Big Screen Streaming: Sword of Destiny

Big Screen Streaming — Crouching Tiger,

Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

-Film Review by Roger Market

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny arrived on Netflix on February 26 and was simultaneously released in select IMAX theaters for a limited run. While the new film echoes the grand story of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), fans will immediately notice several differences in this sequel. Mainly: Sword of Destiny is in English, and the film is significantly shorter than its predecessor. As such, the production lacks the element of grandeur that defined the original.

The omission of the Mandarin language does change the auditory tone of the series, but Michelle Yeoh’s triumphant return to the role of Yu Shu Lien helps keep the nostalgia on track. Yeoh’s wise, quiet, and calculated portrayal of her character is every bit as nuanced as it was sixteen years ago. Viewers will note with admiration that the actress still performs her own stunts and hints that she will continue this tradition should another sequel go into production.

Director Woo-Ping Yuen further contributes to the authenticity of the film’s combat scenes as well as the overall presentation. Yuen is a legend in the industry. Hallmark films for which he either directed served as stunt coordinator include Kill Bill: Vol 2, Drunken Master, the Once Upon a Time in China series, the Iron Monkey series, the Matrix series, and the original Crouching Tiger film, among many others.

In Sword of Destiny, renowned warrior Yu Shu Lien emerges from retirement to keep the Green Destiny sword out of the hands of warlord Hades Dai. Sword of Destiny brings newcomers to the series in the form of Harry Shum Jr. and Natasha Liu Bordizzo, both likely chosen for their potential to capture Netflix’s youthful audience, especially considering the former actor’s Glee fame. Bordizzo plays a mysterious young woman called Snow, who trains with Shu Lien and helps her in her quest. Donnie Yen also joins the cast as hero Silent Wolf, another of Shu Lien’s allies in the fight against Hades Dai and his henchmen. The stories of these new characters are compelling and are well integrated into the larger framework of the series, following the classic Chinese themes of code, duty, honor, and loyalty.

Despite its brevity and the feeling that it’s just not as “epic” as the original, Sword of Destiny is a worthy contribution to the Crouching Tiger franchise. Moreover, it’s a great example of what’s possible (but also what’s challenging) in this golden age of Hollywood, when revivals and sequels are bigger than ever. For instance, in 2013, Netflix famously revived Arrested Development, a beloved FOX comedy that was canceled, perhaps prematurely, in 2006. More recently, Showtime began production of a new season of CBS’s long-cancelled Twin Peaks, Netflix shot a four-part movie revival of Gilmore Girls, FOX aired a shortened tenth season of The X-files, and Netflix brought Full House back from the dead in the form of a spin-off called—you guessed it—Fuller House. It’s not surprising that reviews have been mixed for all that have aired so far, including Sword of Destiny. The golden age of Hollywood comes with a price, with each new revival serving as a reflection of what can happen when the audience expects too much of a resurrected property. Inevitably, some viewers will be satisfied, while others will feel entitled to more. As one villain says in the Sword of Destiny, “We don’t own the sword. The sword owns us.” Today’s viewers must maintain some perspective. So, by all means, give movies like Sword of Destiny a chance, but don’t expect the world.



Empire State Days III

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Empire State Days III

-Writing Life Reflections & A Meeting With The Danish Artist, Duizer by Jeffrey F. Barken– 

When you meet friends on account of strange and unanticipated experiences—especially travel—the world begins to shrink. Well aware of this phenomenon, I was nevertheless shocked when, in the spring of 2014, Danish artist, Duizer, messaged me out of the blue.

“I’ve got your book,” he wrote.

We hadn’t spoken once in the five years since we’d met volunteering on a kibbutz in Southern Israel. Though we’d shared many unique and formative experiences; digging irrigation trenches, planting trees, hosting a radio show, and even witnessed a distant rocket attack on the Gaza border with Israel, at the time, we were headed in very different directions, and a future reunion seemed unlikely. Now I’d returned to the Israel on a book tour. For months, I’d been peddling my newly published short stories collection along the Tel Aviv boardwalk and on trains. Apparently, one of the copies I’d sold had made its way north to France where Duizer spied the collection waiting in the window of a used bookstore. The coincidence seemed all too rare.

Sketch by Duizer

Sketch By Duizer shows Barken and the artist together.

Since then, Duizer and I keep in better contact. As his artwork has gained recognition abroad, and I’ve launched my books, has provided opportunities for us to collaborate indirectly. This past January, Monologging contributor Allison Baldwin interviewed the painter during his visit to the United States. In her piece, Duizer in New York, the artist reflects on a recent show and some of the themes behind his work.

During that same visit, I invited Duizer up to my crow’s nest in the Empire State Building. At the time, they were renovating the 73rd floor. The entire space was open, offering a 360-degree view of the city and beyond. Void of tourists, and tranquil during the lunch hour, the immense empty room offered the kind of “unanticipated circumstances” that make a meeting memorable.

Sipping coffee from downstairs, we paced the floor and discussed the turns our art had taken amid recent adventures. Duizer had trekked out to Alaska and the Yukon Territory, where he lived in a log cabin. “I see myself as a nomad painter,” he has told me.

Duizer was reading Henry Miller. “My favorite New York author,” I told him, excited to share the book. The truth is, no other writer has had a greater influence on my work. I pointed down to the East Village, and the docks, and suggested Duizer imagine all the horror-stricken voices that were washing up in New York in the wake of pogroms and famine in Europe at the turn of the century. Miller once wrote that he wanted to “leave a scar on the world,” I reflected. I wanted to tell Duizer that I’m curious what artists will paint and authors will write when we tear the scar open, but the optimist in me prevailed. Instead I offered my guest a sober toast to the then, only festering, “Political Revolution” in the United States.

Duizer grinned. “The new Babylon,” he calls New York.

%22persona%22 100 x 100 cm“I’m headed back to Ireland and Israel in February for another book tour,” I told Duizer as my lunch break wound down. “Any chance we’ll cross paths?”

Sadly, he shook his head. The world is small, but chance encounters strike erratic. Duizer was slated to do a show in London, however.

“That’s close enough,” I said. “Send me previews and details for Monologging.”

I was out of time. I called the elevator to return to my office. Drafts of cool air blew through the slits in the deco-doors as speeding cars whizzed past. Duizer hung his head in thought.

“Mind if I stayed here a while?” He asked, not ready to plummet back down to the swarm of people crossing busy Midtown.

We looked around. A lone construction worker was taking a nap on a pile of planks near the southwest face of the building.

The bell rang, and the door opened.

“Have fun,” I told Duizer. “Let me know how it goes.”

For the next few hours, Duizer texted me the short poems and musing scraps he compiled in his journal as he gazed at Manhattan below. “New York is a jungle of emotions that can be dangerous and beautiful,” the artist has since written to me, reflecting on his experiences in the city and the inspiration he found during his visit. “As you can stand and watch a spider web being created, you can watch New York as well.” He describes a time-lapse perspective and argues that at best, a city the size of New York “can only make an impression. Every person’s face, the streets and emotions are all fleeting,” he says.

The preview that Duizer released last month in advance of his upcoming London show, Persona, which will open March 30th at the Bump Gallery, and is curated by Richard F. White, offers a glimpse into the spider-web perspective and montage motion that Duizer describes:

Dramatic music builds toward an operatic crescendo as a longer shot of a rainy city street gives way to portioned snapshots of Duizer’s paintings. These instances of primary colors and shady canvases magnify details, including eyes, a goblet, a jeweled headband, and the hair on a man’s chest. The brief sequences are then interrupted by additional video footage. The artist walks down a line of paint in his studio as atomic bombs explode, and two men kiss. At last, the blur of imagery slows, arriving at the iconic black and white self-portrait that is central to Duizer’s show.

“The word ‘person’ comes from the Latin word ‘persona’ which means ‘a mask,’” Duizer recalls his fascination with a linguistic discovery. Certainly this theme unites the works that the artist will show in London, and is encapsulated in the lone self-portrait. The stitches on the right-hand side of the painting provide a quilted effect, as though the artist’s face has been patched together with different masks. The hands and forearms that frame Duizer’s chin suggest strength and camaraderie, yet the gold ring on his unmarried finger is a confounding choice. Last, the brightly cast eye and inky, unkempt hair reflect a flighty traveler’s instincts.

UnknownRomanticism for socialist ideals contrasted with the artist’s vibrant individualism reveals two poles in Duizer’s character. The less descript patchwork in between provides a fractured mask that hides the artist’s less developed features.

“Sometimes we describe ourselves with a title, like (I am) a doctor, a student or an artist. But the question is: who are you really?” Duizer asks in justification of his choices as he took on the formidable challenge of creating a self-portrait. “You cannot describe yourself with just a title, you must go deeper,” he insists. Again, the stitches to the side of the painting are the key to unlocking the image. Are masks merely a convenient tool for hiding underlying uncertainty? The artist appears to ask.

Duizer’s style has evolved considerably since his last show. “Persona is more realistic and intense,” he says. “The language is a strange mix of dreams, inspiration from my surrounding and the big city life with its many faces or masks.” Indeed, viewers will experience a masquerade sensation. Faceless figures are massing on dark streets. Amid bold, red-streaked action scenes, the scrambled expressions of Duizer’s characters inflict shivers and contradictory emotions.

From afar, and high above in my crow’s nest in the Empire State Building, I salute Duizer’s journey toward self-discovery. Perhaps my reflections on our unexpected encounters peel back the mask a little further, indicating the immense blank canvas that remains for this artist to paint. Persona is only the beginning…

Click below to read more of the Empire State Days Series. Visit for more information about the artist.

Empire State Days I

Empire State Days II


Prandially Yours: The Raines Law Room


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Prandially Yours: The Raines Law Room

-A Monthly Column By Joshua Wanger, Featuring NYC Restaurant Reviews-

New York City’s indefatigable nightlife has no shortage of watering holes at which to sate your thirst after a long work day or to begin a fun weekend. With happy hour deals and cheap liquor aplenty, many typical bars will certainly do the job, so to speak. But for something classier, adventuresome, and slightly less likely to lead to an unfortunate hangover, check out The Raines Law Room. This speakeasy-style bar masterfully crafts Prohibition-era cocktails (and variations thereof) in a space that will make you feel as if you have gone back in time.

To find the bar, look for a nondescript, black awning between 5th and 6th Avenues on West 17th Street. Descend half a flight of stairs and ring the doorbell. A sharply dressed host will answer the door, ask for the number in your party, take your coat, and seat you in one of a number of six-seat booths or comfortable armchairs inside or, in the warmer months, in the garden. The bar has limited seating; it is always full but never crowded. Be sure to pay special attention to the décor: the tin ceiling, the sheer curtains, the ribald wallpaper (which is particularly titillating in the restrooms).

After perusing the extensive menu, pull the chain nearby to your seat to signal your server. While you can easily find any number of delicious cocktails on the printed menu, the incredible bartenders can make you nearly any classic cocktail you could want. At $15 a pop, the drinks are steeply priced; however, the perfectly prepared cocktails and the intimate environment easily make this worthwhile.

If you have any questions or you simply can’t make up your mind, your boundlessly knowledgeable server will guide you. If you want to get off-menu, try a Jack Rose, a simple classic cocktail popular in the ‘20s and ‘30s made of applejack, grenadine, and lemon juice and served straight up in a coupe glass.

You can make reservations Sunday through Tuesday; otherwise, the easiest time to get a seat is when they open. Bring a date you are wooing or friends aiming for a tamer night out. You will not be disappointed.


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Big Screen Streaming: The Graduate

Big Screen Streaming: The Graduate

Roger Market Takes a Look Back at Film Classics-

The Graduate, released in 1967, contains one of the most famous lines in cinema history. However, the line is frequently misquoted as a single question: “Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?” Despite this sex-infused provenance, viewers know that the film is not simply about sex or adultery—or even Mrs. Robinson. The Graduate, as the title suggests, is about a recent college graduate who is trying to figure out what he’s going to do with his life. It’s funny. It’s dark. And, yes, a young man sleeps with an older woman a few times. Then he falls in love with her daughter.

Beyond sex, beyond comedy, the most prominent theme in The Graduate is aimlessness. The film opens with a montage of Ben Braddock getting off a plane. Fresh from college, he’s heading home. This opening sequence is austere and carefully crafted, featuring the first of several songs by Simon and Garfunkel. Blank facial expressions and the ingenious use of an airport’s moving walkway create discomforting imagery: a dazed Ben stands motionless on the moving sidewalk, facing left, while everyone else goes in the opposite direction, walking on the floor instead of the moving walkway. The effect is that Ben appears to be going the wrong way, against the grain of society, as if he’s lost. While other elements, including adultery, come into play soon after the opening, this theme of aimlessness never really goes away. Before Ben can relax at home, he must endure the party his parents have organized in his honor. Hating to answer questions about what he’s going to do now that’s he’s a college graduate, he makes every attempt to avoid interaction.

A young Dustin Hoffman gives a brilliant and star-making performance as Ben. Hoffman appears perfectly in tune with his character. Ben’s dialogue, as written, is consistently short and not inherently funny, but Hoffman delivers it with such a deadpan tone that viewers can’t help but laugh. One great example of this occurs when Ben tells his parents, through a series of short lines that they practically have to drag out of him, that he’s going to marry Elaine Robinson (Mrs. Robinson’s daughter). This is the first big, life-altering decision Ben makes in the movie, and it seems the theme of aimlessness is climaxing. Through his staccato delivery of the news, a speech interrupted by his concerned parents’ many questions; he manages to express some important information, revealing he may not have the firmest grip on reality. Only an hour ago did he decide to propose, Elaine doesn’t know yet, and “to be perfectly honest, she doesn’t like me,” Ben says.

While Ben does seem to be flying by the seat of his pants here, acting without a clear plan, against staggering odds, this is also where he begins to grow. For the first time since Ben arrived home as a college graduate, he sees something he wants and experiences self-determination. There’s a future after all. Thus begins the third and final act of the film, in which Ben must either convince Elaine to love him or go back home, tail between legs, directionless once again.

Hoffman’s delightful performance in The Graduate is buoyed by equally nuanced work from his two leading ladies, Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson and Katharine Ross as Elaine. The three are rarely on screen together, but this separation is part of the magic that makes the movie work so well. The distinct tensions between Ben and Mrs. Robinson and between Ben and Elaine drive much of the second act, eventually merging as the film reaches its somewhat polarizing conclusion.

The Graduate grossed $105 million at the box office during its original run—a hefty profit considering production cost only $3 million. The film may have been criticized heavily in 1967, but today, it’s a classic and a model of thoughtful filmmaking. The Graduate is available to subscribers of Amazon Prime. As of February 23, 2016, it’s also available from the Criterion Collection on Blu-ray.


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The New York Stories


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The New York Stories

-Review by Kelsey Dean

The New York Stories, a new fiction collection by Ben Tanzer, is a three-part book filled with tales from the same small town in upstate New York. With some recurring characters and ever-more-familiar settings, the stories are closely intertwined and become increasingly dramatic as the book progresses.

Part 1, “Repetition Patterns”, begins with a somewhat unexciting but appropriate story of a presumably middle-aged man cycling through shrinks. He can never stick with one because eventually he finds their personalities too abrasive. As the collection continues, stories alternate between plots that contain the drama of an entire neighborhood, or high school class, or simply detail the lives of a couple of isolated characters. In “Life as He Had Known It,” a pair of new parents struggle to deal with their baby. In “Shooting Stick,” a man and his father bond over a game of pool. Stories overlap when different characters frequent the same places, such as “Thirsty’s”, the go-to bar.

Part 1 includes many memorable protagonists. In “The Gift,” for example, we meet Fern, a bright and quirky girl who is obsessed with recording and organizing sounds. “Fern liked sound, all kinds of sound…a trait she was sure was a gift bestowed on her from some higher power,” Tanzer describes the girl’s passion. Although Fern has a manic pixie dream girl flavor about her and her tale arrives at a rather sad conclusion, the presence of several female-centered stories is refreshing in an otherwise male-dominated collection. Tanzer has obviously made an effort to include a range of protagonists in terms of age and gender (although not race). The issues and situations that all of the characters face feel very real, whether someone’s father is dying, a teacher is promiscuous, or cheating spouses are making the rounds through the neighborhood.

In Part 2, “So Different Now”, Tanzer tightens the connections between his characters, offering enhanced clarity. The stories continue to take place in the same small community, and there are even some recurring personalities, such as J. the therapist. J. plays a minor role that allows the reader to see further into the narrator’s mind both times he appears. Tanzer is an efficient storyteller, and readers are never left wondering who is who, or how two people know each other. Some of the characters, however, fall flat, such as Stacey and her sad little sister Jessica (from a story titled “Stevey”). Stacey is described as “ravishing, like a fire gone crazy with her tremendous mane of red hair.” Despite such vibrant descriptors, the sisters both play a passive role when Stacey is revealed to be a victim of domestic abuse–rather than taking any action, they both sit back and let it happen, letting the reader down.

Revenge, violence, and missed opportunities are major themes running throughout Part 2. But overall, a sense of apathy and perhaps even hopelessness prevails. In “Goddess,” the narrator actively decides not to help a damaged woman, “No Nothing” ends with the promise of a violent beating, and “Just Like That” highlights the tragic frustrations of a wild drunk. The smatterings of humor and positive endings dwindle as the reader plunges onward to the aptly named final part of the collection.

By Part 3, After the Flood, readers may begin to tire of the repetitive diction in this, the longest section of the book. When the small town is inundated with rain, causing a flood, the phrase “the storm of the century” is used in nearly every story, establishing a contiguous setting. While the text can drag on occasionally, the stories and scenes are richly dramatic. Readers will enjoy Tanzer’s sprinkling of science fiction intrigue. One very compelling story about a covered-up murder begins with “One minute there isn’t a body stuck to the front grill of your car and the next minute there is.” Another takes a very unexpected turn, suggesting the presence of a zombie, an element that is quite out of character (but very welcome) considering the realism dominating the rest of the book.

At times, Tanzer’s diction and sentence structure challenge readers to decode his meaning. There are also a few hiccups in the text that will likely annoy some readers. Small inconsistencies, inaccurate word choices, and shifting tenses disrupt the illusion. Similarly, occasional phrases can trip readers up, such as categorizing a stutter-like speech disorder as a “lisp” or a person’s hands as “pink as a manatee.” The author’s intended sentiment and the image conjured in the reader’s mind may sometimes be at odds—for example, a “soft, crunchy first kiss” doesn’t match the tender fantasy that accompanies this phrase. Why is the kiss crunchy?

Nonetheless, Tanzer writes his narrators well, offers plenty of sharp, readable dialogue, and has organized the book in such a way that it is easy for readers to navigate. At heart, this is a collection focused on the intricacies of human relationships. Many readers will relate to and appreciate the small town setting, although they’ll likely be eager for some more worldly experience when they finish. The New York Stories is entertaining throughout, and short fiction aficionados won’t be disappointed.


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Bechet: Our Contemporary

Bechet: Our Contemporary

-Reporting by Katelyn Brunner

Everyone knows the wild and focused vibrato of Sidney Bechet’s saxophone in the jazz world; it’s simply a staple. Saxophonist, Rob Reddy, however, believes that Bechet contributed much more to  jazz besides assisting in solidifying American styles. Rob Reddy’s new album, Bechet: Our Contemporary, released on September 11, 2015, weaves the work of the jazz legend with his unique sound, creating a new avenue through which Bechet’s work shines. That said, Reddy’s original scores are hardly a pale backdrop for  Bechet’s pieces. Reddy’s pseudo-improvised, but painstakingly composed works are brilliant in their own right, creating an interesting and appropriate context for these new arrangements.

Bechet: Our Contemporary is an “organic conversation between [Bechet’s] compositions and mine,” Reddy tells It is clear that the process of re-arranging Bechet’s original scores was an amazing experience. “This is the first time I’ve ever recorded anyone else’s music,” Reddy reflects. “I had to strip (Bechet’s) compositions down to the most basic elements, the melody, and build around it.” And build around, he did. Many of the arrangements, especially Reddy’s rendition of “Petit Fleur,” are innovative and fresh. Reddy employs an acoustic guitar to ground the piece in this era, softening the arrangement. His changes to Bechet’s classics help his original compositions fit into Bechet: Our Contemporary seamlessly.

Though heavily influenced by his predecessor, Reddy didn’t want to make the record a complete tribute to Bechet. “There’s quite a bit of ‘tribute record’ going on, but the only way I thought I could do this and be respectful to Bechet was to put [Bechet: Our Contemporary] in [a new] context. It’s not coming from the same social and political environment that his music was created in,” Reddy says. The era in which Bechet played (during the Jazz Age through World War II, and ending amid the early days of the Cold War) was fraught with civil and political unrest. The music and the world changed quickly and intensely, and Bechet’s compositions reflect this epoch in history.

When asked why he loves and plays jazz, Reddy responds quickly and decisively. “For me, when I hear my favorite jazz music, it has this sense of urgency, the feeling that the musicians playing it had no choice but to play the music they played,” The feeling and emotions behind the music are as involuntary as they are irresistible. Reddy notes that jazz is intrinsically linked to American social justice movements. “The greatest jazz music, I think, has come out of making a statement about freedom, self-expression, and the right to both. So that desire–that’s what I listen for,” he says. It is clear that both Bechet and Reddy’s music has this quality in spades­­. Bechet: Our Contemporary allows us to witness a parallel eagerness in both Reddy’s and Bechet’s pieces, allowing for a cohesive and fascinating listening experience. Bechet: Our Contemporary is, quite simply, a must-listen. Reddy’s original pieces and his arrangements of Bechet’s works are full of effortless musicality and somewhat transcendent moments. Jazz aficionados, beware- this is an album with which to fall in love.

Reddy’s new project, INTERRUPTION! is a collaborative piece between Reddy and Oliver Lake, wherein Reddy will conduct a 14-piece ensemble alongside a libretto written and performed by Lake, promises to be just as much of a success as Bechet: Our Contemporary. Regarding this new venture, Reddy states, “The whole piece is based on a sermon given last July by William Barber. It completely floored me. I’d say he’s one of the most prophetic voices in the social justice movement today.” As in Bechet: Our Contemporary, this new endeavor will certainly feature the sense of urgency that Reddy prizes in great music. Information about past projects, INTERRUPTION!, and his new album is available on Rob Reddy’s website.


Big Screen Streaming: The Force Awakens

Big Screen Streaming: The Force Awakens

-by Roger Market

NOTE: This review/essay may contain spoilers. But everyone has already seen it already. Right?

As expected, Star Wars: The Force Awakens saw considerable profits in its first weekend, despite having a $200 million budget to recoup. In fact, in just twenty days, The Force Awakens became the top-grossing domestic movie of all time (not adjusted for inflation). By contrast, the previous record, held by Avatar, was achieved in 318 days and includes re-release sales. The Star Wars brand clearly has unprecedented marketing power. If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ve likely already seen the latest entry, so here are a few reasons to take a second look.

As Rey, the female protagonist, rappels down the ruins of a star destroyer in the dessert of Jakku, audiences quickly realize that she is not a lovesick puppy dog or a helpless “girl.” She’s a woman who knows how to take care of herself, a scavenger who earns her living just like any man of similar status; initially, she fights against a broken system, earning enough food to survive while waiting for her family to return (which they may not). One of the running gags in the movie involves the misinformed notion that Rey is a victim, a subservient sex, a damsel to be saved. When BB-8 and Finn enter her life, she faces challenges in the form of a co-dependent robot and a pre-programmed tough guy who can’t help but try to save her. “Stop taking my hand!” she screams at Finn as the two, along with BB-8, try to escape from the ruthless agents of The First Order. In short, she will not be dictated, and she alone will control her limbs.

On a related note, the film would have a difficult time passing the Bechdel test in any significant way, but as evidenced above, it’s OK; it still works. For the uninitiated, the Bechdel test purportedly rates the depth of cinema storylines involving women. For a film to pass, it must include the unlikely and sometimes forced combination of (1) two or more women, preferably named, in at least (2) one scene together in which they (3) discuss something other than a man. That’s it. Sound easy? Go watch your favorite films, and see how few pass.

While this reviewer supports fair, equal, and powerful representations of women in cinema, gender-centered checklists such as the Bechdel test serve to limit the pool of quality storytelling, ironically putting female-led stories into boxes. Which is exactly what many seek to avoid. Remember the infamous golden bikini from The Return of the Jedi? Princess Leia may have been groundbreaking and a firecracker in her own right, but even if she had been in a significant scene with another woman about something unrelated to men or masculinity, she still became embroiled in that feminist’s nightmare—which remains controversial today. Nothing can take that back! Although not perfect, filmmakers have learned a thing or two about gender balance in the last few decades. Female characters in The Force Awakens, therefore, feel more three-dimensional than in any other film in the Star Wars universe, even without Bechdel’s arbitrary test. The scene that comes closest to passing the test may occur at the midpoint, when Rey and Maz discuss Luke Skywalker’s light saber and how it affects Rey’s Jedi destiny. Rey is intimidated by her visions of the future, and she seeks to escape. But this is a feature of hero stories in general, not typically “female stories.” The go-to plot device for female stories (romance) is all but absent in The Force Awakens. While there’s a spark between Finn and Rey, Finn is mostly alone in his romantic pursuits. Rey is focused on her quest, and that’s where she soars. She’s a damn good hero: flawed like the rest of them, but still heroic. Frankly, this is a breath of fresh air. Even with very little dialogue between women, whether it’s about men or not, The Force Awakens offers up an empowering story with women who can pilot spaceships, bypass technology that even Han Solo can’t beat, and effectively master The Force in record time.

And how about the men of The Force Awakens? Finn himself shares much of the spotlight in this movie with Rey, and the two have incredible chemistry. While there’s potential for them to become romantic later on (in which case, let’s hope they’re not related!), this notion is nothing more than a series of jokes for now. In the Force Awakens, Rey and Finn have their individual heroic destinies to focus on, and as they progress toward increasingly difficult odds, their bond becomes deeper and stronger than any romance-heavy storyline could yield. Meanwhile, Finn’s friendship with Po is authentic and sweet, although it derives from a place of darkness: their shared escape from the oppressive grasp of The First Order. Up to now in the Star Wars universe, storm troopers have existed in the background, helmeted, mostly silent, and killing as needed without remorse. The new trilogy breaks new ground with the inclusion of a hard-hitting story about the psychological effects of being a storm trooper . . . and resisting. Indeed, this is perhaps one of the most interesting storylines in the franchise to date. Making something human that was never shown to be before has proven fruitful, and audiences are eager to see what other innovations J.J. Abrams and company have in store.

With all the good The Force Awakens does for Star Wars, it can’t escape some scrutiny. One semi-major plot hole is that Supreme Leader Snoke somehow discovers not only where BB-8 is, but also that he’s with Han Solo. While it’s OK to use The Force in creative ways, this sudden realization, after all this time searching for BB-8, is disappointing. With that said, it’s understandable to try to focus the story on the many more important elements in play throughout the movie. There’s only so much time, after all.

Having broken more records than any other film on, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is indeed a powerhouse, and it will be interesting to watch the remaining Star Wars films fight for records. No movie is perfect, but this is undoubtedly the strongest recent edition to the original franchise. The Force Awakens is funny, family-oriented, and, true to form, a geek’s paradise. With that said, the film is also gripping and emotional in ways that viewers haven’t yet witnessed in this universe. There’s something about a bloody storm trooper helmet that pushes new buttons in viewers from the get-go. If you’re one of the few who haven’t seen The Force Awakens, go now; if you’ve already seen it, give it another look. It’s going to be a while before the next one comes out.


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Prandially Yours: Baker & Co.

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Prandially Yours:

Baker & Co.

-A Monthly Column By Joshua Wanger, Featuring NYC Restaurant Reviews-

Brunch at this unassuming, casual restaurant on Bleecker Street may not push any culinary boundaries, but the food and atmosphere are delightful. The simple décor is charming, and the food follows suit with typical New York brunch staples that do not reinvent already delicious dishes. Even when full, it never gets too loud, and the friendly wait staff give the space a very homey feel. The restaurant is perfect for small gatherings of friends, birthday celebrations, or even a first date.

Along with the standard New York brunch drinks—mimosas, bellinis, and an interesting and spicy Baker’s Beer Bloody Mary—specialty cocktails add an element of excitement to the meal. The Balsamic combines a somewhat bitter Italian vermouth and a very sweet dessert sherry with apple bitters and coffee to produce a potently sweet drink—perfect for pairing with one of the plainer entrées. The house-made organic granola with Greek yogurt, for instance, is a lovely and healthy option that melds with the flavors of the complex cocktail.

There are no surprises coming from the kitchen, but everything tastes delicious. Catching a whiff of a Creekstone Farm dry-aged burger will make any diner regret ordering otherwise. Diners fond of the classics won’t go astray taking the butternut squash ravioli. Butter and sage and homemade pasta make the world a better place.

Reservations are recommended for groups, as the restaurant is small. If available, the patio is a beautiful, enclosed, greenhouse-like seating area with great lighting. While Baker & Co. isn’t mind-blowing, the food is good, prices are budget friendly (for the area), and locals will enjoy repeat visits with friends.


Post Photo Courtesy of

The Uses of the Body

Post Photo Courtesy of:

Post Photo Courtesy of:

The Uses of the Body

-Poems Reviewed by Kendra Bartell

Deborah Landau’s third full collection of poems, The Uses of the Body, draws readers in with its quick pace and colloquial language. The book revels in what it means to be a woman, exploring all the funny, weird, lovely, and sad turns of the female body and spirit. Landau’s fierce and poignant diction throughout the short sixty-five-page collection is gripping.

“It scares me to watch/a woman hobble along/the sidewalk, hunched adiago” begins the first poem in the collection, titled I dont have a pill for that. From the start, Landau hints at an underlying current of fear that is constant in the collection. Throughout the work, the poems express the litany of “uses of the body” that can and do change with age. From reveling in the physicality of intimacy in an early relationship, to feeling like an incubator while pregnant, to a dull numbness in late marriage, Landau’s clear, crisp words evoke the fear and strangeness of a changing figure. In the first of a longer sequence of poems titled, Mr and Mrs End of Suffering, Landau presents the pleasure of the physical body:

One should make as full use as possible
before times up. In Paradise…We lay and many afternoons
brought pleasure and relief.

While at first pass the words do express a sense of pleasure, the warning concerning the progression of time shows this fear and awareness of the body’s limitations. “Don’t squander,” the poem reminds.

Landau refuses to let us forget. Time, like fear, is omnipresent in the work. We read early on, “Oh skin! What a cloth to live in./We are not at the end of things.” And later, “But we are only in the middle,/only midway…We are here and soon won’t be/(despite the cozy bed stuffed dog pillows books clock).” Then later: “Life accumulates, a series of commas,/first this, then that, then him, then here./A clump of matter/and here we are: minutes, years.” Landau refuses to stop staring back at the movement of time—she focuses on the raw essence of what it means to be alive. “We are here and soon won’t be.”

The Uses of the Body follows a loose timeline: courtship, marriage, pregnancies. Two sequences within the book convey two very different pregnancies, revealing the varied physical and emotional sensations that this state can inevitably imply. The first pregnancy is encapsulated in the “Mr and Mrs End of Suffering” sequence, which details a planned and desired pregnancy. The second poem, “Late Summer,” describes a surprise pregnancy. One of the most poignant poems details the fear of a first pregnancy and the complex considerations that go along with trusting a medical professional with the body inside your body: “Dr ______:”

Dr lay your hands on me.
Dr swoop in with needles and with knife.
Dr bleed me up and puncture me.
You are just doing your business,
this is just how you spend your life.
Dr remove the pests in me
prove me female then make me repent.

Landau doesn’t flinch from this honest depiction of pregnancy, the fact that it is the defining factor of femininity, and that the care and preparation can involve many terrifying doctor visits (visits to a doctor who, in the poems, is a male with “all the credentials” and is “swift with [his] hands”). The pregnancy results in a baby boy, “warm and plum as pie,” the new mother having “dreamed him and there he was.” This pregnancy carries with it the mother’s natural fears and worries.. There is also unexpected ambivalence and continued unease when the child arrives. She describes herself as having “all [her] guilt peeled off” after bringing the boy home. This offers a rare view on post-partum emotions—the new mother is raw in her understanding of herself in relation to the new baby.

“Late Summer” describes a surprise pregnancy and here Landau takes a different approach. The mother is now almost dangerously carefree; honest and unflinching in her words, she describes how she “could have drowned her could have crushed her/not knowing veined was she/and my blood rich and alcohol./She flipped around in there./I slept off the buzz in my hotel.” We see the pregnancy unplanned, unknown. The almost flippant tone is replaced later in the section with a tone of love: “She and I, we are perfect and slow,/we are hope and future leaning.” This section is a strikingly intimate view of how ones mind can change during pregnancy, as the expectant mother reimagines herself in relation to the growing fetus.

Landau’s collection is unapologetic: there is no hiding, no lessening of emotion. We feel and think as the poems compel. No apologies given or needed. The work is a refreshing, if stark, study of a woman’s mind, and one that is truly needed. The honesty of expression and experience regarding femininity is something to practice speaking and reading about, and Landau handles the subject masterfully.


Post Photo Courtesy of:

Duizer in New York



Duizer In New York

-Reporting by Allison Baldwin


Few twenty-four-year-olds have seen as much of the world as Danish-born artist, Casper Ulvskov, known in the art world as “Duizer.” Between adventures hitchhiking in Europe, the United States, and throughout the Middle East, Duizer has created a series of spectacular paintings, drawing praise in the Paris art scene. Fresh from his latest show,  “L’écho érotique”  The Erotic Echo, the artist recently traveled to New York, where he spent a month working on a book of poems and plotting the next evolution in his painting style. Not surprisingly, the world traveler was right at home in Bushwick, Brooklyn. There, he received free accommodation by promising his host an original oil painting. Duizer’s creative energy is both inspiring and contagious, yet the artist also demands thoughtful responses on the part of his fans. During his visit to New York, Duizer kindly shared reflections on his work and experiences with members of the community.

“Art is starting a debate,” Duizer tells He hopes his paintings will prompt many questions among viewers and eagerly anticipates a vibrant discussion. “No two people have to agree because, every time you enter a discussion, you find your own meaning, you understand yourself,” Duizer says. “I want people to use their own memories and ideas to interpret what I have done.” If not debate, The Erotic Echo has indeed prompted intrigue.


“The Erotic Echo,” Paris

The exhibition, which appeared at La Manufacture art gallery in Paris, France from Sept. 3-30, included seven paintings that took Duizer five months to create. Each painting presents a silhouette of the female body, composed with red and black oil paints. The questions arising from these images may be vague and open-ended, but Duizer’s provocative style details a profound meditation on the appearance of the female body.

Luckily, Duizer is uniquely comfortable with not having the answers. “I wanted to ask questions about the female body, about how it should look, how it really looks,” Duizer muses. “We used to be such a free society. No one cared about how they looked. Women used to go out with no bras on. Now we care so much about it. Women are seen as symbols of sex. I really wanted to explore how the female body is described.” While the viewer can tell that the drawings are female, Duizer admits that he purposely drew the faces to reflect masculine and feminine qualities.

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“I am interested in the idea of opposites,” the artist explains his choice. “You can’t understand something unless you understand its opposite, and men and women are similar but different in the way we interact with each other.” Duizer’s paintings prompt a conversation concerning male and female values. “I think there needs to be a balance in relationships, and eventually, men will start fighting for their values, the way we talk about feminism now.”

Duizer’s paintings deal with the notion of strength. Although the bodies are female, each painting includes distinct details of muscles, a common symbol of toughness. He wants to start a debate around strength and what it means to be strong in today’s society. How and where do we find strength, Duizer wonders. Women are often seen as unfeminine if they are tough, and men are seen as emasculated if they are sensitive. But what if those thoughts were to change? What would society look like? Duizer is particularly interested in this discussion because, as a painter, he considers it deeply important and necessary to be in touch with his feelings. “All of my paintings come from my feelings,” he says. “A man expressing his feelings is beautiful, and I cannot do my art without my feelings. I am always thinking and feeling all of the time.”

Duizer sold each of his seven paintings. “The beauty of creating art is the process, not the result,” he says. He believes the goa he strives toward is the successful release of his questions, but the process is where he learns and grows the most, further developing his technique and discovering new ways to play with forms.

Duizer's Studio in Bushwick Brooklyn, Fall 2015

Duizer’s Studio in Bushwick Brooklyn, Fall 2015

The artist needed rest, hence his visit to New York. “After a show I feel kind of empty,” Duizer says. “When you sell a painting, you never see it again. It’s not like a movie that you can watch again or a song you can play again.” Despite this loss, Duizer always finds renewed inspiration through his travels and among the people he meets along the way. Duizer understands that there is always more to see and more to paint, never taking a moment for granted and instead learning as much as he can from the people who visit his shows. He often learns as much from his conversations with them as he does from the painting process.

“Sometimes I go into a show of mine and don’t say anything,” he says. “I listen to what people have to say about my paintings, and sometimes I think they are very wrong in what they say, but I don’t tell them. We all have different stories, and the beauty is in the process. There is nothing, and then there is everything. I think that is the beauty of being human because we are all different.” As thought provoking as the painters are, Duizer’s character enhances the scene. Anyone who meets him can tell that he has a deep respect for his work and those who take the time to explore and understand the concepts. He appreciates gallery-goers’ patience and firmly believes that good artwork takes time and purpose.


“The Erotic Echo,” Paris

As the artist prepares to return to Paris and begin work on a new collection, he worries that many people he knows are losing touch with nature, and are therefore less accessible through his medium of choice. “I remember living in Denmark,” Duizer says. “Every day I would go over to my neighbor’s house, and I always remember smelling new things. I remember playing in the streets with all of my creative friends; we were the last generation before the Ipad, so we would go outside, feel things with our hands, and this allowed us to learn things in a different way.”

Although the lack of sensory experiences is a definite concern for Duizer, the generational gap is also inspiring his artwork. Perhaps what is unique about the world Duizer has set out to paint is his ability to capture the contrast between shallow expectations and the depths of reality that humans subconsciously experience on a regular basis. In that sense, The Erotic Echo presented a glimpse into the artist’s ambitious mind. Duizer is searching for a thoughtful response and his travels as well as his shows are prompting vibrant conversation.