Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises directed by Christopher Nolan; written by Johnathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, and David Goyer (Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Entertainment, and Legendary Entertainment, PG-13, 164 Minutes)

The Trilogy Phenomenon

I’m forever dubious of the trilogy phenomenon. Whether it be The Hunger Games, the dreadful Twilight phenomenon, or even something wonderful like The Lord of the Rings, I find myself stepping foot into the movie theater ready to undergo some form of disappointment. Why? Once the second or third movie is made, the filmmakers all too easily assume it’s a sure thing that people will see the movie, as they are already invested in the franchise’s past. As a result, the filmmaker (or even author) will normally put less effort into the storyline, and the story ends up flat-lining.

However, with the Dark Knight trilogy, I’m happy to say I didn’t find my worries to be the case. In the last installment of the Christopher Nolan series, The Dark Knight Rises succeeds where so many other trilogies fail only because it holds the key: redemption.

Dark vs. Light

Redemption is what makes the story flourish. In the wake of the Aurora, Colorado shooting, it would seem as though redemption is hard to find in The Dark Knight Rises. And, in such a darkly made film, one would assume redemption would be the last thing to find. However, I think Nolan intentionally uses the darkly lit screen and the depravity in the storyline to intentionally illuminate this single theme.

In the final installment of the Nolan trilogy, we find Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) secluded in his mansion, unaware of the city around him. Peacetime has entered Gotham City, and while Gotham rejoices, Bruce Wayne lingers in endless depths of remorse. 

Simply, Wayne is a defeated man and suffering a loss of a dead lover, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhall from The Dark Knight) when a thief (Anne Hathaway) enters his mansion stealing his fingerprints. This simple act spurs Wayne out of inaction and into saving his city from a new threat, Bane (Tom Hardy).

Torture of the Soul

Avoiding any major spoilers, Bruce Wayne eventually finds himself in a prison with a way out: to climb. Put there by the villain of the movie, Bane, Batman is now worse off than he was before. Feeble, broken, and damaged he wallows in prison as the guards slowly work to bring him back to health. The question is, “Why?”
Bruce Wayne: “Torture?”Bane: “But not of your body...Of your soul.”
A television screen dimly lights the prison where Wayne recovers. It shows footage of a broken Gotham falling into anarchy. Wayne can’t help but watch, knowing he is stuck in prison.

Bane explains there is no worse torment than to see and grasp hope and not attain it. Eventually, Wayne gets better and stronger than before. He tries to climb out with a safety rope, but can’t make it. 

Why? He isn’t afraid; he is simply angry. Bruce fails time and time again, unable to make the jump. The prison’s physician reminds Wayne that fear is good, and fear is healthy. The right kind of fear motivates, and the proper fear is even redemptive. Wayne finds his fear is ultimately for others: it is a sacrificial kind of fear.

Wayne must become like a child (akin to Matthew 18:3) in order to get out. A child ascended before, without the rope, and made it. Wayne is forced to do the same in order to reach out to his devastated city and save the day as the Dark Knight. 

Wayne’s past and brokenness is redeemed because he is forced to be like a child. More to the point, an entire city discovers redemption because one man was forced to realize his ardent love for his city and reconcile with the truth of the situation. 

As Alfred (Michael Caine) puts it in the movie: 
“It’s time for truth to have its day.”
Christopher Nolan finds a way to make truth have its day. He puts forth the theme of redemption throughout the entirety of the movie, making The Dark Knight Rises a fitting end to the trilogy. If you haven’t, I sincerely recommend seeing the movie now.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Posted by: Andrew Jacobson

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Album Review: Ten Stories

Ten Stories by mewithoutYou (Pine Street Collection, 2012. 40 minutes)

mewithoutYou is an American rock band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The band includes Aaron Weiss (vocals), Michael Weiss (guitar), and Rickie Mazzotta (drums) with a carousel of supporting musicians. mewithoutYou signed with Tooth and Nail Records releasing their first four records with the label. Ten Stories is self-released and offers a return to the band’s earlier sound.

Circular Narrative 
“All circles presuppose they’ll end where they begin, but in their leaving can they ever come back round.” – Aaron Weiss adapted from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.
Looking back on the music that defined my teen years, not much of it carried staying power. I liked ska, but the genre died in 1995. Punk rock had energy, but the lyrics are pointless and I have nothing to angst against. Hardcore and Metal, for the most part, exist as a medium by which talented musicians prove their worth; I don’t want to listen to their unending quest for technical superiority.

Of the bands in my teenage years, mewithoutYou is the only one sticking around. While my teenage-self rocked to energetic music caring little about the lyrical content, the rich narratives penned by Aaron Weiss supplement my current passion for the band.

Background Narrative 

In truth, Aaron Weiss has always been narrative-heavy. In fact, my first introduction to the band emerged from the most interesting band blog post I’ve ever read.

To be concise, mewithoutYou—a Philadelphia-based band—played a show in Baltimore. Ever seeking introspective solitude, Aaron urged the band to depart for Philadelphia without him—he wanted to walk home. What ensued was a half-hilarious, half-existential account of this singer’s 3 day hike back home.

I’ve been a fan ever since.

Circus Narrative 

With Ten Stories, we find mewithoutYou flourishing underneath rich lyrical stories. The album’s opener, “February, 1878”—an inside joke since the band has a song titled, “January, 1979”—depicts a horrific circus train crash.
“February 8th, 1878 south of Trout Creek west of Cedar Lake on a winding mountain trail of the North Pacific Union Rail, the snow arrived on time the circus train was running late rip spot’s past and all the knuckles worn firebox bursting to the running boards a pounding in his chest crushing like a cider press the Hogger rode the throttle round the bender like a flank-strapped horse”
Some animals flee in the melee; some remain in the opened cages, afraid of change.

The rest of the album, then, tells the stories of these escaped animals.

While the animals experience a wide spectrum of life, my favorite tracks are “Aubergine” and “Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume”.

Romance Narrative 

Literally, a love song between a labrador and an aubergine, “Aubergine” also unveils the inner fears of Weiss.
“Sugar down the syrup in the Queen Anne’s lace shining in the light of the nightshade cultivating unsophistication in my face trying to think of nothing to say / grapes gone sour and the spinach went to seed (it was spindly and sick from the outset) / waiting for the hour with the wherewithal to leave, patient as a dog for its master. / The Labrador was locked to the promontory rocks, she called down ‘time is an illusion.’ / An inconsequential shift as the continents drift but my confidence was crushed and I miss you regardless.”
While certainly ethereal, such pointed observations can only exist with experience. I can certainly relate to waiting with the wherewithal to leave.

Philosophical Narrative 

Additionally, “Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume” provides a sublime example of Weiss’ brilliance:
“FOX: Provisionally, ‘I’ practically alive mistook signs for signified and so since have often tried to run them off the cliff like Gadarene swine and tied my though-ropes in anchor bends wondering whether we were someone better, then, or maybe just better able to pretend (and what better means to our inevitable end! BEAR: No, I don’t know if I know, though some with certainty insist ‘no certainty exists’ well I’m certain enough of this: In the past 14 years, there’s only one girl I’ve kissed”
“Provisionally ‘I’” and a “provisionally ‘you’” from later in the song emerge from existentialist thinker Martin Buber. The “I” and “You” only have meaning in relationship with each other. Yet, at the same time, we are individuals. We aren’t “I” unless there are others in relationship with us, but, only as an individual can we even consider the idea of “I”.

Weiss’ mention of Gadarene swine paints a vivid metaphor. Weiss is referring to the story in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus casts a legion of demons out of a man and into a drove of pigs sending them careening of a cliff to their demise.

Weiss unlocks a classic philosophical fallacy when he states, “some with certainty insist ‘no certainty exists’”. Any collegiate level course on epistemology will communicate the difficulty of finding certainty. Blame it on Descartes but we can never find conclusive proof for any claim. Yet, to state with certainty that we can’t find certainty is a fallacy. We can only talk in terms of what is most likely to be true.

Circular Narrative 

With Ten Stories, mewithoutYou has come full circle in connection to my listening experience. While as a teenager I focused almost exclusively on the music, my journey led me away from the band as I grew and expanded my tastes. But like any circle, progress brings me back round again as I find enlightenment in another aspect of the band’s sound—namely, the lyrics.

mewithoutYou is not for everyone. If you need a beautiful singing voice or sweetly tuned instruments, I suggest you steer clear. But, if your sweet spot in music surrounds brilliantly deep lyrics, give Ten Stories a listen.

Verdict: 4 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Book Review: The Queen's Lover

The Queen's Lover: A Novel by Francine Du Plessix Gray (New York: Penguin Press, 2012. 259 pp).

Francine du Plessix Gray (b. 1930) is a Pulitzer-prize-nominated writer and literary critic. She is most known for her works, Them: A Memoir of Parents, and At Home with the Marquis De Sade: A Life. For the former, she received the National Book Critics Circle Award.

High Society Problems

When I was in high school, we, as a class, were forced to read the dreaded Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I didn’t connect with the book at all, and didn’t care to. I never liked the novel because it was both dry and boring in my opinion. I didn’t care enough of aristocratic high society problems to even give the novel a chance. Similarly, The Queen's Lover by Francine Due Plessix Gray explores some of those same problems in a work of historical fiction, and I found myself running into the same problems I had with Pride and Prejudice.

A Masquerade

Told in memoir-type format, the novel reads more like a journal—so realistic I found myself wondering how much of it was true. The Queen’s Lover begins at a masquerade ball in Paris in 1774, where Swedish nobleman Axel Von Fersen meets a dashing young woman.
Photo by Mark Sebastian
“My new friend also had grown aware, quite suddenly, of the band that had gathered about her; and without saying good-bye, as impulsively as she had begun our conversation, she wheeled around and swiftly walked away, briefly lifting the gray velvet mask off her face with an exasperated gesture, as if it were smothering her and she needed to inhale a deep breath of air. It was in that split second that I realized who she was—that I recognized her as Marie Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria-Hungary, beloved daughter of the mighty Empress Maria Theresa, and now the wife of the notoriously timid, reclusive Dauphin Louis-Auguste, who might at any moment become the king of France” (16).
An Affair and a Revolution

Photo by Panoramas
Marie Antoinette soon becomes Queen of France, and the encounter at the masquerade ball launches a life-long affair spanning the course of the French Revolution. Fersen, through his ties with Antoinette, becomes close with King Louis XVI, and the entire royal family. Fersen would like nothing more than to stay at the side of his beloved Marie-Antoinette, but the American Revolution tears him away. He is one of the first to enlist in France’s group of militiamen to fight for America’s independence. Much changes while Fersen is gone, as in 1789 the Bastille is stormed. At this point in the novel, it read less like the dry Pride and Prejudice of my youth, and more like exciting historical fiction. 

The revolutionaries hate the king,
“He was indeed witnessed to have eaten, for breakfast alone, four veal cutlets, a chicken, a plateful of ham, half a dozen eggs, and a bottle and a half of champagne. It is at this point that the king’s enemies began to refer to him as ‘the fat pig’” (79).
However, Fersen provides a different portrait of the king, Fersen shows the king to be loving and compassionate, and holds deep affection for his lover Antoinette's husband. As a result of this compassion, Fersen devises an escape for the family and their young children (who are suspected to be Fersen’s children). The attempt, however, fails, and Fersen is forced into captivity while he waits for the King and Queen to face the guillotine.  

While the novel started out in aristocratic, high-fashioned prose akin to that of the famed Jane Austen novel, I found that The Queen's Lover ended up being much more dramatic, more exciting, and more riveting for me in the end. Francine Due Plessix Gray did a fantastic job writing a memoir of historical fiction, where it was believable in every way.  She did so well crafting the novel that I may even give Jane Austen a second chance.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

Posted by: Andrew Jacobson

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Review: Design for the Real World

Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change by Victor Papanek (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971. 394 pp)

Born in Vienna, Austria in 1923, Victor Papanek immigrated to the United States to study design and architecture. He earned his B.A. at Cooper Union and his M.A. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Papanek taught design at many institutions worldwide and functioned as a strong advocate for socially and ecologically responsible design.

The Many Hues of Charity 

It’s very easy to become caught in the notion of charity equaling money. We see disasters on television and nothing seems easier than a monetary contribution from the friendly confines of our couch. Some, however, choose to dive deeper. They see a need in the community and they volunteer outside of work hours. Could we go farther? Is there a way to use your time on the clock to help those in need?

A divergent thinker, Papanek’s Design for the Real World peregrinates through a myriad of topics over the course of its 300+ pages. But in particular, I found his thoughts on work as charity intriguing.

The Meaning of Design 

Photo by Vector Hugo
For starters, let’s get on the same page regarding the meaning of design. Living in the midst of the Internet era, one might confuse design with web development—the act of creating a website. Yes, design can take the form of building a website. But it’s much bigger.

Others might consider design through the lens of logos and typography. While design plays a part in producing these items, it’s more holistic.

For Papenak,
“Design is composing an epic poem, executing a mural, painting a masterpiece, writing a concerto. But design is also cleaning and reorganizing a desk drawer, pulling an impacted tooth, baking an apple pie, choosing sides for a back-lot baseball game, and educating a child” (3).
In short, design is the act of creativity behind solving a problem.

The Problems of the Design Industry 

Design can be a lucrative industry. The world is rife with problem solving opportunities. As designers continue to use their skills to create new products and solve increasingly complex issues, Papenak’s Design for the Real World represents a careful caution about reckless design-for-profits.

Instead of designing products that last, designers create goods with designed obsolescence—one makes more money when customers continually repurchase the same items. Even more, most of the design industry caters to the highest classes. While 80% of the world struggles around the poverty line, designers work on the next product for the affluent.

Papanek mourns this development:
“Isn’t it too bad that so little design, so few products are really relevant to the needs of mankind” (51)?

Working Charitably

Papenak argues for a charitable principle in the design world. Much like the Old Testament tenet of “gleanings”, Papenak suggests designers devote a portion of their time lending creativity and problem solving abilities to social and ecological issues.
“Being designers, we don’t have to pay money in the form of kymmenykset or a tithe. Being designers, we can pay by giving 10 per cent of our crop of ideas and talents to the 75 per cent of mankind in need” (57).
Photo by Anna
The entire world needs to experience the gift of design. Imagine the result if business in general and design in particular devoted 10 percent of its time to helping those in need. Whether by developing free systems to help lift people out of poverty or designing products cheaply and efficiently to assist those in need so they can spend time more wisely, the donation of time and intellectual capital can realistically change the world.

Design for the Real World dives into many issues. But for me, the charitable giving of our time resonates. Our work is a gift. While some positions lend themselves better to financial charity or volunteer work, other jobs directly influence the way we live. It is well worth considering how we can be charitable with our work. Check out Design for the Real World.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: 1Q84: Book Two

1Q84: Book Two by Haruki Murakami (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 1184 pp)

Born in 1949 in Japan, Haruki Murakami studied drama at Waseda University. He began writing fiction at the age of 29, inspired to write a novel while watching a baseball game. Murakami earned literary fame with his best-selling novel, Norwegian Wood. In the wake of its success, he earned writing fellowships at Princeton University and Tufts University. Murakami has won the Franz Kafka Prize, the Kiriyama Prize, the Yomiuri Prize, the Jerusalem Prize, and the International Catalunya Prize.

Check out my review of Book One.

Discerning Between Unenviable Options 

Often times, life does not provide a right answer. When pondering between two choices, both have pros and cons. If life was a series of obvious choices, we’d never question whether our lives are headed in the right direction. With Book Two of 1Q84, Haruki Murakami establishes one of life’s classic paradoxes where no obvious answer exists but a decision, nevertheless, must be made.

In Book Two, the reader finds the crux of the 1Q84 storyline. If you recall from my Book One review, main characters Aomame and Tengo have operated on parallel narratives seemingly intertwined in unknown ways.

A Dangerous Mission 

Photo by Marufish
Aomame, the vigilante assassin of violent men, accepts the most difficult assignment of her illegal career. Her organization learns of gross sexual misconduct from The Leader, a figurehead of a secretive, rural cult called Sakigake.

A dangerous mission, Aomame must prepare for failure. Suicide is an option.
“At least once a day she would stand in front of the bathroom mirror and put the muzzle of the loaded gun in her mouth. Feeling the hardness of the metal against the edges of her teeth, she imagined herself pulling the trigger. That was all it would take to end her life. In the next instant, she would have vanished from this world. To the self she saw standing in the mirror, she said, A few important points: not to let my hand shake; to brace for the recoil; not to be afraid; and, most important, not to hesitate” (354).
A closely guarded figurehead, the completion of this mission will result in flight for Aomame. Sakigake is an affluent organization that will stop at nothing to bring retribution for their leader’s death if the mission is successful.

In Between Fact and Fiction 

Meanwhile, Tengo receives further pressure in the wake of Air Chrysalis’ success. For starters, the author, Fuka-Eri, has run away. The longer she is missing, the more intense the scrutiny the publisher will receive and news of Tengo’s involvement as a ghost writer could ruin everything.

Even worse, the fantastical fictional narrative to which Tengo contributed is shifting into reality. He sees two moons in the sky.
Could this mean, then—Tengo asked himself—that this is the world of the novel? Could I have somehow left the real world and entered the world of Air Chrysalis like Alice falling down the rabbit hole? Or could the real world have been made over so as to match exactly the story of Air Chrysalis? Does this mean that the world that used to be—the familiar world with only one moon—no longer exists anywhere? And could the power of the Little People have something to do with thins in one way or another” (548)?
The world of 1Q84 is becoming more influential.

A Choice 

In the process of completing her assassination attempt on The Leader, Aomame gains a fresh but unpleasant perspective.

Photo by Spreng Ben
For starters, The Leader wants to die. A window into the world for the Little People, The Leader cannot handle life anymore. As a conduit for these fantastical beings, The Leader no longer wants to carry this burden.

Even worse, the Little People are targeting Tengo for his involvement in Air Chrysalis, unknowingly cueing the public to the secretive workings of these mysterious beings.

Aomame faces an exceedingly difficult decision. Kill The Leader and ensure her inevitable death when Sakigake hunts her down and save Tengo, or release The Leader, save her life, and guarantee death for Tengo.

Having formed an irrational bond with Tengo in elementary school, her decision has no right answer.

Right, Wrong, Or Balance 

No matter Aomame’s choice, people will suffer. The ethic of good and evil carries no weight. In fact, The Leader argues,
“’In this world, there is no absolute good, no absolute evil,’ the man said. ‘Good and evil are not fixed, stable entities but are continually trading places. A good may be transformed into an evil in the next second. And vice versa. Such was the way of the world that Dostoevsky depicted in The Brothers Karamazov. The most important thing is to maintain balance between the constantly moving good and evil. If you lean too much in either direction, it becomes difficult to maintain actual morals. Indeed, balance itself is the good. This is what I mean when I say that I must die in order to keep things in balance’” (447).
What would you do in Aomame’s shoes? Is self-preservation worth someone else’s life? Is balance a better question than right and wrong? We all face unending choices every day. While most of our decisions do not possess the same onus, choices are rarely clear.

Book Two progresses the 1Q84 narrative nicely and I eagerly look forward to Book Three.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5.
Posted by: Donovan Richards

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Album Review: By the Horns

By the Horns by Julia Stone (Nettwerk Records, 2012. 38 minutes)

Julia Stone (b. 1984) is an Australian singer and songwriter. She is most known for the work with her brother in the band Angus & Julia Stone, which began in 2006. By The Horns marks her second solo record.

Airy and Light = Good or Bad?

Julia Stone’s voice airily permeates her newest solo album By the Horns, with a light and easy quality which is hard to ignore. But, I wish I could ignore it. Her voice grates on me, I think. It’s frankly hard for me to tell, as I love the music, the melodies, the mixing, and everything else on the album. The question has become for me, can I take Julia Stone one her own without the more mellow voice of her old counterpart, Angus Stone?

A National Influence

Steeped in the influence of The National, Julia Stone’s newest album By the Horns is even produced by Thomas Bartlett and has a guest appearance from drummer Bryan Devendorf, both from The National.  In a cover of The National’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, Stone sings the all-too-familiar lyrics.
“Lay my head on the hood of your car, I take it too far”

By The Horns

The title track, “By The Horns” shows duality in the album. Strewn with mellow tones from a Rhodes, strings providing a simple texture in the background, and an easy groove from the drums, the song sounds beautiful. Then you add Miss Stone’s voice and you’re forced to listen to emotional lyrics. Her voice is so aggressive and nasal, yet light and easy. I hate to admit it, but it works.
“I believe in love / No, darling, you can’t take that away from me”

It’s All Okay

The final track of note is “It’s All Okay”. The track to me suggests that Julia Stone’s solo career may in fact be all okay. A simple piano riff starts the song, while a drum beat creates a toe tapping atmosphere. Guitars swoon in the background in semi-Explosions-in-the-Sky style. And the lyrics; they’re fantastic.
“The story is different now the records are playing in the living room / And you might say you’re wounded, and I might say I’m hurt / But, we knew the difference then between the fire and the earth / And we may say we’re broken, we may say we’re weak / But, we knew before we started oh the secrets we would keep”

So, the more time I spend with By the Horns, the more I like it. I think Julia Stone may have a promising solo career ahead of her, and I urge you to try out By the Horns. You may not like it at first, maybe like me due to the quality of her voice, but let it marinate, and the album may grow on you.

Verdict: 3 out of 5
Posted by: Andrew Jacobson

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom directed by Wes Anderson; written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Focus Features, Indian Paintbrush, American Empirical Pictures, Moonrise, PG-13, 94 minutes)

Starring Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman.

The Pains of Growing Up

Did you ever try and run away as a kid? It might have been to the end of the street, to a friend’s house, or maybe even farther. Why did you do it? Oppressive parents? An untenable friendship? A bad test at school? Often irrational, this escape can sometimes result from not wanting to grow up. When a child shoulders more responsibility, sometimes it seems easier to flee hoping to return to the days where playtime occurred 24/7.

Along these lines arises Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.


In 1965 on a diminutive island in New England, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) run away together.

An orphan attending Khaki Scout summer camp, Sam escapes the campground after leaving a letter of resignation with Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton). Sam is an outcast and the rest of the troop shudders at the thought of searching for him.

Suzy met Sam a summer before when she acted in a church performance of Noye’s Fludde. Having been pen pals since that day, the two plan withdrawal together. Suzy flees because she cares little for her dysfunctional parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand).

With both young teenagers missing, Scout Master Ward, Walt, and Laura partner with local Island police officer, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to commence a search.

A Desperate Search Party 

While Suzy and Sam traverse the island in pursuit of refuge, the search party learns harrowing news: Sam’s foster parents want nothing to do with him. With an orphaned and un-guardianed child on the loose, the search party notifies Social Services (Tilda Swinton). Given Sam’s flight risk, Social Services announces intentions of subjecting Sam to electro-shock therapy.

Moreover, a hurricane approaches this sleepy isle.

With such grim news, the search party not only needs to find the run-aways before the storm surges, but they also need to ascertain a guardian promptly to keep Sam out of the mental ward.

An Ochre Hue 

Moonrise Kingdom holds all the signature styles of a Wes Anderson movie. For starters, an ochre hue emanates throughout the film. Aesthetically, the palette screams summer and warmth.

Additionally, Anderson’s sharp, witty, and ironic dialogue shines. Bill Murray holds some excellent lines, including a deadpanned scene where he intones his intentions to cut down a tree.

Even more, Wes Anderson continues to depict humor through ironic subtlety. During one scene where Scout Master Ward’s Khaki Scouts are hiding behind a fence, a stranger walks behind them wearing a Native American headdress. The audience, then, finds humor in the juxtaposition. We are under the impression that the Scouts are hidden, yet a meandering stranger breaks the wall of belief around this task of espionage.

Setting aside Wes Anderson’s brand stylings, Moonrise Kingdom explores the motif of growing up. In particular, Khaki Scout summer camp is a regimented boot camp—much more adult than a child should experience.

To a certain extent, Sam and Suzy escape to remain children. Throughout the narrative, Wes Anderson masterfully weaves the tension between growing up and remaining a child.

If you are a fan of Wes Anderson or quirky feel-good movies, go see Moonrise Kingdom.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book Review: The Yard

The Yard: A Novel by Alex Grecian (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012. 421 pp)

Alex Grecian is the author of the long-running and critically acclaimed graphic novel series Proof. The Yard is his first novel.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from G.P. Putnam’s Sons. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

Victorian Murders
“Nobody noticed when Inspector Christian Little of Scotland Yard disappeared, and nobody was looking for him when he was found” (1).
The year is 1889, and a wave a murders has swept across Victorian London. The culprit? None other than Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper has concluded his murdering spree, but the police’s inability to actually apprehend him results in an unnerved public. Scotland Yard, newly created, has twelve inspectors known as “The Murder Squad” that investigate thousands of murders every month. The Yard captures the dark, gritty nature of Victorian England, and the murders therein.

Walter Day, the protagonist of the novel, has recently been appointed as an inspector. But, he has a rough first day on the job when his colleague Christian Little was found in a trunk, stabbed repeatedly. The last thing the newly created Scotland Yard needs is another serial murder, but it looks like this one is targeting police officers. Walter, in Holmesian fashion, is joined by Dr. Kingsley, a forensic pathologist. With his help they work a few clues to try to prevent another murder of a fellow policeman.

Meanwhile, another murderer is on the loose, targeting men with beards and slicing their throats. In addition, a chimney sweep is buying little boys only to allow them to die under his care. Jack the Ripper has inspired a plethora of serial killers, creating a new genre of crime for the Scotland Yard detectives to try to solve. The strange murders are known almost immediately to the reader, but Grecian takes special care to cultivate a story where the protagonists take a while to catch on, only causing the reader to get more and more aggravated. The question is, will the policemen actually solve the case, or will the face another epic failure similar to the Jack the Ripper case?

Villainous Perspective

The reader regularly follows the villain’s perspective, thereby knowing the inner-workings of the murders themselves. The reader discerns the guilty parties not that far into the book. Meanwhile the police are under great stress trying to rebuild the reputation of The Yard, while not being able to solve new cases. The reader is rooting for the team to make a good name for themselves, while knowing more than the protagonists do. The narrative grips the reader.

The fast-paced nature of the book also kept the reader entertained, wanting and waiting to know more. Though it may not be the best literature out there, it’s a good read due to the thriller-like nature. Alex Grecian has found a James Patterson-esque formula in which corpses keep turning up, the reader knows more than the book’s protagonist. If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes, or perhaps once treaded the pages of The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, this fast-paced literature is for you. At the same time, however, if you’re looking for some historical fiction to stimulate your brain, perhaps this one might be a little disappointing.

Verdict: 3 out of 5
Posted By: Andrew Jacobson

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review: 1Q84: Book One

1Q84: Book One by Haruki Murakami (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 1184 pp)

Born in 1949 in Japan, Haruki Murakami studied drama at Waseda University. He began writing fiction at the age of 29, inspired to write a novel while watching a baseball game. Murakami earned literary fame with his best-selling novel, Norwegian Wood. In the wake of its success, he earned writing fellowships at Princeton University and Tufts University. Murakami has won the Franz Kafka Prize, the Kiriyama Prize, the Yomiuri Prize, the Jerusalem Prize, and the International Catalunya Prize.


Do you remember the last time you didn’t know that answer to a question? Did it bother you, your state of unknowing? I’m a big fan of knowing. I seek clarity; I need answers. As such, I’m thankful for my iPhone.

A question mark. It is the “Q” in Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and the underlying premise in the foundational narrative of Book One. 1Q84 highlights two protagonists connected in ways still uncertain.

Assassin Aomame 

Photo by Jesslee Cuizon
On one side, Aomame is a reserved young woman with dark secrets. She grew up in a cult and ran away from home at a young age. Her best friend committed suicide in the wake of domestic violence. Ever since the suicide, Aomame seeks vengeance. Collaborating with a wealthy benefactor possessing the same goals, Aomame removes aggressive and violent men from this earth.
This was an easier death than you deserved, Aomame thought with a scowl. It was just too simple. I probably should have broken a few ribs for you with a five iron and given you plenty of pain before putting you out of your misery. That would have been the right kind of death for a rat like you. It’s what you did to your wife. Unfortunately, however, the choice was not mine. My mission was to send this man to the other world as swiftly and surely—and discreetly—as possible. Now, I have accomplished that mission. He was alive until a moment ago, and now he’s dead. He crossed the threshold separating life from death without being aware of it himself” (37).
Interestingly, this assassin hates men yet holds a strong affinity for one-night stands with middle-aged, receding-hairlined men.

Trickster Tengo 

On the other sides exists Tengo, a math instructor at a cram school and wannabe literary genius. Tengo desires recognition but his stories lack the panache necessary for a bestseller.

Luckily, Tengo uncovers a startling debut, Air Chrysalis, from a teenager in a new writer’s competition. Despite a stunning narrative, this young woman’s prose is poor. An editorial friend, Komatsu, devises a plan where Tengo re-writes Air Chrysalis, publishing under the teenager’s name, Fuka-Eri.
“Reasoning, common sense, instinct—they are all pleading with me to pull out of this as quickly as possible. I’m basically a cautious, commonsensical kind of person. I don’t like gambling or taking chances. If anything, I’m a kind of coward. I just can’t bring myself to say no to Komatsu’s plan, as risky as it is. And my only reason is that I’m so strongly drawn to Air Chrysalis. If it had been any other work, I would have refused out of hand” (118).
If everything goes well, Komatsu, Tengo, and Fuka-Eri stand to make copious amounts of money. If the plan fails, professional ruin lies ahead.

A Questionable World 

While Tengo places the finishing touches on the re-written Air Chrysalis, Aomame begins to perceive strange alterations to her environment. The police—her enemy given her line of work—have new uniforms and weapons out of the blue; the moon gains a companion in the sky, less shiny but strikingly moon-like. She labels this world “1Q84”.
“Like it or not, I’m here now, in the year 1Q84. The 1984 that I knew no longer exists. It’s 1Q84 now. The air has changed, the scene has changed. I have to adapt to this world-with-a-question mark as soon as I can. Like an animal released into a new forest. In order to protect myself and survive, I have to learn the rules of this place and adapt myself to them” (110).
An Orwelian Narrative? 

Photo by Trey Ratcliff
Clearly a reference to Orwell’s 1984, Murakami’s 1Q84, especially Book One, builds setting through a question mark. The reader doesn’t know what is real and what is fiction. Yet through dazzling prose and remarkable ideas, we are drawn into this question mark. In particular, Murakami introduces mysteries characters known as “the Little People.”

In Aomame’s timeframe, the Little People cryptically influence a 10-year old rape victim from a countryside cult. In Tengo’s narrative, the Little People play a crucial role in Air Chrysalis and Fuka-Eri claims they exist from her time in this same secretive cult. Murakami notes the connection to 1984:
“George Orwell introduced the dictator Big Brother in his novel 1984, as I’m sure you know. The book was an allegorical treatment of Stalinism, of course. And ever since then, the term ‘Big Brother’ has functioned as a social icon. That was Orwell’s great accomplishment. But now, in the real year 1984, Big Brother is all too famous, and all too obvious. If Big Brother were to appear before us now, we’d point to him and say, ‘Watch out! He’s Big Brother!’ There’s no longer any place for a Big Brother in this real world of ours. Instead, these so-called Little People have come on the scene. Interesting verbal contrast, don’t you think” (236)?
Book One introduces many questions. I eagerly look forward to answers in Book Two and Book Three. Murakami is a brilliant writer and I am enjoying my introduction to him in 1Q84. I enthusiastically urge you to give this book a read!

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards

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