today, and only because my sister called in a favor I owed her.

Despite the mostly-negative feedback, I was kind of excited to watch it, since I’m a fan of Ryan Reynolds. I don’t know much about Pokemon, I must admit, and I have never played any form of it. All I know is the theme song and a couple of characters. However, even with my very limited knowledge, the movie was great.

It was a little confusing, and had a couple of plot holes, but nothing that couldn’t be ignored. Although it was not an Oscar-worthy piece of art, and the predictable plot and less-than-perfect CGI were questionable, I enjoyed it, and so did the rest of my family. It was funny and lighthearted, perfect for a family movie night of a laid-back night with friends.

The characters were dynamic, and the plot was cute, and predictable to a certain extent. Or maybe I’m just spoiled by the horrible plot twists gifted to viewers by Marvel. Either way, the movie managed to make it onto my good list despite a few flaws. If you are looking for an airy and light film to watch with a family of friends, or both, this may be it for you. It’s funny, dynamic, and has a really happy ending.

-Arushi S.

Authors We Love: Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow was born on June 10, 1915, and passed away on April 5, 2005. He was born in Lachine, a small village located in Quebec, Canada and immigrated with his parents to Chicago, United States with he was eight. Due to this reason, Hyde Park, Chicago was the backdrop of a lot of his famous works because he was the most familiar with it.

Both of his parents were from Russia and were very strict Jews. They wished Saul Bellow could be a rabbi or a violinist playing in church when he grows up. However, he couldn’t overcome his passion for writing and therefore did not relinquish to these two occupations even when his mother passed away. He went to Chicago University and later switched to Northwestern University because he felt the former disliked Jews and therefore mistreated them. Bellow did his graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin.

As a Novel Prize Literature winner, Pulitzer Prize fiction winner, and the only writer to win the National Medal of arts three times, Bellow in his entire life has composed a lot of works. These include Dangling Man, The Victim, The Adventures of Augie March, Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, Herzog, Mr.Sammler’s Planet, Humboldt’s Gift, The Dean’s December, More Die of Heartbreak, A Theft, The Bellarose Collection, The Actual, and Ravelstein. He also wrote a lot of plays and some nonfiction as well.

One thing which marks his unique style is his philosophical views embedded amongst the paragraphs and in characters’ dialogues. It provides on his insight of life, death, marriage and other themes which he values as important. Although some critics argue that this style of approach can be very elusive and a form of digression, I thought if sociology and anthropology are vital in Bellow’s life, he should put it down to let people who he really is.

-Coreen C. 

The works of Saul Bellow are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Film Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home

All right–first things first. THIS POST WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: ENDGAME AND SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME. DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THESE FILMS.

Second things second. Avengers: Endgame has surpassed Avatar and is now the highest-grossing film of all time worldwide! So, cheers to that! But all that aside, Marvel recently released its final movie for 2019, a beautiful sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, and that’s going to be my main focus.

Firstly, allow me to express my insurmountable appreciation for the titles for the last two Spider-Man movies, and explain the symbolism behind them. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter Parker has been recognized as Spider-Man by Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, and he’s being given the resources to become the hero he was always meant to be. He’s harnessing his powers, bonding with the beloved Mr. Stark, and his superhero alter ego is giving him an excuse to get even closer to his best friend, Ned. His powers and alternate persona are allowing him to become more comfortable with himself and his surroundings. The movie, at its core, depicts his homecoming, his arrival at where he was always meant to be. I just find that beautiful. Cut to Spider-Man: Far From Home. Not only is Peter literally far away from Queens (as he’s touring Europe), but everything he thought he knew is being refuted. Tony Stark, his mentor and father figure, the man who metaphorically brought him home in the previous film, is dead. The original Avengers are all either dead or retired. The world is in the midst of a rebirth, dealing with the aftermath of the Snap and the tentative formation of a new team of superheroes. Peter Parker isn’t just an Avenger-in-training anymore. He’s a legitimate hero, and he is beginning to realize that he has a brand new set of obstacles to maneuver. He has, at no fault of his own, strayed far away from the home he built for himself in Homecoming.

Enter Mysterio (played by the marvelous Jake Gyllenhaal). He seems like the perfect new leader of the Avengers, the perfect new hero for this broken Earth. His story is barely plausible, but nothing is unbelievable to the citizens of a planet whose population was just cut in half, then restored. He claims to be from another universe when his true intentions are to steal away Tony’s legacy from Peter. Spider-Man himself is gullible enough, after the falling-apart of his world, to willingly hand over Tony’s tech to Mysterio.

The world proceeds to fall apart yet again, this time at the hand of a false hero who the world mistakenly trusts. Peter has to come to the rescue, all by himself this time, only for Mysterio to throw one final punch. Even though he’s dead, the villain manages to get a video of himself onto the screens in Times Square, stating that Spider-Man is the real villain, and revealing the masked hero’s identity.

The movie is an emotional roller coaster. The audience feels everything Peter does, and that’s where the true beauty of the film lies. This movie is an artfully crafted masterpiece, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I ardently recommend it.

-Arushi S.