Film Review: Black Panther (spoiler free)

Many superhero movies often fail to live up to standards set by fans and are looked
down upon. Black Panther is not one of those movies. In light of recent events, many are
rewatching movies such as Black Panther to celebrate the work, and it certainly is a movie worth celebrating. Black Panther focuses on social issues while providing both an entertaining watch and a top tier soundtrack. Overall, It is a must-watch given the quality of the film.

Of the recent movies, Black Panther stands out among them due to many aspects. One
of the major selling points of the movie was the action scenes. The scenes are not only action packed, but also flow well and very natural. None of the scenes feel like they are forced and have very smooth transitions. The action and music are very compelling and the music bolsters the excitement of the scenes. The soundtrack is another major boon of the movie. All the songs played (or lack of it) fit each scene extremely well, enhancing the mood and making the scenes more lively. Each track is composed wonderfully and brings out the most in the movie.

Another major aspect of the movie is the social ideas brought up. The movie addresses
many social issues and approaches to fixing them in tandem with the growth of the characters themselves. Many characters are well represented, although there is little African American representation, and are brought out in a primarily positive manner. The only complaints that I had after watching the movie were the primary motivation of certain characters overall and how irrelevant a few characters were, although it is a minor complaint compared to how good the movie was overall.

In general, I would rate this movie as one of the best movies to come out over the past
few years and it certainly lives up to the hype it received upon the release. I would highly
recommend this movie for those who have not watched it or those who want to rewatch it, as it is highly exciting and absolutely worth the time.

-Benjamin L.

Black Panther is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The dystopian fiction novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins serves as a prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy, and it narrates the story of 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow. It is set in Panem, the same setting as the Hunger Games trilogy and most events take place in the Capitol or District 12. Readers of the trilogy know that Coriolanus will go on to become President Snow, the main antagonist of the Hunger Games. I think that it was an extremely smart idea to write this book after the Hunger Games trilogy because it gives readers an extra interest and pulls to the book, especially with the very beginning.

The introduction of Coriolanus Snow is completely contradictory to readers’ views of President Snow, since he is shown as extremely rich and lofty in the trilogy, but he is introduced in the prequel as extremely poor; in addition, readers can clearly understand how important Coriolanus’s family is to him. As a big fan of the Hunger Games series, I do not recall any emphasis on Coriolanus’s family, except for his famous motto, “Snow lands on top!” (which is reiterated multiple times in this novel). The implication of Coriolanus’s love for his family (consisting of his grandmother known as Grandma’am and his cousin Tigris) is only strengthened throughout the book, and the pure irony of this description and portrayal of Coriolanus is extremely captivating to readers. 

I must mention that Coriolanus’s grandma insists on taking care of roses in a roof garden, and these roses make multiple appearances throughout the book. In the trilogy, roses also have significance in symbolizing the evil of Coriolanus Snow.

Moving on, Coriolanus is one of the 24 students selected to mentor tributes in the 10th annual Hunger Games, and he is matched with the District 12 girl named Lucy Gray Baird. Lucy Gray is a singer from the Covey in District 12. She seems extremely strange, with her optimistic outlook, her behavior at her reaping, and many other unusual qualities. The mentor of the winning tribute will receive a scholarship to attend the University, which Coriolanus needs, but he is highly doubtful of Lucy Gray’s capability to win. However, the two seem to acquire an extremely strong bond. 

In my opinion, the ingrained animal instincts in human nature is the most well established theme in the novel. Although the prime example of this theme is in the ending (and I believe that endings should never be disclosed in book reviews), it can be seen throughout the book, especially in the arena of the Games. The significance of 24 people locked into an arena and told to fight to their deaths is self explanatory in the theme of animal instincts in human nature. 

Another theme in this novel is the theme of morals. Again, the Hunger Games are completely immoral, and to readers’ surprise, the rest of the Capitol feels the same way.

This novel has an invigorating plot line, multiple twists, and amazing literary devices, and it is easily one of my favorite books I have ever read.

-Ayati M

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Opinion: 'Avatar: the Last Airbender' is the best children's ...

Where to begin with the show, Avatar: The Last Airbender? When I was little my family and I would watch this show to no end. Then, after many years apart, this show appeared back on Netflix and I must say, it is amazing. I would say this show from 2005 was way before its time in many aspects. The writing, character development, villains, and overall plot of the show was very interesting and exhilarating.

One part that I absolutely love is female empowerment. Remember this show came out over 15 years ago when most TV shows and movies did not include the most feminist characters. Different than shows and movies today, the female involvement was not pushed or forced rather than just written to be strong leads. Characters like Toph also inspired young me, as she was blind but in my opinion, on the most powerful characters in the entire series. Each of the different women brought different things to the table but really showed me that, hey I can be just as or more powerful than anyone else.

Another aspect that needs to be talked about is the plot. This story about a young boy who was frozen in ice for 100 years to wake up and find out a war has been going on for 100 years and was partially his fault. Being the avatar, master of all 4 four elements, he meets some friends who help him on his journey while facing many challenges. Seeing the change in the duration of year was pretty spectacular. These young kids turned out stopping a war against a crazy fire lord. Episode after episode we see a group of 4 kids overthrowing corrupt governments left and right. For a kids show it was very deep. The writers introduced some real world problems to young and old viewers. The ideas of governments that aren’t what they seem took up almost half a season of the show. Along with passing by starving people and large groups of refugees as a result of the war. For a kids show, they were not afraid to include real issues and problems many face.

Lastly, I’m going to talk about my personal favorite part of the show, the villains. In my personal opinion, many of the villains were simply misunderstood. For the siblings Zuko and Azula we get to see why their actions came to be. Being in a royal family with an abusive father and mother who was forced away. Azula was a prodigy firebender, that in my opinion the most powerful fire bender in the entire show. Along with Zuko who is also powerful but not up there with Azula. During this show, we get to see the character arc of Zuko as he finally puts his wants behind him and joins the avatar and his friends in joining the fight against the fire lord. Sadly for Azula this is not the case, she goes insane while trying to be perfect to please her father.

This show is a must watch for anyone in any age group. There is something in this show for everyone. The writers hit gold when producing this show. Also, some appearances from some of my favorite actors such as Mark Hamill make an appearance throughout the show. If I had to score this show it would definitely be a 11/10 for me.

-Lilly G.

From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming

From Russia, with Love (novel) - Wikipedia

SMERSH, the Soviet counterintelligence agency, plans to commit a grand act of terrorism in the intelligence field, one that will completely and utterly smash any remains of respect left in that particular organization. Their chosen target – MI6 agent James Bond.

Oblivious to their coming destruction, MI6 receives word that a beautiful Russian agent, Tatiana Romanova, is willing to defect to the British intelligence along with a crucial piece of Soviet technology – a Spektor. There is, however, one catch – James Bond, the man she claims she loves, must come out to meet her at Istanbul.

However, as revealed in the first half of the book, this “love story” is a mere set up for the greatest scandal the intelligence community has ever seen – and Bond and Romanova have fallen right into the trap for their own destruction. Unless Bond can find a way to extricate himself and his organization from their impending doom, SMERSH will have free reign over all of Europe, and potentially the world.

Through a masterful use of dramatic irony and the usual Bond action scenes, Ian Fleming crafts a 007 masterpiece in From Russia With Love. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as they devour the novel, only to reach the cliffhanger conclusion. From Russia With Love is a brilliant James Bond adventure that is definitely not to be missed.

-Mahak M.

From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Moonraker by Ian Fleming

Moonraker (novel) - Wikipedia

Sir Hugo Drax – war veteran, multi-millionaire, primary donor for Britain’s newest defense project, and…card cheater? When M requests the legendary 007, James Bond, to investigate this strange discrepancy, Bond thinks nothing of it but a lesson to teach an otherwise spotless man. But there is more to the ex-amnesiac turned benefactor than simply cheating at cards. 

As Bond delves deeper into the activities at the base of the praised Project Moonraker, Britain’s state-of-the-art defense system capable of targeting any European capital, scheduled to launch in less than a week, he realizes that some things are not as they seem. From the unusual German workers employed for construction to the mysterious death of the previous investigator, Bond must determine the truth behind both the Moonraker and its creator, Sir Hugo Drax…

Bond, however, is not alone in his endeavor. With the support of an undercover agent, Gala Brand, and, of course, MI6, he must race against time to discover the truth, which may be much, much darker than even 007 could have ever predicted…

Ian Fleming’s Moonraker, the third in the James Bond series, will not disappoint fans of 007. With plot twists and action sequences galore, Fleming manages to glorify every aspect of Bond’s newest case, from a brilliant game of bridge to the saving of millions of lives. Arguably the best Bond novel (definitely my favorite), Moonraker is a book that will be near impossible to put down.

-Mahak M.

Moonraker by Ian Fleming is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming

Diamonds Are Forever | Bookogs Database

He’s risked his life in an “innocent” casino. He’s fought toe-to-toe with the dastardly Soviet spy agency SMERSH. He’s even prevented nuclear annihilation of the world by the destructive Project Moonraker.

But when Agent 007, James Bond, is called in to halt a threatening diamond smuggling crime ring with expansive influence, he may finally find himself in over his head.

Posing as a captured courier, Bond teams up with Tiffany Case, a beautiful woman with ties to the very center of the operation. Following the trail of sparkling blood from Africa through England and finally to  America, Bond must infiltrate and remove every stop between the source and his destination.

Facing dangerous assassins and secrets upon secrets, Bond will somehow need to remain undercover long enough to unveil the last link in the long and deadly chain: the mysterious syndicate leader known only as “ABC.” One false move, however, and 007 may find himself on the wrong end of the wrath of the American underworld. 

Ian Fleming’s Diamonds Are Forever is the fourth book of the 007 series, and is definitely not to be missed by any James Bond fans. Jam-packed with action, adventure, danger, and hints of romance, both diamonds, and the book will last forever in the hearts and minds of the beholder.

-Mahak M. 

Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Movie Review: Spectral

If ghost and ghost hunting is your thing, then I recommend the movie Spectral on Netflix. I will firstly say that the movie is PG-13, so please do not watch if violent movies are not your thing (contrary to the previous sentence). 

Basically, researcher Dr. Mark Clyne is approached by a military general, showing him a video from a fallen soldier’s goggles. Visible in the video is a mysterious, almost translucent apparition that had suddenly attacked the soldier, killing almost instantaneously. These “anomalies” were later named as Arratare.

These “ghosts” were invisible to the naked eye and were completely bulletproof, making even the strongest military weapons useless. 

Clyne is sent to Moldova (bordered by Romania and Ukraine), where the US military is currently deployed. Clyne and CIA officer Fran Madison begin to work with the Delta Force in order to come up with a plan to defeat the anomalies with weapons that actually had an effect. 

After further observation and a scary encounter with the Arratare, Clyne realizes that these anomalies are actually man made, meaning that there was a way to stop the anomalies before they kill anymore people. 

This movie has so many unexpected twists and turns (even though I may have given away some crucial information… sorry). 

I give this movie a 8.5/10, and totally recommend watching this movie to chase away the boring days of quarantine. 

-Phoebe L. 

Curse of the Dead Gods Review

Curse of the Dead Gods, produced by Focus Home Interactive, is an exciting new third-person adventure game. As you follow an exotic adventurer journey through ancient temples, you will face multiple traps, enemies, and challenges. You can unlock certain abilities, as well as different weapons that can help you in your challenges. You can mix and match different combinations of the weapons to give you the best advantage against the enemies. The game also implements a new and interesting concept known as corruption.

The first thing that caught my eye was the combat, as well as the animation. Both are extremely clean and are very, very high quality. As the player switches from their torch, to their weapon, darkness surrounds them and the enemies start swarming. As the players start to wipe out the foes, more and more start to appear. The players must be extremely careful because if they take damage, they can not recharge their health. If a player dies, they must restart from the beginning of the map, and work their way through the entire temple again.

The enemies themselves are very interesting. From monsters that have simple melee attacks to giant monsters that have giant war hammers and floating heads, the variety is endless. This large amount of adversaries keeps the game interesting, as well as challenging. The player will also run into multiple traps. These can harm the players in multiple ways, such as poisoning them, catching them on fire, and stabbing them. Both of these challenges can totally change what the player needs to do.

To help counter these problems, the player is given a wide variety of weapons. The player is provided with a sword, revolver, and torch at the beginning of the game. They can then unlock a broad assortment of weapons through chests as well as through enemies that will drop them. There are certain weapons that work better against different enemies, such as the battle hammer that is efficient against large groups.

The most interesting concept of this game is the curses and corruption. When a player completes each level, they will get a certain amount of points that count towards corruption. When they reach 100 points, they will receive a certain “curse” that can either help or hinder them. This is a really interesting concept, but I do not think players should be punished just because they finish a mission.

Overall, I really enjoyed Curse of the Dead Gods. I really enjoyed the combat and customization options, and I think that for an early access game, Curse of the Dead Gods is really well produced. This game reminded me of the old arcade games that I used to spend hours playing. I feel that when the game has new temples and maps released, I will definitely play more of the game. I can’t wait to see what the producers have in mind for the game, and I believe the game will become one of my favorites!

-Daniel C

TV Review: The Umbrella Academy

Earlier this year, Netflix took the streaming world by storm once again with the release of its own original superhero ensemble TV-show, The Umbrella Academy. It follows the Hargreeves family, a family composed of seven adopted children, six of whom are superpowered. When the family learns that the world is going to end in eight days, they are forced to confront their childhood traumas and reunite to save the world. The show itself was released on February 15th, but it took me an appalling two months before I actually got around to watching it. When I finally did, it is safe to say that I was absolutely blown away. I binged the entire show in a single day. 10 hours worth of content, and I was riveted to the screen for every moment of it. So, what exactly makes this show so special?

There is no single answer to such a complex question, but after several re-watches, I can identify several elements which make the show so extraordinary (if you’ve seen the show- you see what I did there). When a viewer begins to watch The Umbrella Academy, the first thing which strikes them is how different this view of the superhero genre is from what we are so used to seeing. Most ensemble TV shows focus on the heroes, well, becoming heroes. The Umbrella Academy adeptly avoids this classic trope by presenting us with characters who are not learning to become heroes, but struggling with the fallout of their heroic childhoods. These so-called superheroes are deeply damaged, and their family dynamic is highly dysfunctional. The members of the Academy are not learning how to become heroes, but learning to cope with the struggles of everyday life after an abusive childhood. Of course, they have to save the world along the way, but the show leaves you with the impression that this plot is not as important as the development of the characters within it. Further, the plot itself is deeply shaped by character development of certain key characters who are coming to terms with their powers, or, their lack thereof.

Aside from subversion of the classic superhero origin story, The Umbrella Academy also sets itself apart from the pack through its depiction of relationships between characters. Each of the Hargreeves siblings has a unique connection with each other sibling, a fact which is never brushed over nor forgotten throughout the series. The tapestry of character connections is artfully written, artfully acted, and artfully produced. In essence, at every level of this show, attention was paid to depicting the interactions between its characters in a nuanced, cohesive way. Each character has highly specific thoughts and emotions towards each other character, many of which are unveiled gradually throughout the season.

There are so many other ways that The Umbrella Academy kept me hooked: the random, whimsical, yet dark nature of the show, multiple plotlines which eventually converge, leaving the viewer simultaneously dumbfounded and awestruck, LGBTQ+ representation, and an absolutely fire soundtrack. It would take an eternity for me to detail everything that I adored about this show.

I would recommend this show to any fans of the superhero genre who want to see a fresh take on the definition of heroism. However, one does not need to be a fan of superheroes to enjoy this show. If a whimsical, dark, time-travel centered mystery sounds at all interesting to you- give it a watch! I promise you will not be disappointed (A quick disclaimer- this show does discuss some mature themes and has several violent action sequences, hence its TV-14 rating, so it is definitely more suited to older audiences).

-Mirabella S.

The Umbrella Academy graphic novel by Gerard Way is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Recently, I read Golden Son written by Pierce Brown. I really enjoyed this book and I am currently reading the third book in the series. The story is set in the future, when mankind has evolved. Now, humans are split into different levels, based off of the color of their skin. The story takes place right after Red Rising and still follows Darrow. He is getting closer and closer to his goal. In this novel, Darrow is having trouble getting the golds to start a civil war.

I chose this excellent book for many reasons. Overall, the book is well written. It has a good mix of action and suspense. One thing I liked about Golden Son was the relationship between Darrow and the Belonna family. Going off of the first book, Darrow and Cassius still have a vendetta.  One of my favorite parts of the book was when Cassius and Darrow finally meet after two years. Darrow challenges Cassius to a duel, and of course Cassius accepts. Cassius is known for being good at dueling, so he is over confident. At first, Darrow acts very bad at dueling, building up Cassius’s confidence. Then, Darrow pulls out all of his tricks. He tells Cassius that he has been training everyday for this moment. He easily beats Cassius, cutting off his arm, and starting a civil war, starting his goal. Overall, I would rate this book nine out of ten, and would recommend this to any middle-schoolers and up.

-Daniel C.

Golden Son by Pierce Brown is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive