By: Amy Lutz

First off, for those of you who have not yet seen what is perhaps the biggest movie of the year The Dark Knight Rises , stop here. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Now that that’s out of the way…

This film is certainly a fitting end to what many consider one of the best superhero series of all time. It is a creative blend of heart-pounding action and tender emotional content. The film opens 8 years after The Dark Knight ended. Since the untimely death of Harvey Dent, otherwise know as Two-Face, Batman has hung up his cape and Bruce Wayne has gone into seclusion. Batman took blame for Dent’s death even though he was in fact saved Gotham from Dent’s potential reign of terror and The Joker’s antics. Soon enough, however, he is called back into action as Gotham City faces its most dangerous threat yet.

In The Dark Knight Rises , Batman comes at odds with the villain Bane, who, it turns out, is basically the Occupy movement incarnate. He praises anarchy while encouraging “The People” to reclaim Gotham City for themselves. The rich, including Bruce Wayne himself, are demonized by Bane and his cronies and blamed for the increasing chaos in the fictionalized metropolis. Sound familiar? The conservative themes are heavy and less than subtle in The Dark Knight Rises . The villains are anarchist “Occupiers” while the hero is a sympathetic billionaire who uses his wealth to help out his fellow citizens. I couldn’t help giggling with glee when Batman looked at the camera and said “War,” echoing the popular phrase of late blogger Andrew Breitbart. Those on the left who claimed that the villain “Bane” was a symbol of Mitt Romneny’s company “Bain” obviously spoke too soon. The Dark Knight Rises is a conservative film through and through.

As the name implies, this film certainly became rather dark at points. The hopelessness residents of Gotham felt at the hands of Bane was palpable. The Dark Knight Rises is violent throughout, but not overwhelmingly graphic. It’s certainly not a film I would recommend showing to a 10-year-old. However, the violence is appropriate for the movie’s plot and doesn’t take away from the heart-wrenching emotions and inspiring theme.

Overall, I would give this film 4.5 out of 5 stars. I hesitate to give it 5 out of 5 because no film is perfect (however, this one does come close). It is no doubt the best film of the trilogy. I was certainly in love with the film’s conservative message, but what really struck me was the heavy symbolism. The Dark Knight Rises is not about Batman. It’s really not about Bruce Wayne either. Batman is not a man, he’s a symbol. As Bruce Wayne himself said, he is whatever Gotham needed him to be. In The Dark Knight Rises, the people needed hope and a symbol of unity. When that figure is unreliable, everything descends into chaos. With the political and cultural chaos all around us, perhaps we need a few more “Batmans” in our world today.

Originally posted at Lean Reviews





By: Amy Lutz

Backfire is the most recent addition to Catherine Coulter’s series of FBI thrillers about the exploits of married FBI  agents Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock. In this novel, Savich and Sherlock are called to the aid of an old friend, Judge Ramsey Hunt, after he is shot, presumably because of his part in a high-stakes espionage case in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Agent Dillon Savich receives a note stating: “For what you did you deserve this,” in his DC office. What ensues is the lengthy account of Savich and Sherlock’s mission to solve both the shooting while tying it to the mysterious threat. Although this is the 16th novel in the series, it serves easily as a stand-alone read, as do all of Coulter’s FBI thrillers (My journey with the series actually started with the 12th novel of the series Tailspin).  Backfire does, however, resurrect characters from previous novels ( i.e. Judge Ramsey Hunt). Coulter-newbies might find jumping into a series in the middle of its run daunting, but in Backfire, Catherine Coulter weaves an engaging tale of mystery, romance and action tempting to all readers with a taste of adventure.

Backfire certainly is a hefty read; clocking in at a respectable 403 pages. It’s certainly not a novel that will slip easily into a purse or rest unnoticed on a corner coffee table. However, despite the length of the novel, I breezed through its crisp pages in a mere two days. The plots in Coulter’s FBI series tend to be someone predictable and in terms of character development, Backfire was no different. I realized several books earlier that there is a certain formula to the personal relationships in this series. Savich and Sherlock stand at the forefront of whatever FBI case is on the table. Either husband or wife face a brush with death at some point during the novel, but as the plot winds down, their relationship is stronger than ever. Meanwhile, the dynamic duo partners with two other law enforcement agents, a male a female. The latter pair soon find that they are attracted to one another, initially butt heads, but eventually end up in each others’ arms. And so on and so forth…The romantic relationships in Coulter’s FBI series tend to be about as shocking as a Katherine Heigl film: predictable and clichéd.

Despite the lack of romantic shock and awe in Backfire, the plot did have its fair share of thematic twists and unexpected events. It was the mystery, not the romance, that kept me on the edge of my seat. About halfway through the book, you’ll probably find yourself sighing as you realize you’ve already figured out the solution to the novel’s central mystery. Not so fast. The finale of the plot is both unexpected and exciting. You’ll be glad you hung on for the ride.

While most of the novel was packed full of action, it was not without a positive theme. Both loyalty and family were praised highly in Backfire. On several occasions, Savich and Sherlock’s relationship was regarded by other characters with disbelief from other characters. Few believed that the couple could remain bonded through the chaos and danger of their professions. However, Savich and Sherlock defied the doubts and remained devoted to each other, especially when one of the duo’s life was in the balance. The actions of other characters reflected Coulter’s value of the family. Almost every character, villains included, faced losing a significant other at some point in the novel. Threats upon the family were portrayed as being the most threatening; the most dangerous. Often characters would risk life and limb to protect the ones they loved. The heroes of the story portrayed virtues of selfless love and loyal obedience.

Unlike some of Coulter’s earlier FBI thrillers, Backfire is relatively tame in terms of sexual content. In a few chapters, sex is implied but a descriptive account is not provided. However, considering that this novel is an FBI thriller, it does have its fair share of violence. Gun shot wounds, knife injuries and murders are detailed, but explicit gore is not included. There was little to no graphic violence in the novel, but suspense and action were present throughout. I’d give Backfire a solid 3 out of 5 stars. It is certainly not Catherine Coulter’s best work, but its inventive plot and PG-13 rating make it an enjoyable weekend read.

By: Amy Lutz

Before I walked into the theater to watch Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I was of two minds. The action movie-lover side of me was excited to experience all the adventure that the trailer promised. However, the history major side of me was a bit apprehensive. I was worried that the film, which is far from historically accurate to say the least, would tarnish the legacy of one of our nation's greatest presidents. While some moments in the film did certainly make me want to pull out A Patriot's History of the United States and lecture the writer, I was pleased overall.

First off, be aware that this movie certainly does have a heavy dose of graphic violence. It's rated R for a reason. As someone who usually avoids slasher movies like the plague, I'm ashamed to say that I watched many of the action scenes through my fingers. Hey, I'm a bit squeamish, so sue me. Anyway, I digress. Despite the fact that I jumped out of my seat a time or two, the action was engaging. Trust me, this film is basically a two-hour battle between Lincoln and an army of vampires. There's not a lot of time to catch your breath between the gushing blood and dismembered limbs. 

If you're a rigid history buff who cringes when you find an inaccuracy in your college textbook, save your money. The film certainly took a fair share of liberties to say the least. Most of the fictionalized history I could deal with, but there were a few moments where I simply had to roll my eyes. The most cringe-worthy moment was a scene between a vampire and Jefferson Davis in which the film insinuated that the South collaborated with the fanged monsters during the Battle of Gettysburg. The reason the battle claimed so many lives (according to the film) is that the North was unable to combat the vampires until they delivered a trainload of silver to the battlefield. That was a little bit of a stretch to say the least. In a way, it made a mockery of one of the darkest moments in our nation's history. However, I do believe that the movie somewhat made up for it during the last 5 minutes of the movie when Lincoln gave a voice over speech which included the following: 

"History prefers legends to men. It prefers nobility to brutality, soaring speeches to quiet deeds. History remembers the battle, but forgets the blood."

The last 5 minutes of the film are worth the $10 ticket for the 3D showing in my opinion. I left the theater with reverence and respect for Lincoln; the real Lincoln, not the ax-wielding, vampire-slaying one. 

I do wish, however that the film could have weaved fiction with fact more efficiently. Think the musical Wicked, which flawlessly blends a fictional tale into a classic work of literature while still paying its respects to the original story. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was not able to produce this sort of harmony. The whole "Jefferson Davis colluded with vampires" thing made that impossible. However, I was mostly satisfied by the film. However, I went into the film with an open mind with somewhat low standards. Others might not be as pleasantly surprised as I was after I left the theater. If you are a rigid history buff, don't see this movie. If you are a Confederate-flag-waving southerner, don't see this movie. If you can't watch Pocahontas without covering your eyes when John Smith gets shot, definitely don't watch this movie. However, if you are an open-minded film consumer with a taste for action and adventure, I would definitely recommend spending two hours of your life on this movie. 

Rating: 6/10 Cupcakes

By: Amy Lutz

My bad case of the Mondays must have drifted into Tuesday because I’m in the mood for a culture rant. I’ll be honest, I simply don’t understand the current nationwide obsession with the novel 50 Shades of Gray. I only made it about halfway through the first novel before I removed it from my Kindle entirely and read the remainder of the plot on Wikipedia. Seriously ladies, the 50 Shades of Gray trilogy is pornography, not literature. The books, which currently hover at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List, detail the relationship between reclusive billionaire Christian Gray and Bella Swan-esque young woman, Anastasia Steele. For those of you who have been living under a rock, 50 Shades of Gray is an erotic “romance” which highlights sexual practices of BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism). Seriously, don’t Google it.

I tried to enjoy this book, I really did. However, like I experienced with the Twilight series during High School, I just couldn’t get into it. I’m somewhat of a literary snob, so I do enjoy well written novels from which you can actually pull out a (positive) lesson or two. Besides coming to terms with the fact that I truly am 21 going on 35, I wasn’t able to extract any sort of positive lesson from the book. Or any sort of morality for that matter. However, this novel still is holding steady at the top of the charts. A movie version of 50 Shades of Gray is even in the works. Thanks but no thanks. I think I skip it and spend my money on The Dark Knight Rises instead.

What does the obsession with this novel tell us about ourselves? Sure, I know the current explanation is that 50 Shades of Gray is merely a form of escapism for lonely housewives. Perhaps I’m just not old enough to understand. However, while I agree that literary escapism can be a form of positive relief, I’m pretty sure there’s a better way to go about it. What happened to the Rhett Butlers and Mr. Darcys of the world? Do young women really have to spend their time idolizing the sexually perverted Christian Grays and clingy Edward Cullens? I know it’s literature and I know it’s fantasy, but culture defines our worldview. I really don’t enjoy being part of a culture where women fawn over men like Christian Gray who, to be honest, have little respect for women at all. Whips and chains may excite Rhianna, but I don’t find them to be indicative of a healthy relationship.

Not only does this novel degrade women, romance, and marriage, but it sends a negative message to men about how to treat women and conduct themselves in relationships. Ladies, do we really want men thinking that women are merely sexually crazed schoolgirls who need a heavy dose of pain to form a lasting relationship? Excuse me, but no. 50 Shades of Gray aside, here’s what women really want romantically. Women, like men, want to be treated with respect in a relationship. Respect entails a mutual partnership that rises above the sexual component of the relationship. A real romance should highlight the love (not lust), companionship, and interdependence of two people. Hey, what you do in your bedroom is none of my business. However, when rough sex is the starting point of a relationship, perhaps you should be rethinking the strength of your bond. Sorry to break it to you men, but a relationship is about more than just sex, no matter how tame or extreme it may be.

All right, that’s my two cents. Read 50 Shades of Gray if it strikes your fancy; I don’t care. I’m not going to pull a Bloomberg and suggest that the novel should be banned. However, I encourage women (and men) to have more respect for themselves. Look for novels of value. And by value, I don’t mean “shock value.” Trust me, you will get more out of Pride and Prejudice than you will out of 50 Shades of Gray. And don’t think you have to stick to the classics. There are contemporary books around which offer just as much literary value. Think Hunger Games or The Help. Good books should nourish your mind rather than feeding other desires. Sure, it’s just a novel, but what the phenomenon sparked by this book tells me is a bit darker. I’m not exactly comfortable with a culture obsessed with 50 Shades of Gray. We’re better than this, ladies. While you’re “tied up” (pun intended) with the sexual fetishes of Christian Gray, I will be busy enjoying the battles of Middle Earth and romances of Victorian England. 

Rating: 2/10 Cupcakes


    Cultural Criticism

    There's more to life than just politics, right? On this page, I take on the hottest books and movies of the day.


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