Film Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

I remember watching Mulan from the floor of my living room, gazing up to the screen, a little girl absolutely fascinated by a princess who looks like me–and yet, doesn’t at the same time. As a first-generation of Southeastern Asian descent, I felt like Mulan didn’t represent my culture. Even as Disney created a female Asian who takes the lead role, I still felt left out. After watching Raya and The Last Dragon, I felt like my culture was now being appreciated.

A heroine who doesn’t undergo typical coming-of-age experiences, but instead carves her own path to save her world and even becomes the villain of her own story–Raya is undoubtedly one of the best Disney princesses for Asian Americans to look up to. In the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons used to live in harmony. With different kingdoms who are separated by hate, Raya finds the last dragon Sisu and embarks on a quest to restore their uninhabitable land.

I have quite a few things to mention about the movie. In regards to animation, the movie is bright and colorful with realistic shots–the perfect setting for a hero’s journey. To be honest, the plot itself was often predictable; it seemed too straight forward, especially as a quest plot. The characters however, were extremely diverse and versatile in personality and never fall short to entertain the audience. There’s never a specific villain, but rather applies to everyone in the movie–a well-thought aspect to include. All of the characters show real human emotions at the right times; negative characteristics such as anger, hatred, and mistrust contributes greatly to the story’s plot and message.

As for the Southeast Asian references, Raya and the Last Dragon does so well in including details from every Southeast Asian culture. From my perspective, I was finally able to see a representative of my culture, regardless of it being a nonfictional movie. Raya is a bold, empowering female figure that I believe many little girls can look up to, no matter the race. Unfortunately, I’ve already grown out of my childhood, yet I’m grateful nonetheless. Disney has finally created a movie that girls of Southeast Asian descent can watch on the floor of their living room, gaze up to the screen, and see a courageous princess who actually looks like them.

– Natisha P.

Movie Review: Knives Out

Boy, oh boy, was this a good movie. I wanted to wait until the official end of awards season to write this review, so I could add in any awards it won or was nominated for. It didn’t win any, but I think it deserved far more.

If you weren’t already aware, Knives Out is something of a whodunit film, with innumerable red herrings and so many (and I mean SO many) twists. Due to the mysterious nature of the film, I’m going to refrain from revealing too much of the plot. Plus, the point of this review is to entice you just enough to go see it yourself and spoiling the movie would spoil the effect of that enticement.

So basically, the movie is centered around this extremely wealthy family, and all their wealth comes from their patriarch, mystery author, and owner of a successful publishing company Harlan Thrombey. The morning after his 85th birthday, Harlan is found in his study with a slit throat, and police deem it a suicide; however, an anonymous party calls Benoit Blanc, a renowned private detective, to the scene because they suspect foul play. There definitely was foul play at hand, but the viewer finds that every member of Harlan’s family had a strained relation with him, and so they all had a theoretical motive.

The movie follows Blanc through his case with subplots surrounding Marta, who was Harlan Thrombey’s caretaker. The viewer has no idea what could possibly happen next, right up to the very last scene. The plots take riveting and unexpected turns, and the whole movie is the best kind of roller coaster. I won’t give any explicit spoilers, but the ending of the movie was absolute gold and gave me almost complete close (I am holding out for a sequel!) If you are looking for a movie that will have you glued to your seat and pondering for hours afterward, or even just something to watch on family movie night, Knives Out is definitely a contender.

-Arushi S. 

Knives Out is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Film Review: Little Children by Todd Field

Little Children | Full Movie | Movies Anywhere

“Little Children” is a romantic film produced by New Line Films. Directed by Todd Field and starring Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson, it was released in the US on November 3, 2006. The story takes place in a small wealthy community in a small town in Massachusetts. The camera starts with the chatter of four young mothers sitting together. Compared with the other three women, who are all croaking and chattering, Sarah Pierce appears to be much more quiet. She looks at her daughter and seems to be lost in deep thought. Then came a dashing young father, Brad Adamson, famous among young mothers.

Sarah bet with three other female friends that she can get Brad’s phone number, and then Sarah not only gets Brad’s phone number, but also forcefully kisses him. It was this kiss that brought two unrelated people together so quickly and so closely. Gradually, Sarah and Brad’s dissatisfaction with their shallow lives begins to surface. Once a graduate student majoring in English and American literature and an activist for gender equality at her university, Sarah now sadly finds herself a worthless housewife. When she found her husband Robert was addicted to internet porn, she felt more gloomy and hopeless.

Brad was a policeman but also feels depressed because of his wife Kathy. Kathy forced Brad to continue his education, but instead of spending his evenings in the library, he spent playing soccer with his former cop buddy Larry. So, they found an excuse to meet again and again, in the hot summer, after they and their children spent countless peaceful afternoons together, finally surrendered to desire. On the other hand, the town’s apparent calmness has been shaken by the emergence of Ronnie James McGoway, a former child molestation prisoner. All the mothers in the community are up against each other, and the real conflict erupts when Sarah and Brad innocently invite Robert and Kathy to have a family dinner.

At the dinner table, Sarah slips up and Kathy confirms what she has long suspected about her husband’s infidelity. Chaos has officially descended on the small, already sweltering town. “Little Children” is not so much a complex love-hate drama between two couples in a languid marriage as a concrete insight into the lives of ordinary people. Director Todd Field keeps a cool, compassionate eye on the crowd as it spins out of control through heart-stopping choices. And the visual enjoyment presented by the picture and the moving mirror is so beautiful in the tragic style that it makes people confused and moved.

The film does a good job of capturing the essence of the original, blending satire with a sensitive and slightly neurotic portrayal of love. The film is animated by the group performances of its four main characters, Kate Winslet, Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Connelly. The plot of the film is more appealing than the narration, and it deeply expresses the struggle and search, insecurity and anxiety of the middle class in the face of the ideal and reality. “Little Children” is an interesting film, even drawing on Hitchcock’s thriller elements. The actors in this film make this film funny, sexy and sad.

Film Review: A Room with a View

In the England of Victorian times, the upper class teenager Lucy and her cousin Charlotte go to Italian Florence to go vacationing together, encounter English youth George and his father living together in a hotel. Lucy was so upset that she couldn’t see the view from her room that George’s father gave up his room to Lucy. Lucy and George are falling in love. But George, who came from a laboring family, was a straightforward man, and his manners did not fit in with the high-class bureaucracy to which Lucy was accustomed. Inhibited Charlotte was also very uncomfortable with George. On one occasion, George could not help kissing Lucy, which was considered deviant behavior in Britain in the last century. Lucy thinks George’s behavior is not proper and returns to England without him.

After returning home, Lucy is engaged to Vyse, a musician. Vyse is empty on the inside and obsessed with external etiquette. Lucy, however, felt in him the hypocrisy of the pomp and ceremony which might have been just what Lucy’s family wanted, and began to miss George’s little brash, unceremonious, but youthful passion. When George returns to England, the two meet again. But Lucy is still stuck in a hypocritical and a primly way of telling whether she accepts George’s love or not. George had no choice but to go away sadly. After several twists and turns, Lucy’s cousin Charlotte saw that George was a little bold, but he really loved Lucy, so she secretly arranged George’s father to inspire Lucy, so that Lucy finally abandoned the shackles of etiquette, to find her beloved man.

In the movie A Room with A View, the control and oppression of men and the impulse to pursue happiness and love make Lucy finally begins to awaken her self-consciousness. As a woman living in a traditional male-dominated society in Britain, it is impossible to say that her ideas have not been affected by the real society at all. Fierce arguments inevitably followed her life. But, remarkably, Lucy was not assimilated into the way that her mother and Miss Bartley had been. As described later in the film, when she played the piano, she entered the real world. In that world, she was her own master, she was responsible for her actions, she didn’t have to depend on men to live, and she did the unusual things she wanted to do. A Room with A View belongs to the so-called literary heritage genre, which refers to the period blockbusters that were popular in Europe and the United States in the 1980s and 1990s.

These films are usually adapted from famous literary works, and tend to be classical in aesthetics. They are usually performed by numerous international movie stars, and have high artistic value. At the same time, this kind of films prefers the long town head and depth of field shots, the film is often interspersed with beautiful symphony and elegant natural and cultural scenery. The film gives priority to with downy tonal, dim yellow, sky blue, pure white, light gray foil give a warm, detailed atmosphere, providing a kind of proper ground color for rendering a wonderful cherishing story. The audience unconsciously relaxes and revels in the delicate and elegant rococo environment. At the same time, the soft and fresh colors echo the theme of love in the film.

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.

Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns

I was utterly ecstatic when I heard in 2017 that there was going to be a Mary Poppins sequel. My excitement tripled when I heard that it would star not only Emily Blunt, but also Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton, In the Heights, and 21 Chump Street, three of my all-time favorite musicals. So one could say that I had a lot of anticipation for this movie.

However, I was not without my doubts. I was afraid that this new sequel might not fully capture the magic that was definitely present in the first film. Perhaps, I thought, they might use modern special effects to create real-looking penguins for Mary Poppins to dance with. Now, while some would not mind this type of movie, it would ruin the film for me, as the animations in the original Mary Poppins are part of what makes it so special to me.

Yet the movie was perfect. The producers kept the animations of old, and, while there were a brand new cast and an entirely new collection of voices, the spirit of the soundtrack remained the same. They even managed to get a hold of Dick Van Dyke and Meryl Streep for a special appearance. I cried, I laughed, and I related to many of the characters. The plot was fantastic, and while I will try not to spoil, the resolution that Mary Poppins and Jack came up with was the cherry-on-top of the film for me.

Overall, this movie couldn’t have been better, and I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t already seen it to go do so right now. The beautiful London scenery, the enticing plot, and the cheerful characters are guaranteed to give Mary Poppins Returns a special place in your heart.

-Arushi S. 

Film Review: The Grinch (2018)

Recently, I saw the new remake of The Grinch, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Now, I have to admit that Cumberbatch was one of the main reasons I decided to see the movie since I have been a big fan of his for some time, but I was also curious to see what the movie industry has managed to come up with since the iconic Jim Carrey version. I was not in the least bit let down.

This remake was, I daresay, a cinematic masterpiece. Not to be dramatic, but every aspect of it went beyond my expectations. It was funny, emotional, and the Grinch himself was ridiculously relatable. I’m going to do my best to keep this review devoid of spoilers, but I can’t make any promises. I’m not usually a fan of themed stories, but Dr. Suess’ works lit up my childhood, and The Grinch has always been one of my favorites.

First of all, I adored the advertising for this movie. The producers’ slogans were aimed directly at millennials and Generation Z. Now, I am part of the infamous “Gen Z,” so I found all the publicity absolutely hilarious, and have been drawn to the movie because of it.

Furthermore, the movie itself enraptured me. Some of my favorite bits were (SPOILER ALERT!!) Cindy Lou Who loyal group of friends, Frank the reindeer’s adorable family, and the Grinch’s Christmas gift for his dog, Max. Also, I really appreciated how there was a narration throughout the movie, and that it was made up of lines from the original book by Dr. Suess, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Overall, this remake of The Grinch was, in my opinion, absolutely fantastic, from the advertising to the little details within the movie itself.

-Arushi S. 

October Sky

This movie follows Homer Hickam and friends in the town of Coalwood, West Virginia around 1957. His father, John Hickam, wants Homer to join him in the mines. However, after seeing Sputnik 1 shoot across the sky, Homer becomes determined to build a rocket of his own. Homer and his friends Quentin, Roy, and O’Dell set off on building this rocket. Though their first couple of rockets are utter failures, they continue trying to build and test out these rockets with the support of their teacher Miss Riley. However, their rocket building endeavors hit a snag when local authorities blame them for causing a forest fire, leading to the group of boys tearing down their launch site and ending further rocket testing. Undeterred, Homer is able to prove through calculations that he and his friends were not the cause of the forest fire and resume building rockets, eventually getting to the state science fair.

This movie was amazing in that it shows the power of passion for whatever may interest you. By putting in their all and never giving up in the face of failure, Homer and his friends were able to completely change the path of their future that washeld for them. The audience may ask themselves, “How is this even reasonable? There’s no way simple interest in rockets and entering a science fair can alter someone’s future this greatly!” However, this was in fact based off of a real story! This movie teaches a great story of following one’s dreams and the importance of family in one’s success. It is a great movie to watch, with an even greater lesson behind it.

-Kobe L.

Film Review: Lion

I watched the move Lion with my family. It’s about a 5-year-old boy named Saroo who gets lost on the streets of India, put into an orphanage, and is eventually adopted by a family in Australia. As he becomes an adult, he starts to wonder what happened to his biological family and begins to search for his old home. After a long effort, he is eventually reunited with his family. However, this simple story seemed to us much more dramatic as it was based on a true story.

I don’t know how much fiction and storytelling effects were added to this story, but it is a very moving and emotional movie anyways. In the beginning of the movie when the boy Saroo got lost in the streets and was in grave danger of being kidnapped, I almost stopped watching the movie as it was quite terrifying and intense. It felt really realistic, and the terror and loneliness that Saroo experienced could be felt right through the screen.

Both Sunny Pawar (the actor who played young Saroo) and Dev Patel (who played older Saroo) successfully played their part. The emotion Dev Patel was able to portray in his performance really pushed the movie forward and was a wonderful addition. Similarly, the shockingness of Saroo being able to use Google Maps to pinpoint the location of his old home was another great aspect of this movie. The scene where he was flooded with memories of his past and is able to finally pinpoint and track down his old home was a great climax of the movie.

Lastly, the scene where Saroo is reunited with his family was so powerful and moving, and brought me to tears. The joy in the face of him and his mother–though they were actors–felt real and was a great ending to the movie. The revelation that his real name was Sheru was an interesting fact and its meaning that was revealed in the end credits wrapped up the finale of a great movie.

I highly recommend watching this movie. If you do, you will get to learn what the name “Sheru” means as well.

-Kobe L.

Lion is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

As a sequel to the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, this movie is very well done. Though, it is not quite as great as the first movie because, while a sequel is almost never as good as the original, it is still an amazing movie!

The soundtrack, like the original, is amazing. It is filled with classic 70’s rock songs that really just help make the movie. Personally, I think this movie has one of the best movie soundtracks compared to some more recent movies.

In this movie, you get to follow yet another one of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s adventures to save the universe. With Rocket’s and Peter Quill’s constant bickering (because why should a raccoon be flying a plane when you have a pilot, right?) and snarky comments from the entire team, the movie is definitely hilarious.

The movie starts off with the Guardians of the Galaxy protecting some precious batteries from a monster trying to steal it but, after protecting it, Rocket being Rocket decides to steal one — which results in the team pretty much being chased by people who are trying to kill them. Meanwhile, Peter Quill finally learns a little bit about his past, which eventually turns into someone trying to take over the world and the team having to save it.

This is the perfect movie for anyone who loves the superhero genre and it is also the perfect movie to go out and see with friends.