Tomorrowland REVIEW



If there’s one thing to take away from Tomorrowland, it’s that science is cool. Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is an optimistic teen who can’t accept the deteriorating condition of our soon-apocalyptic world. When she meets Frank Walker (George Clooney) who comes off as a grumpy old man, her enthusiasm rubs off on him as they journey to another dimension. Along with Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a little girl whose fighting chops might just surprise you, they travel through space and time to right the wrongs of inventions gone too far.

The marketing for Tomorrowland has been brilliant in revealing very little while still piquing attention. If you do decide to see this movie, you’ll enjoy the elements of daring surprise. Not knowing what to expect, I was delighted at the first half of the movie, though parts of it felt like an extended trailer for Disneyland. The storytelling was engaging enough that I could forgive some of the cliché lines—up until a certain point, at least.

Tomorrowland gets an “A” for effort, but not for execution. I spent half the film waiting until the characters arrived in Tomorrowland and the other half wishing they’d just stayed on Earth. Tomorrowland is futuristically gorgeous with plenty for the eye to drink in and the acting is top-notch. The problem is the plot. In five minutes the film went from thought provoking to childish, boiling down great potential to the mere destruction of an evil machine. While it is refreshing to see a non-dystopian movie that brings hope, it still feels like guilt-tripping as the movie showcases shots of melting glaciers, flooded neighborhoods, and destroyed monuments so the audience will start thinking about humanity’s future.

The movie’s saving grace is the acting. Though Britt Robertson is about ten years too old to play a teenager, she still manages to pull it off with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Raffey Cassidy is adorably captivating as quick-witted Athena. And most of all, watching Clooney as a stubborn grouch never gets old. In other words, I wanted to like this movie. It makes my heart hurt because despite having one of my favorite directors, a great cast, a promising premise, and uplifting morals, the film missed its mark. Hopefully the audience will still walk away inspired to dream big and use their talents to build our very own Tomorrowland.


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Book Review – One Thing Stolen

FinalCoverOneThingStolenONE THING STOLEN is written in watercolor — it’s beautiful, poetic and arresting. Nadia Cara is a girl who recently moved to Florence, Italy. Not only does she feel lost in the gorgeous city but she’s lost the ability to find the right words when speaking. She begins to steal pretty things that catch her eye and weave nests out of the objects she’s collected. When she meets an elusive boy in the city, she finally feels like she’s found someone who understands her. However, Nadia can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy as she descends into the snares of a rare neurological disease. She tells herself the boy is real, although the reader knows better than to trust this narrator.

The book reads like poetry, with fragmented sentences and vivid imagery. Metaphors abound and sometimes the plethora of images presented is too disjointed for the reader to truly picture the scene, but I believe this represents Nadia’s disoriented state of mind. It leaves you with an overall feeling of breathlessness and the wish to see the world through Nadia’s eyes. The symbols author Beth Kephart chooses are significant and will stay with the reader long after the last page — names, birds, nests, floods, foreign languages, churches. Reading ONE THING STOLEN is like finding something you never knew you lost.

Nadia’s disorder, in some ways, frees her even though she is trapped by speech and memory loss. Just like she is able to roam the city, Nadia gives herself the liberty to live in the beauty of the moment. With the free-verse style narrative and muddled thoughts, the plot may be confusing, but the sense of mystery ultimately pulls the reader through. I love the characters, especially Nadia’s best friend Maggie, who she recounts in flashbacks of good times spent together — the type of friendship everyone envies. Nadia’s family brings hope to the readers as they learn to deal with Nadia’s wandering mind. ONE THING STOLEN is artistic, dauntless and haunting from the beginning to the end.

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Little Boy REVIEW


Set in the turbulent times of World War II, Little Boy presents to us the story of 8-year-old Pepper Flynt Busbee, a boy with eyes that want to drink in the world, as if to make up for what he lacks in height. Even though his father is drafted in the war, Pepper continues to plow into life headfirst with his philosophy that if he believes hard enough, he can do anything, including bringing his father back. With the help of Mr. Hashimoto, an old softhearted grouch, the “little boy” in question embarks on a quest to complete a list of good deeds to miraculously end the war.

Little Boy is an unexpected gem of a movie that never whacks us over the head with ideals. All the morals and simple storylines somehow work because we’re seeing the world from Pepper’s point of view. The film takes Matthew 17:20 and runs with it, allowing room for some people to call a miracle coincidence and others to call it God’s hand. It reminded me of the wide-eyed childhood innocence that sits on a dusty shelf in my heart. This was in part because of Jakob Salvati (Pepper) who has the acting chops to pull off anything the script requires, from earnest belief in the impossible to heart-wrenching tearful grief. It’s quite a shocker to see David Henrie playing Pepper’s older brother, as his character here is a far cry from Justin Russo on Wizards of Waverly Place—a spectacular performance, nonetheless.

The movie dared to go places I thought a typical feel-good movie would avoid. It explores the racism Japanese Americans faced after the bombing of Pearl Harbor as well as the terrors of war (Hiroshima, injured soldiers, PTSD, etc). I thought it was well done how Director Alejandro Monteverde intercut scenes of Pepper’s father in war with Pepper’s own life. Little Boy is a film you cannot help but like, with the heartwarming aura of the great American classics.


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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.


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A Girl Like Her movie review

a_girl_like_her_movieAmy Weber’s A Girl Like Her strives to bring the age-old bully-vs-victim empowerment genre to a new light—and surprisingly, in subtle ways, it accomplishes exactly that. Shot in an interesting combo of “found footage” and documentary style, the movie powerfully depicts multiple perspectives surrounding a tragedy in a small town.

When Jessica Burns attempts suicide, rumors start to fly, saying that popular girl Avery bullied her to the point of taking her own life. Jessica’s best friend Brian documented the bullying via hidden cameras. A documentary (within the storyline) is being filmed at the school and tries to uncover the truth of what really happened. The movie’s storytelling takes a turn when the person filming the “documentary” steps in and actually acts as a catalyst for character development. It’s fascinating to see the “documentary” tracking every second of Avery’s confident facade crumbling in the wake of her guilt. One line in the movie stood out to me: “Hurt people hurt people.” Showing Avery’s off-kilter home life rescued her from the cardboard bully stereotype. Another heartbreaking moment was when Jessica’s mother questions Brian why he didn’t show her the footage earlier. His guilt is immediate, and we understand that the toll of the suicide is equally painfully for the best friend and the parents.

The bullying is expected: physical and verbal abuse as well as nasty cyberbullying. However, Jessica’s attempted suicide goes to show that the effects of bullying piles up until students see no way out other than death. It’s a powerful, visceral message A Girl Like Her sends out, for both the bully and the bullied.

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Disney’s Cinderella REVIEW


In a world where bringing a modern spin to stories is becoming more and more common, live-action Cinderella is a fresh look at the original Disney telling of the fairytale in that it is ironically faithful to the 1950 film. Nothing is distorted or wildly reimagined—yes, this is the story of the tragedy that left a girl parentless, living with a cruel stepmother and her two stupid daughters. This is the story of the forgotten glass slipper and the one night with the prince that made the girl decide she was in love. This is the story of inherent goodness that is rewarded with a happy ending, and despite the fact it is a corny tale we know through and through, Cinderella still manages to charm with its earnest, sweet, genuine tone. It’s storytelling at its best and simplest with a clear plot structure and pure characters.

Along with gorgeous cinematography, Cinderella is eye-candy for wardrobe fanatics and dress lovers. Everything from Cinderella’s iconic dress to the Stepmother’s elaborate hat to the Prince’s suit is meticulously designed. Different tints of blue emerge as Cinderella twirls her dress, and mark my words: Disney will see a surge in costume profits as little girls will rush to stores to buy their dress. (I myself am tempted to buy the Prom edition of her dress. The colors, the fabric, the elegance—!) At times, the animal CGI is a bit cringe inducing, but I personally liked how the movie required suspense of disbelief. I’m glad Disney didn’t try to make the story “relevant” to modern times, paradoxically allowing us to indulge in the fantasy. The transformation of the pumpkin and the ragged dress is truly magical to witness, and older audiences may find themselves washed in nostalgia as they watch the classic scene unfold before their eyes.

The cast brings the characters to life flawlessly, especially Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine. She gives the villain such depth and complexity. What I love about the movie the most is its message: to have courage and be kind. Cinderella and her Prince embody characteristics we wish we have, and I left the theater determined to be a better person, however hokey it sounds. Some cynics like my dad and brother may want a darker twisted fairytale, but I think in our world today we need happily-ever-afters more than ever before. Cinderella brings hope and awakens the child inside all of us, prompting us to see things not as they are, but as they could be.

In addition, the short accompanying the film, Frozen Fever, makes the trip to the theaters all the more worthwhile—kids will love the sisters’ new outfits and the cheery birthday song they’ll soon know all the words to.



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Book Review – Thirteen

0823432947THIRTEEN is author Tom Hoyle’s debut novel, and it’s sure to keep readers up late at night. Thirteen boys were born at midnight on the stroke of the new millennium, and twelve of them are dead. They were killed by a cult called “The People” that believes that an imagined “Master” commanded them to do so. However, 13-year-old Adam is the last one on the list. He has absolutely no idea of the dire danger he is in. Time is running out, for not only Adam, but also the lives of an entire city. Set in iconic London, this thriller will keep readers on their toes as they meet characters who may or may not be trustworthy.

This book certainly keeps the pages turning, but readers will have to suspend their disbelief in the plot. I thought that the plot seemed highly unbelievable in the modern world, with little to no police/adult involvement concerning the murders “The People” have committed. Personally, I simply couldn’t buy that such a big cult existed right under the noses of top-notch police officers and detectives.

However, when I reached the Appendix, which shared information on real-life cults, I was shocked that such things do exist — hundreds have died at the hands of cults throughout history. This was perhaps the most haunting revelation I got from THIRTEEN; though “The People” is fiction, what happened to Adam may have been a variation of something that actually occurred in the past.

THIRTEEN is full of interesting characters, from our unpredictable, smart hero, Adam, to the sly, zealous Viper, a girl who works with “The People”. Though Hoyle’s dialogue falls short in its well-meaning attempt to emulate teen-speak, he certainly knows how to write visceral action with perfect word-choice. He paints pictures that can range from relatively bloodless to gruesomely gory, depending on the reader’s imaginations. The strongest aspects of THIRTEEN are its action-packed scenes and sense of mystery, which will propel readers through the book in no time.

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EXCLUSIVE: Justice Smith from ‘Paper Towns’

FullSizeRenderNewcomer Justice Smith gave us an EXCLUSIVE interview about starring in the upcoming movie, Paper Towns.

When mysterious Margo (Cara Delevingne) disappears, Q (Nat Wolff) and his friends set out on a road trip to find out what happened to her. Justice plays Radar, one of Q’s best friends.

The movie, based on a book by best-selling author John Green, is Justice’s first role on the big screen—and he could not be more excited.

At the time of the audition, he was not aware of Paper Towns, he did however read one of John Green’s other books, ‘Abundance of Katharines’. Justice only knew what he read off the script they had given him for Paper Towns at the audition. Afterwards, he was elated to find out more about his character.

“When I realized what it was and I read the book and I read the whole script, I started to incorporate who the character actually is. I feel like I already had a way I was going to play him and luckily it was not too far off from what is in the book and what the fans are going to want to see from Radar.”

Though Justice does not own the world’s largest collection of black Santas like Radar’s parents do, the two still share a lot of similarities.

“We’re both very intelligent! We’re both very loyal. Radar is a little more reserved and I feel like I can be that sometimes. I very much enjoy my privacy and my reticence and not always being big and out. Radar’s very introverted… and we both wear glasses sometimes!”

John Green, who also penned The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, held high praise for the way Justice handled his character.

“From the moment I saw Justice’s audition, I knew we’d lucked into the perfect Radar. I didn’t yet know of course that he is brilliant and charming in life as well as in character, but I am so grateful that he will forever more be Radar to me.”

The encouragement and support from John Green and fans of the book (called ‘Nerdfighters’) constantly lifted up the cast’s spirits on set. The love from the fandom shook away Justice’s doubts of playing the character wrong, and John Green’s support took the pressure of his shoulders.

“John really trusted all of us. He once said that we know the characters more than he does now. It’s because we had to live as these characters everyday during the two months we were shooting. I guess we discovered more about the characters and really incorporated them into our own lives. We were really supported and trusted and that made everything easier.”

Justice said he would not change anything about the experience even if he could. Like the characters of Paper Towns, at the end of the day, he discovered something new about himself through his journey, emerging with experience and new friendships that will last a lifetime.

“I learned a lot about myself from this experience. It was my first movie and there’s a lot of technical lingo I learned. I feel like the people I got to know have shaped me in new ways. It’s hard to pinpoint—I guess I’m not that self-aware—but I do feel like I’ve grown a lot especially in acting.”

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Meet Justice Smith who plays Radar in John Green’s ‘Paper Towns’ movie

DSC01792With a large fan base of Nerdfighters and last year’s success of “The Fault In Our Stars movie,” it’s no surprise that the world is eagerly awaiting the release of “Paper Towns.” Based on the book by John Green, Paper Towns stars a cast of fresh new faces—among them, Orange County School of the Arts’ very own alum, Justice Smith, class of ’13.

Paper Towns is Smith’s first movie, and the journey has been incredible, to say the least. He describes everything in his past as stepping stones that have gotten him to where he is today, and hopefully will continue to propel him forward in the future. His high school career as part of OCSA’s Acting Conservatory marked the very beginning. Students at OCSA attend academic classes in the morning, and conservatory classes in the afternoon until evening.

“OCSA taught me a lot of what I know. I don’t think I would be where I am if it wasn’t for OCSA,” reflected Smith. “I think constantly being in class everyday and working that muscle over and over really helped give me confidence and what I need to go out and work.”
Smith credits many of his teachers in the conservatory for his success today, including Ms. Sebelius who inspired Smith’s love of Shakespeare, Mr. Paul, the conservatory director at the time, Mr. Uribe, and Mr. Nathan.

In his senior year of high school, Smith was selected to be part of the prestigious YoungArts program, joining the likes of Viola Davis, Kerry Washington and Josh Groban.

“I got to go to YoungArts because of OCSA,” he explained. “Mr. Paul introduced me to that and I sent in my audition tape. They flew me out to Florida, and it was a weeklong intensive with all these awesome masters and renowned people. YoungArts was a great experience. It gave me all these other opportunities. I got to be on a Master Class on HBO because of YoungArts. I got to fly places and speak at places because of YoungArts. I really owe a lot to them. It was amazing. I got to meet lots of great people and lots of great teachers.”

One thing led to another and before he knew it, Smith landed the role of Radar for Paper Towns. Though official publicity for the movie has not started, the cast is already experiencing love from fans who call themselves Nerdfighters. Their motto is, “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome,” popularized by author and vlogger John Green and his brother, Hank.

“When I was out in North Carolina there were a lot of people who were extras on set,” said Smith. “They were fans of the book, so they wanted to take pictures and talk. They were super supportive. John Green’s fans are super nice and awesome. Nerdfighters are smart kids who are passionate about something.”
Working with Green was an experience he’ll never forget. The author put great trust in the cast of fresh faces, which encouraged the actors along with the fans’ support.

“From the moment I saw Justice’s audition, I knew we’d lucked into the perfect Radar,” said Green. “I didn’t yet know of course that he is brilliant and charming in life as well as in character, but I am so grateful that he will forever more be Radar to me.”
Smith’s future looks bright and promising—and his family couldn’t be prouder. Though his role in Paper Towns certainly kicked his career off to a great start, it did not make him exempt from family chores—his mom still makes him take out the trash. The people in his life still treat him as the Justice Smith they’ve always known.

“I have lots of new relationships but all my old friends still treat me the same. I’m just a whacky weird kid,” he said.

Keep your eyes peeled for more of Smith in the future!

“I’ve always wanted to be in a coming-of-age movie and I feel like I did that. I have a lot of dream roles in plays because I’m fascinated with plays,” he mused. “[In movies], I would love to play a superhero. They’re doing a new Spiderman right now and I don’t know what their take is on that but I would love to read for Miles Morales.”
Catch Paper Towns in theaters June 5, 2015!


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.


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