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Cas & Dylan REVIEW


Richard Dreyfuss and Tatiana Maslany are pictured in a scene from the film "Cas & Dylan." THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Chris Large ORG XMIT: cpt123

Richard Dreyfuss and Tatiana Maslany are pictured in a scene from the film “Cas & Dylan.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Chris Large 

When terminally ill Dr. Cas Pepper meets Dylan Morgan, a young woman with big dreams stuck between a rock and a hard place, no matter how he tries to shake her, he can’t. Dylan hitches a ride with Cas on his journey “west,” where she plans to become a published writer and he plans to enjoy the last part of his life. Their relationship, though rocky at first with Cas pleading that Dylan would shut up, fits the unusual-but-sweet friendship cliché as the two find each other in their loneliness.

I usually can’t stand “roadtrip” stories, but Cas & Dylan was so skillfully written I couldn’t help but love the movie. The poster looks like it’s advertising some hokey “Western” comedy, and while there is a lot of Bluegrass Country music played, it’s much more than that. Screenwriter Jessie Gabe dared to bring the audiences to unexpected destinations in moral dilemmas and serious content matter such as suicide, death, and abuse. Gabe manages to balance that out with dry humor infused in the banter between Cas and Dylan.

The film relies entirely on the two actors’ shoulders—and they pulled it off brilliantly. Tatiana Maslany (Dylan) delivers every line with perfect sass, wit, and optimism—I wished I had even a fraction of Dylan’s daring spunk and spontaneity. Richard Dreyfuss’s performance as Cas brought tears to my eyes even after the credits stopped rolling. It wasn’t an easy ending, and that is what makes the movie different from the Hollywood tropes it employs. Suitable for older teens due to language and heavy themes.


First Published At

Beyond The Mask REVIEW


Set in the turmoil of the Revolutionary War, Beyond the Mask explores the fictional tale of an East India Company assassin’s quest to clear his ledger. Betrayed by his own company, Will Reynolds sets out for a new life armed with a new identity. His new occupation as a vicar does not suit him in the least, but on the plus side, he meets a charming young lady, Charlotte. He soon travels to the Americas where he must foil a murderous plot aimed at the founding fathers and win Charlotte’s trust and affection, even as his past is being uncovered.

With action, romance, and good morals, Beyond the Mask tells quite the interesting historical-fiction plot. We get to meet Benjamin Franklin with his quirky bits of wisdom and we even get a brief scene with George Washington. However, the movie moved at a much too slow pace, especially when there wasn’t any explosions or fights on screen. Even with a wholesome message about forgiveness and redemption, the film can’t redeem itself from its over stretched runtime and obvious CGI backgrounds.


First Published at

From page to stage: the hero’s journey

tumblr_inline_nk6zghW1Bd1rh8jpsWriting is a superpower, and it comes with its own high stakes.

It was hard for me to imagine that words on a page—mostly written for my private entertainment—would be projected on the stage of Symphony Hall, a gorgeous theater with high ceilings and velvet cushioned seats. I had no idea what it would feel like to see the characters that I had written four months ago strut around stage, taking audiences on an emotional journey. I couldn’t fathom what it would be like to be transported into the setting I had scrawled on a piece of paper. And I was definitely not prepared for the overwhelming sense of pride I felt as applause, whoops, and cheers filled the house.

This was the first year that OCSA’s Creative Writing Conservatory collaborated with the Acting Conservatory for the Annual Playfest. My play MEET & GREET, about a chance encounter with a character at Disneyland, was among the nine plays chosen to be directed by Acting students and performed by actors of all conservatories. The Playfest, themed One Act of Heroism: An Evening of Original One Acts, ran for two nights, Feb. 20 and 21.

As soon as the Creative Writing playwrights, including myself, were notified that our plays had been selected, we immediately met up with the prospective student directors. It took a great deal of bravery to pitch our scripts to directors, hold our breaths, and hope that someone liked our plays. The directors pitched their vision back to us, and the collaboration between writer and director began. I was blessed with a fantastic director, senior Tara Byk. As a first time director, she was a bit daunted at the prospect but also very excited to sit on the other side of auditions with me next to her.

“It’s cool how you know the person who writes the script,” said Byk. “You can see how the ideas sort of formed. When you know your writer, you can ask them questions and know all the answers.”

tumblr_inline_nk8x4cF4p71rh8jpsWriters were invited to attend as many rehearsals as possible. We had the opportunity to revise our scripts, and the director-writer super team allowed for last minute changes to make a particular line sound better or to switch blocking around.

“It’s incredibly heartening to see [my script] brought to life,” said Sophie Neely, a junior Creative Writer. “My director and I had a very open communication line so if I felt like something needed to be shifted in a different direction, he was very open to that.”

The flexibility of the organic process turned out to be a tricky thing to handle, but the end product was remarkable, something that had never been done before.

“I was excited,” said Mr. Michael Fountain, one of the Acting Faculty Directors. “There were moments of, ‘We don’t have a lot of time,’ or ‘This is going to present some interesting challenges,’ but for the most part it was pure excitement and we were ready to go for it and see what happens.”

Though the writers’ presence did add a certain pressure for actors, it pushed them to be better performers.

“Now that I’m performing for the writer, I need to serve that script to the best of my ability and honor that writer who created this remarkably beautiful script,” said Hayden Allcorn, who was cast in two plays. “It is my job as the actor to tell the world every single word, every syllable, and every punctuation mark that was in that script.”

For Mr. Pete Uribe, one of the Acting Faculty Directors, seeing students take ownership of their art and mentoring young writers and directors was the best part of the experience.

“It’s been fantastic to empower both the writers and the directors. Almost all the work you see up there, it’s theirs,” he said. “We threw them into the pool, gave them a few tools and said ‘swim,’ and I think everyone has swam fantastically.”

The night was filled with laughter and heartbreaks as each play presented a different spin on what it meant to be a hero. Everything from the transition music to the costume designs to the themes in the plays paid homage to the classic superhero genre. Like iconic superheroes leave an impression on our minds, the action-packed evening left the audience in awe of the evening’s heroes: the writers, directors, actors, and set designers.

tumblr_inline_nk8vghPCUC1rh8jps“The best part is seeing how many people we could get involved and how many people are happy right now,” said Ms. Tira Palmquist, Creative Writing Faculty Dramaturge. She looked around at a lobby full of audience members congratulating cast members. “Being a playwright, I know how great it is when you can see your work fully realized and see how actors enjoy the words that you’ve written. Having a director bring that to life with you is really gratifying.”

At the end of the night, I realized that though I may not be an archetypal superhero with martial arts skills and a cape, I do have a deadly superpower. Stakes are high in that everything is built from my Hero’s Journey, but it is my job to fight off the bad guys of doubt and insecurity. It is my sworn duty to do my best, and now I fully understand what a great hero was once told: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

This year’s One Act plays were: SUPPORTING CHARACTER by Lani Kording; AMERICA’s NEXT TOP VILLAIN by Emma Kuli; FAME IS FOR THE FOOLISH by Jerica Dunton; SUPER HERO CREW by Emily Normandin-Parker; HOW TO BE A HERO by Chayse Peña and Katie Boër; FIRST CHAPTER OF JAMES: SEVENTEEN by Sophie Neely; MEET & GREET by Cassandra Hsiao; BRAVE FACES SAVE LIVES by Bailey Saewert; and MY BROTHER IS A SUPERHERO by Michelle Vera.


The Cracks in the Kingdom

index-2.aspxJaclyn Moriarty
Ages 12+
Reviewed by Cassandra
The Cracks in the Kingdom is author Jaclyn Moriarty’s second book in the trilogy of The Colors of Madeleine, and like the first, Moriarty’s words dance with the whimsicality of a poet. This sequel picks up right where the first left off, with Madeleine in the Real World communicating with farm boy Elliot Baranski in another universe, a kingdom called Cello. Cello’s royal family is missing, and Princess Ko has three weeks to get them back. She gathers a Youth Alliance from across the kingdom to help her crack the case of the missing royals. The Princess, Elliot, and Madeleine must all work together to save the family and bring them home to Cello. Every sentence is a breath of magic, as Moriarty’s talent lies in seamlessly weaving metaphors and similes into her descriptions. She practically paints with words in her magical realism novel. Her creativity shines through in little things such as the “Color” attacks on Cello, in which the colors are some sort of creature, each color with its own attributes.

Readers are drawn in immediately in this hard-to-put-down book with witty dialogue and an intricate plot. Madeleine and Elliot’s friendship reflects the struggles of adolescence in a realistic way, yet the morals are never too heavy-handed. It’s a rewarding read as Moriarty brings the plot full circle in the end.

First Publish@ County of Los Angeles Public Library
Genre: Fantasy, Romance

How To Train Your Dragon 2 Movie Review

ImageSequel. The word often makes people cringe, as more often than not, studios are in for the money rather than the quality. In my mind, only certain sequels are up to par or even better than the original, bringing up names like Toy Story 2, The Empire Strikes Back, and now, How to Train Your Dragon 2.

It’s five years since the first movie. Hiccup, Astrid, and their friends have transformed Berk into a dragon-friendly island where Vikings participate in a Quidditch-like sport that involves tossing sheep in the air. Hiccup and beloved dragon Toothless are charting unknown territory when they discover a villain’s plan to build a dragon army. With a new addition to the family, the Vikings go to battle against a fearsome enemy to protect their dragons.

I went into this movie with high expectations based on raving reviews I read, and HTTYD2 did not disappoint. The plot incorporated it all—humor, heart, action, adventure, whimsy. With the addition of new dragons and new territory, the animators created an exotic, gorgeous world filled with unparalleled creations and ideas that popped to life especially in 3D. I couldn’t help but marvel at lush green oasis backdrops and the stunning flight sequences over the ocean. The orchestral score by John Powell outdid the first movie’s. HTTYD2 is the best DreamWorks Animation movie in a decade, with a little something for everyone. Not only will children enjoy it, but adults will, too—I heard grown adults gleefully chortling one moment and sniffling the next. Hiccup’s struggles in finding himself and accepting a role of leadership are very relatable, and I’m sure young boys will find a bit of themselves reflected in our protagonist who relies on his wits and courage to defeat the bad guys.

First Published @

Getty Villa: Living Mythological History

IMG_0684The pool itself is painted an ocean blue, so the water in the main fountain glitters an impossibly luminous light cyan. The architecture is simply gorgeous, especially the miniature dome that houses the statue of Hercules, or Herukles (meaning glory of Hera). The tours are in-depth and the food at the cafe is scrumptiously delicious. It’s my first time at the Getty Villa, and like the McDonald’s slogan, I’m lovin’ it. There’s a balcony that overlooks the road winding up here, and from the top of the hill, I can see the ocean. As I trip over my own feet in trying to keep up with the tour guide, who is showing us the highlights of the Villa, I realize the difference between this replica of an ancient upper-class Roman house, and the Getty Museum. Aside from the obvious in accommodating fewer paintings and more sculptures, this Villa specifically focuses on one of my favorite history cultures and pieces of literature, the era of the Greeks and Romans.

Of course, J.P. Getty built the Villa from his inspiration of the Villa of the Papyri, and so the history I feel resonate deep inside of me from the sights of the columns and arches is merely conceived, existing only in my brain. However, the actual pieces of pottery and shreds of fabric are truly from that archaic time. I experience a sense of pride when I’m able to recognize the tour guide’s explanation of a carving that stems from tales of the Odyssey, and even more so when I can explain to my father about the three goddesses’ fight over the golden apple in The Judgment of Paris. I’ve read Homer’s The Odyssey as well as the Percy Jackson series, both of which have given me a strong foundation in the Greek version of Mount Olympus, but I’ve only barely begun to dive into the Roman version of the gods. They’re harsher, less compassionate, and more brutal than the Greek gods.


At the front of the pool/fountain, a statue of greets us—it’s Hermes, I know this because of the wings attached to his ankles. I start up a competition with my brother to see who can find the most pieces of art depicting a god or goddess. We move from room to room, and I’m fascinated by the jewelry, with their extensive golden chains and heavy bangles. A delicate ring that seems to have golden embroidery catches my eye, and for a moment, wild caper plots run through my mind. Could I pull a heist and escape with that beautiful necklace around my neck? I gaze at the Greek and Roman coins, stamped with the faces of the gods/goddesses. I want the one with Athena seated on her throne holding a little winged creature, or even better, the tortoise minted on the island Aegina. During the tour, I relive the stories of the Trojan War, Orpheus and the sirens, Hercules and the 12 labors, Leda and the swan, and the “origin” story of how Earth and the Universe came to be. The tour guide teaches us how to “read” art—back then, the Greeks did not read traditional words and letters—they read through symbols of art. So much can be interpreted from a simple carving of a man with a crown and scepter on the side of a loutrophoros (vase used for washing purposes). The man is Zeus, of course, because only gods could sit on thrones (the Greeks didn’t have furniture) and only figures held in very high esteem were shown nude. DSC_0319

When the tour finishes, I ask the tour guide if she’s ever heard of Cassandra. She nods yes. “Cassandra was the daughter of Priam, the King of Troy,” she says. “She had the gift of prophecy—” “Curse of Apollo,” I add. The tour guide looks at me appraisingly. “She predicted the Trojan war, but nobody listened to her. Then Clytemnestra, wife of King Agamemnon and her lover, Aegisthus, killed both Cassandra and Agamemnon. It’s quite a sad story. That’s why I usually don’t tell it,” says the tour guide. I tell her my name is Cassandra and she says it’s a beautiful name. Certainly, I had alreadyDSC_0297 known the tragedy that happened to the princess, prophet of disaster and seductress of men. I suppose I just wanted to hear the tale again from a different perspective, in a different location where I can look upon the statue of Apollo and curse him for cursing Cassandra with that blasted gift of prophecy. It’s the same reason that I return to museums and look upon sculptures even though I already know the stories behind them. It’s real, living pieces of history that embodies their ideas of the deities, and seeing it first-hand at the Villa is a priceless experience.DSC_0277DSC_0293

DIVERGENT Movie Review

ImageBased on the best-selling novel by Veronica Roth, Divergenttakes place in the future in a seemingly perfect, utopian society where there are five factions, or categories, in which people develop a certain virtue (Dauntless, the brave; Erudite, the intelligent; Abnegation, the selfless; Amity, the peaceful; and Candor, the honest). 16-year-old Tris Prior is Abnegation-born. When she takes the test to help determine which faction she belongs in, her results come up inconclusive and she learns she is “Divergent.” Her mind cannot conform to a single way of thinking for long. She chooses Dauntless to hide herself within the dangerous, thrill-seeking faction, but when she discovers a scheme that will undermine her world, her life is not the only one that is in danger.

Inevitably, many critics will want to compare Divergent to The Hunger Games. The only thing the two drastically different movies share is a stubborn female protagonist fighting in a dystopian world. This movie stays very true to the book in bringing alive the complex world and interesting premises. The detailed sets are simply stunning in their authenticity from the Dauntless Pit to the Chicago skyline. Every single actor was top notch. Shailene Woodley (Tris) brought vulnerability and strength to her role while co-star Theo James (Four) was perfectly mysterious yet emotionally open on screen. Their chemistry was communicated through both the dialogue and their expressive eyes. The rest of the cast was phenomenal as well.

Aside from having an underdeveloped plot and a long run time of 140 minutes, Divergent was overall very likable from the grounded real sets to the talented cast. Although it doesn’t reach the scope and high stakes of The Hunger Games, Divergent was, at its core, an action movie with guns galore without feeling too much like an action blockbuster. The line between war games and real war begins to blur towards the end. The overwhelming violence during the Dauntless training is also brutal, so parents should be aware of the film’s PG-13 rating. Divergent is an exhilarating thrill-ride, and audiences will love the rush of adrenaline in this dystopian film.

Upcoming Dystopian Teen Films: Hit or Miss?

Ever since the box office success The Hunger Games hit theaters two years ago, movie companies have been scouring for YA adventure/fantasy/dystopian novels to bring to the big screen. Seeking to emulate Lionsgate’s massive success, the book to movie adaptations come and go, from The Mortal Instruments to The Host to Beautiful Creatures to Vampire Academy, all of which either failed at the box office or were panned by the critics. In 2013, the only one that really scored huge wasThe Hunger Games’ successor: Catching Fire. What an incredibly well-done movie! But the question is, can the 2014 YA dystopian novels-turned-movies beat their 2013 failures? Let’s take a look.


With an extremely large fan base from the novel by Veronica Roth as well as Lionsgate’s widespread publicity marketing, I predict that this will be a box office success. Many fans are planning to go to the midnight premiere. The premise is fascinating with a future city in which teens are separated into factions or categories in which they learn to develop a certain virtue. It also helps that Theo James (Four) is, in the words of my peers, extremely attractive.

The initial reaction will not be as big as The Hunger Games, but ultimately, perhaps this is beneficial to the movie—going in with a high expectation may ruin the experience. In addition, some fans are upset that Theo James is approximately 10 years older than his character. How high is the worry level that this will turn out to be another Percy Jackson, with the wandering plot and miscast of characters? High. (But no worries, because this reporter has already watched the movie and thinks it really does justice to the book!)

The Maze Runner

Again, another enthralling plot about a community of boys living in a maze in a post-apocalyptic setting. The author of the book, James Dashner also wrote the screen play. Even so early in the year, Fox is already releasing promotional images and will soon release their first teaser trailer, dangling bits and pieces for fans to leap up and hungrily grab. The cast may be young, but by no standards inexperienced, with Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf), Will Poulter (The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader), and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Ferb from “Phineas & Ferb”). Can this movie come out already?

So the cast is great, but how about the crew? Wes Ball is better known for his work in the art department rather than his director credits. James Dashner, although he is an amazing author, has never written a screenplay before. Will the crew be able to handle bringing to screen a story that involves vicious creatures called Grievers and hundred-feet walls that move at night? We will simply have to wait and see—and pray that they don’t botch our beloved book and characters.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

The cast has already proven itself many times over, the crew is nothing short of phenomenal—Lionsgate could merely sit back, relax, and not even promote the film at all, yet there’ll be hour-long lines just to get into the theaters during opening week. We already know that the movie will do justice to the book as proven with Hunger Games 1 and 2. The gaps in between the franchise release dates are not excruciatingly long, so fan hype is still going strong.

However, with only a year in between Catching Fire and Mockingjay, will the cast and crew have enough time to produce the movie to their best effort? Also, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death has thrown a wrench into the production with 7 days left of filming. Going back to the very first pro I mentioned for Mockingjay—perhaps fans’ high expectation could be the movie’s ultimate pitfall. Even if it is, we will still very much enjoy Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss trying to find her way around District 13.

Divergent is in theaters March 21, 2014. The Maze Runner is in theaters September 19, 2014. Mockingjay Part 1 is in theaters November 21, 2014.

Muppets the most wanted movie review

ImageRip-roaring Hilarious, The Muppets Do It Again!

Who said a sequel isn’t as good as the first one? MUPPETS MOST WANTED tops itself with hilarious jokes, a wacky plot, crazy cameos, and fantastic comedic performances from the Muppets gang as well as their human co-stars. The movie picks up right where the first left off, and wastes no time opening with a flashy musical number called, “We’re Doing A Sequel,” a song that will certainly get stuck in your head. The gang is persuaded into doing a World Tour with Dominic Badguy as their tour manager. What they don’t know is that Dominic, played by Ricky Gervais, is sidekick to Constantine—the World’s Most Dangerous Frog and a Kermit lookalike, save an extremely thick Russian accent and a mole. They are off to steal England’s Crown Jewels by replacing Kermit with Constantine, who deviously tricks the Muppets with his spot-on impersonation time and time again.

The film is rip-roaring fun for the entire family. The comedy neither patronizes the kids nor tries too hard to entertain adults—parents, young adults, teens and children will laugh out loud, but at different things. Tina Fey as Nadya the feisty prison guard is impeccable with her comedic timing while Ty Burrell is a joy to watch in his role as Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon. I must also commend Miss Piggy for her flawless acting talent, as always. What can I say? She’s a natural. In fact, the scenes in which Miss Piggy ranted at her on-and-off boyfriend Kermit seemed so real that I wonder if there was actually some tension on set. Families will love the humor, the heartfelt friendship storyline, and the game of spot-the-star in Muppets Most Wanted. All ages (although the Muppet Babies may creep younger children out).

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