Movie Review: Black Widow

This is a great movie! I thought that it helped to answer a lot of questions Marvel fans have had about Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow. I really enjoyed the action and plot of this movie. It takes place just after Captain America: Civil War and before Avengers: Infinity War

One day, a strange package arrives and forces Natasha Romanoff to find Yelena, whom she last saw when they were young children being separated and sent to different places. They are now both spies and have both grown up. At first, they struggle to get along, possibly from feelings of betrayal. 

Eventually, they find the Red Guardian (Alexei) and Melina, who end up helping them in their mission to find a man named Dreykov and put a permanent end to his diabolical schemes. However, is it really possible to end his terrible plans?

This movie helps viewers to understand more about Black Widow, especially what shaped her into becoming who she is now. A lot of the characters in this movie went through character changes, especially in their intentions and their personalities. I would recommend this movie to Marvel fans who enjoy adventurous movies. I thought that this movie had some important messages, like ‘People are capable of change’. There were also a few connections I was able to make between Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow and Natasha Romanoff in Infinity War, mostly between her actions and her personality in these two movies. I would rate this movie a 10/10.

-Peri A.

The Life Aquatic & Learning to Live with Sadness

The Life Aquatic (2004) | Life aquatic, Steve zissou, Zissou

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is one of my favorite Wes Anderson films. Its plot—combined with its direction, soundtrack, and cast—makes the film stand out against most of the films I’ve watched before. It centers around the themes of familial love as well as sadness, letting go of your past, and looking to the future. 

The story follows Steve Zissou, an oceanographer and filmmaker, on a mission to kill a shark—specifically a “jaguar” shark (which he coined himself)—that ate his best friend and partner, Esteban. He’s pretty washed up, with his funds for his films low—due to how badly his films were doing. He’s out to kill this shark solely for revenge, and he says he’ll do whatever it takes to get justice for his friend. Zissou is accompanied by his friends—the crew of his ship, the Belafonte. There’s one special member, though—and it’s what sets the film into motion. 

Irony, Control, and Distance in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou –  Offscreen

That special member is Ned Plimpton, a polite, young man who came to Zissou during the premiere of his latest film. Ned claims to be Zissou’s son, the child of Catherine Plimpton, a woman Zissou remembered and supposedly had an affair with. At first, Zissou doubts this—because both of them aren’t really sure. It’s only when Ned is invited to stay at Zissou’s island and headquarters, and Zissou wakes him up in the middle of the night to film some “jellyfish” on the shore. Standing there, with his boom microphone—Ned adlibs along with Zissou. Though it’s awkward, Zissou figures out that a narrative between him and Ned could make his next film—and mission—successful. He hires Ned right there, and Ned joins the crew. 

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

I won’t be discussing the film in its entirety, but what I found very compelling about the film was how it handled the themes of familial love—specifically paternal love. 

Ned and Steve are awkward together. The two of them tiptoe around the fact that Steve might or might not be his real father. They avoid even breaching the topic. But, when they do, Steve confesses that he never wanted to be a father, right in front of Ned. After that, they don’t talk about their relationship with one another. 

During this, Steve is also still weighed down by the grief of losing his best friend. He’s mourning him, and his anger is what drives him throughout the entire film. Most of the crew is telling him not to do it, not to kill the shark—or that the shark didn’t even exist. Even so, Steve still pushes on—through bad weather, a pirate attack, and even a kidnapping of one of his crew members. They go through a lot, just trying to find this shark. 

The most devastating part of the film happens next. The crew finally gets the shark on their radar, and they realize they’re only a few miles away. A helicopter ride. So, Steve and Ned—a pilot—climb into the Belafonte’s worn out helicopter and fly away. On the ride, Steve and Ned talk about a letter Ned sent to Steve when he was younger. He admired Steve, and admitted that he wanted to be an oceanographer when he grew up. Turns out, Steve had kept the letter all these years, and he pulls it out to show it to Ned. This connection shows that the two of them, especially Steve, care for each other—and that Steve was ready to become a father to Ned. 

YARN | "Thank you for your good work. Sincerely, Ned Plimpton, | The Life  Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) | Video clips by quotes | 00cb57e4 | 紗

But, due to the helicopter being worn down and broken—they end up crashing into the water, just where the shark was. And although Steve is fine, Ned… wasn’t. The most interesting thing about this scene is that it’s framed to look like a shark attack—with Ned hanging onto a floating piece of debris, and red filling the water around them. Almost exactly the way Steve lost Esteban. (It’s later revealed that Steve was infertile. He couldn’t have children.) 

From Failed Parenting to Reunion: Analyzing the Impact of Dysfunctional  Families in Wes Anderson Films | by Joseph Massaro | Medium

Eventually, though, Steve and the crew are able to get into a submarine and see the shark up close. It’s my favorite, and most beautiful part of the film. The shark is swimming around them, glittering and beautiful, capturing the eyes of all the crew members—shocked that the shark was actually real. In the center of the frame is Steve, quietly reflecting on the events that had happened leading up to this moment—the moment where he’s “supposed” to kill the shark. 

Instead, when asked if he still wants to kill the shark—Steve shakes his head, claiming they ran out of dynamite anyway. He tears up, and he asks, “I wonder if he still remembers me.” The whole crew then puts their arms on Steve, holding him as he cries, the shark still circling around. 

The Life Aquatic might not be Wes Anderson's best film. But it is his  greatest. - Vox

I believe that the shark represents sadness. Something that is looming, circling, engulfing us. And when it attacks, there’s no stopping it. Steve has been going through this ever since Esteban died. His sadness and his grief engulfs him, consumes him, to the point where it causes the death of someone else close to him. It’s destructive, not only to others, but to himself. In an effort to find peace, Steve sets out to kill the shark—or, his sadness. He goes through so much, just to get rid of it. 

In the end, when faced with it—when faced with his grief and he’s given the chance to finally kill it, he turns it down. He looks right into its eyes and says, “I wonder if he remembers me.” This is when Steve learns that sadness cannot be killed. It cannot be obliterated. Sadness can only be lived with, and that’s something we need to learn. It’s what comes with life. But what we can do is have others who support us and love us anyway. This is represented by his crew—his family—putting his arms around him and holding him as he cries. Even though his grief was engulfing, drowning him, the people who loved him and who he loved in return—were still there every step of the way. 

Their film ends up getting produced, and receives lots of support. They’ve dedicated it to Ned.

The ending credits of the film leave a bittersweet feeling in your stomach. As the crew is walking down the pier, Buckaroo Banzai credits style, in the background you can see the Belafonte. It’s ready for their new adventure. And there, at the very top—with his signature pilot’s uniform and spyglass, stands Ned—guiding Steve and his crew, onward towards the future. 

Steve Zissou » BAMF Style

– Claire C.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is available for checkout as a DVD or Blu-Ray at the Mission Viejo Library.

Movie Review: Bad Genius

The film Bad Genius is a 2017 Thai movie filmed by Nattawut Poonpiriya and can be found on Netflix. There wasn’t much media coverage over this film simply because it wasn’t produced in the United States and therefore didn’t gain popularity outside of Thailand; nonetheless, it’s a cinematic masterpiece.

This movie is very unique; it’s difficult to find movies where you enjoy the stress and emotional rollercoasters. Although the movie is considered as a mature film, it’s an extremely underrated movie that holds a lot of meaning and can connect to students regardless of nationality. Every student understands the immense pressure of test-taking, especially for tests that can determine your entire future.

With a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this thriller-type heist movie is based on a student named Lynn, one of the best in her school, who gets accepted into a private university. Her wealthy friend Grace is struggling with school and persuades Lynn to help her cheat on an exam in exchange for money. Realizing the amount of money necessary to financially support her family and attend university, Lynn begins making money off of helping kids cheat during exams, but another top student named Bank gets suspicious, Lynn and her friends get caught, and Lynn loses her scholarship. The other kids who were caught cheating then take revenge on Bank by leaving him injured in a junkyard, forcing him to miss his exam and lose his scholarship as well. With hope for their academic future low, Lynn and Bank work together in creating a well-thought out plan to help students cheat on the STIC (an SAT exam for international countries).

At first, the plot of this movie may serve as a bad example for students, but the movie includes so much more in-depth meaning. Nattawut Poonpiriya, provides direct references to the social class inequalities and corrupt systems found in schools, specifically Thai schools. Both Lynn and Bank are underprivileged and come from poor financial backgrounds; the only reason they choose to help their rich, privileged friends cheat is because they need the money to afford a good university.

The way they filmed this movie is innovative as well, adding onto the stress and tension during specific scenes. During their exams, viewers can see that the only nervous ones are Lynn and Bank, while their friends are simply at ease; in reality, intelligence and top grades can only get you so far without family connections and wealth.

Although the message is quite negative, the impact of the movie reaches its viewers in a different way. Not only is it an external battle, but also a moral dilemma between dreams and reality.

-Natisha P.

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

Book vs. Movie: Little Women (2019)

Though I haven’t seen any other adaptations of Little Women, from reviews I’ve read online, this movie seems to be the best of the bunch. But I highly recommend reading the book before watching it, as the plot can be confusing if you don’t. 

Little Women (2019) shifts time frames constantly, moving between the two different books. When I first put the movie on, much like almost everyone else, I was confused. Throughout the movie it was hard to tell what timeline we were following, the actresses looked the same and they were never explicitly named. 

But as the movie went on, I grew to love it. The shifting timelines were unique and something I never considered could work. The switches really helped the viewers see the parallels, and also see how the girls have matured. 

With an 800 page book made into an hour and 15-minute long movie, you obviously can’t have all the scenes. One of my favorite parts of the book was when the sisters all got gifts for meemaw on Christmas in the first chapter, but sadly that part didn’t make the cut. But some of my favorite scenes include the infamous porch dance, Meg’s ball, Laurie’s proposal, and Beth playing the piano at Laurence’s house. 

Even though I finished the book the very same day I watched the movie, I somehow felt a very strong sense of nostalgia. The movie had a really great way of not only keeping the warmth from the book but expanding on it. Throughout the movie, I ended up feeling even more connected to the book and the characters. 

Speaking of characters, let’s discuss the casting. With very reputable and well-known actresses such as Meryl Streep and Emma Watson, it was appealing form the get-go. I enjoyed all of the performances of the cast, especially Laurie and Amy. When I read the book I despised Amy, but the movie put Amy March in a much better light. It portrayed her not as a person who is bitter about what she has, but someone who knows how to get what she wants and will do whatever it takes. Well, almost everything. 

Although I may have cried at the dinner table while reading the book. After a certain scene in the movie, I was sobbing for half of it. I could feel my parents looking at me troubled but I could not keep my emotions in check. Seeing particular heart-wrenching scenes from the book played out in the movie did not help my tears in the slightest. 

The movie also added some new ideas to the famous story. The newer movie has traces of feminism such as Amy’s speech about marriage that make this classic more modernized. The more current ideals fit with the characters perfectly, as the girls were raised with very modern ideas for the time period. 

The biggest aspect that translated very well from the book was the family dynamic. The movie revolves around the sisters, and the comfortable bantering and bickering really sold it for me. You can tell that the cast was really close while filming, and the movie conveyed the exact feelings of coziness and home that came when I read the book. 

Although the 2019 Little Women adaptation is one of my favorite movies to date, the books will always be better. I encourage you if you’ve only seen the movie to read the book, as it is a classic tale full of family, love, and sisterhood. 

-Asli B. 

Little Women, in all of its adapted forms, is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Movie Review: Taare Zameen Par

Taare Zameen Par (2007) - IMDb

For Ishaan, an 8-year-old boy, the world is a kaleidoscope of surprise and happiness. He is communicating with this strange world in every way he can think of, and at the same time fully enjoying the generous gifts of the earth. However, this Ishaan is a problem child in the eyes of adults. His grades are poor, he is low in the class, and his mind is full of all kinds of weird and evil ideas. After he makes another disaster, his parents send him to boarding school. Ishaan’s new life doesn’t change much, but inside, he’s unhappy about being separated from his parents, when an art teacher named Ram Shankar Nikumbh comes into his life. Different from the rigid teachers we have seen in the past, Ram Shankar Nikumbh advocates that students should retain their own personality and ideas and develop freely.

By exaggerating social order and school rules, Taare Zameen Par shows the audience that each child has his or her own unique talent and is a role that cannot be replaced by others. We can see from the film that every child has something to offer until we find it. Through the example of Ishaan, the film Taare Zameen Par illustrates that the important role played by parents in the education process determines that parents should pay more attention to the real psychological needs of children. Taare Zameen Par directed and performed by Indian superstar Aamir Khan takes a plain approach and lets people listen to the beautiful songs, plus the animation full of children’s interest, allowing the audience to enter the dyslexia world of the young boy Ishaan. With the eyes of the little boy Ishaan, Aamir Khan looks at the deficiencies in the education system, but he does not complain about the incompleteness of the system and the absence of parents in learning. Instead, he provides different thinking perspectives on family affection and education with sincere and inclusive writing.

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. 

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. 

Avengers 4: Endgame Trailer

Recently, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were hit by two trailers for upcoming films within the same month. Disney’s Marvel released the trailers for their upcoming films Captain Marvel (2019) and Avengers 4: Endgame (2019). Endgame, being the final addition to the multi-million dollar project that is Marvel’s The Avengers, is the slightly more anticipated film.

The first trailer for Avengers: Endgame was released on December 7, 2018, and as of today (December 25, 2018) has acquired 75,832,393 views on YouTube alone. The first frame is the iconic helmet donned by Iron Man, which would have a happy and excited connotation if it were not for the condition of the helmet. As Tony Stark reaches out to the disembodied helmet of his prized Mark 50, the viewer notices that both the piece of technology and Stark himself appear battered and bruised.

Stark begins recording a message for his girlfriend, Pepper Potts, who also runs Stark Industries. He asks tells her not to feel guilty about his impending death: Tony is stuck in the Benetar, the ship used by the Guardians of the Galaxy in Infinity War. Stark explains that he ran out of food and water four days ago and that oxygen will run out in a day. He gives a heartfelt message to his love back on Earth, telling Pepper that he will dream of her as he drifts off. As he ends the recording, the frame transitions into the classic logo for Marvel Studios, but with a gut-wrenching twist: it fades into dust, imitating the results of Thanos’ snap.

The scene transitions to the suit worn by Thanos in Infinity War. Thanos appears in the frame, but only partially: the viewer can observe his right hand, with the gauntlet melted to it due to the raw power released by his snap, brushing against the plant life on Titan 2, which is where Thanos retired to after the battle. The frame cuts to the Avengers headquarters in upstate New York, inside of which are Natasha Romanov and Steve Rogers, the latter with tears running down his face. As Natasha does a voice-over explaining that Thanos achieved his goal of wiping out half the universe, the viewer can see Bruce Banner scrolling through pictures of the heroes who are missing, including Scott Lang, Princess Shuri of Wakanda, and Peter Parker.

The frame cuts to another shot of the Avengers compound, then to broken-looking Thor. As Steve Rogers does a voice-over explaining what everyone has lost due to Thanos’ malevolent mission, the video exhibits Nebula running a comforting hand over Tony Stark’s shoulder. The trailer cuts to Clint Barton; however, he’s in Japan, wearing a leather suit, with a katana, which shocks Natasha as she watches him pull off his mask.

The trailer cuts swiftly to Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanov once more, but this time they’re in an airplane; Steve is back in his old suit, and his rugged beard is gone as he opens his old compass with a picture of Peggy Carter inside. Natasha assures Steve that their mysterious plan will work, and he agrees. The frame cuts to the iconic Avengers logo in purple hues, with the word “Endgame” under it. The logo is made up of the metaphorical rubble left behind by Infinity War.

All of a sudden, the screen goes black, and Scott Lang’s voice can be heard, asking is anyone is home. The footage that matches it appears, and Scott Lang seems to be asking someone to let him in as Steve Rogers comes into the frame and asks if the footage is recent. Natasha Romanov appears beside him, saying quietly that this footage appears to be from the front door of the compound. The image of the Black Widow’s face fades out as the screen goes black except for one word: April, which is when the highly anticipated movie will be released.

-Arushi S.