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Charli XCX’s new album ‘Sucker’ wild mix of punk, pop

Although Charli XCX may not have been a household name until recently, she has been making waves in the music scene for well over a year. The 22 year-old Brit’s journey began in 2012 burst onto the pop scene via a guest spot on Icona Pop’s chart-topping hit “I Love It,” which she also co-wrote.

Her stardom slowly began to proliferate as she appeared on the chorus for “Fancy” with Iggy Azalea, but this didn’t exactly win her time in the spotlight quite yet. Finally, her song for “The Fault in Our Stars” soundtrack, “Boom Clap,” was played nonstop on the radio. The ‘Fancy’ singer proves she can bring just as much if not more fun to pop music on ‘Sucker’ without any celebrity assistance.

Sucker begins with songs “Sucker,” “Break the Rules,” and “London Queen” which all accentuate her punk side whereas the rest of the album becomes increasingly more pop-focused. Her pop-punk duality has been hammered into fans’ heads after she performed pop hit “Boom Clap” and more edgy punk “Break the Rules” on the American Music Awards and Saturday Night Live in respectively pop and punk-themed outfits.

“London Queen,” inspired by the Ramones, details XCX’s journey from London to the United States in an upbeat, but cliché way and doesn’t gain the approval of punk fans.

The song that stands out most is her newly released single “Breaking Up.” It’s a retro, cosmic bowling themed video for a song that makes breaking up look easy, if not enjoyable. Warning: this song may very easily become stuck in your head the rest of the week after just one listen, but that’s not a bad thing. XCX acts out a revenge fantasy singing “Everything was wrong with you/ so breaking up was easy to do.”

Charli XCX is known to be a strong feminist, which shows up most clearly on “Body of My Own.” Another song not to miss is “Famous” featuring Greg Kurstin. It is surprisingly the only song on the album with a guest feature, but Charli is a powerful performer who pulls her weight incredibly. This track has a retro pop sound but is simultaneously the one track most calling for an EDM remix.

Weezer influences can be heard throughout “Hanging Around.” Charli worked with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo on the track and it is a more of a rock anthem. “Caught in the Middle” is a slower song on an album of glittery, bubbly pop songs, but holds its own with a catchy hook, “Our hearts got caught in the middle/caught in the middle of love.”

By the time “Need Ur Luv” comes around closing up the album, it’s easy to see that each and every song on the album is strong enough to be its own single with the exception of superficial “Gold Coins” about the joys of wealth.

Her sound has changed a lot since her debut album “True Romance” and while some will say she’s “sold out” since gaining entrance to fame, I think she’s simply matured. Although this album is sure to break some sales records, she stays out of the mainstream world with her unique personality, style, and the pop-punk dichotomy of her sound.

Now due to her growing fame, the world gets to see more of who she really is now that she isn’t hiding behind synths and hazy production. While she used to tour singing over beats from her computer, she toured with a live all-female band for “Sucker.”

Charli XCX is going to be around for a while making fun pop music due to both her singing and songwriting skills. She has contributed to Rihanna’s upcoming album as well as Iggy Azalea’s new single “Beg for it.” Although “Sucker” in all its immense glittery pop wonderfulness will hold me over for a while, I can’t wait to see what she’ll come up with next.
(Photo Courtesy of Flickr)

*Published in the Roosevelt University, Torch, 2013.

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Mindy Kaling’s ‘Matt & Ben’ premieres at First Floor Theater

Left to Right: Nora Bingham and Kate Healy in First Floor Theater's “Matt & Ben,” written by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, and directed by Amanda Fink. Courtesy of First Floor Theater.
Left to Right: Nora Bingham and Kate Healy in First Floor Theater’s “Matt & Ben,” written by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, and directed by Amanda Fink.
Courtesy of First Floor Theater.

First Floor Theater encouraged patrons to party like it was 1996 on Sunday, Nov. 16 as it premiered the Matt Damon and Ben Affleck homage, “Matt & Ben.”

The play, co-written by “The Office” and “The Mindy Project” actress Mindy Kaling, follows Affleck and Damon as they attempt to write a script based on the novel “Catcher in the Rye” and become famous actors. In the midst of their process, a script, which turns out to be Oscar-winning film “Good Will Hunting,” falls from the ceiling and absurdity ensues.

What sets this play apart is that female actors play the male characters of Matt and Ben. Nora Bingham, marketing director of First Floor Theatre and University of Chicago graduate, played Matt while Kate Healy, a Chicago-based performer and playwright, played Ben.

While this was a seemingly interesting concept, it played out more like a gimmick featuring stereotypical, gender-driven jokes instead of a unique and humorous alternative perspective.

The non-traditional set was located in a tiny, windowless room as opposed to a curtains drawn, center stage, broadway production setup. A minimalistic but messy interior design of a couch, desk area and kitchen managed to accurately represent the inhabiting characters.

A television sat to the right of the stage, which played short programs during scene transitions. The show was complemented by a typical 1990s soundtrack, featuring Biggie Smalls, No Doubt and Nirvana.

A downside to the set’s authenticity was that the characters couldn’t keep their hands off the potato chip bags and pizza boxes adorning the pigsty pad. Distracting food chewing interfered with the cast’s annunciation, and several lines went over the audience’s heads.

The play benefited from strong and believable acting by Bingham and Healy. Some of the most memorable moments of the production were Healy’s rendition of Minnie Driver’s last lines in “Good Will Hunting,” and Bingham changing characters to make a reincarnated J.D. Salinger cameo.

Despite the acceptable performances, the actors couldn’t do anything with the dialogue as the show’s main problem was the script. It was riddled with cliché jokes that one wouldn’t expect from an Emmy-nominated writer.

Ben is portrayed as a dumb and lazy neo-frat boy, while Matt is a smart and hard working, yet, struggling actor. These are perhaps unfair depictions of them, as there is not really evidence either personality is accurate.

Even the authentic footage of Affleck and Damon’s infamously over-the-top Oscar acceptance speech played at the end of the performance was not as melodramatically goofy as the performers’ interpretation.

The funny and promising premise turned into a predictable, familiar, high school drama class production. Kaling, although undoubtedly a talented actress and television writer, clearly needs some work before calling herself a playwright.

*Published in the Roosevelt University, Torch, 2013.

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‘Nightcrawler’ challenges future of journalistic integrity

It is said that credibility is a journalist’s greatest asset. However, an exception can be made for network news stations.

“Nightcrawler,” directed by Dan Gilroy, is a film that explores the world of freelance crime journalism. The main character Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, draws the audience into his intelligent, devious mind from the start.

At the beginning of the film, Bloom seems lost in life. He steals and sells scrap metal and lives in a small apartment where he spends most of his time on his computer or watching television news. Then randomly, after a chance encounter on his drive home, he decides to learn the ropes of crime journalism.

After selling his first piece of footage to a TV news station, KWLA, Bloom becomes increasingly confident and ambitious and uses his knowledge of business and negotiation skills to rise up in the company. Bloom, when employers or authority are present, speaks very charismatically and infiltrates KWLA by manipulating Nina, KWLA’s news director.

He admits to Nina he did not receive much formal education, but finds most of his information online. Bloom’s existence in today’s highly connected world contrasts his detached and callous personality. He’s all business and no casual: the type of guy who could research comedians’ jokes all day but not know to laugh when they tell the punch line.

From this point on, Bloom begins to blur the lines between witnessing and participating. He forms his own company, Video Production News and continues to provoke questions about journalism ethics. By the end of the film, he is no longer an underdog in a big business but a daring mastermind in a business he’s gained much control over.

Even when Bloom blatantly violates ethical codes of journalism, there is something oddly likeable about him. He receives sympathy due to his social awkwardness, which makes him appear lonely looking for a human interaction and his clear passion for news reporting. However, Bloom’s surface insecurities are nothing more than a ploy to expose and take advantage of others’ weaknesses.

The film’s score works to add a satirically humorous tone at times which helps create a feeling of unease. One cannot help but crack a nervous smile when music suitable for a daytime soap opera is cued up over Bloom’s thoughtless final words to a dying colleague.

Overall, the film, in particular the ending, presents a cynical view of present day media as well as a negative forecast for the future of media where journalists completely forget morality and are in constant conflict with the police.

Bloom’s ominous last words, “I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself” to his newly hired staff, foreshadows a vicious cycle as a new crop of corrupted and amoral journalists are birthed.

*Published in the Roosevelt University, Torch, 2013.

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RU Torch: Hiring Writers + Photographers

Tabling to recruit new writers and photographers for the Roosevelt Torch Student Newspaper, alongside other student media groups such as the RU Blaze (radio) and RU Fire (television).
Tabling to recruit new writers and photographers for the Roosevelt Torch Student Newspaper, alongside other student media groups such as the RU Blaze (radio) and RU Fire (television).

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Offbeat comedy “Frank” takes unsettling turn

“Frank” is an offbeat British comedy that follows a character based off of 80s musician Chris Sievey who donned a papier-mâché head and performed as “Frank Sidebottom.” Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon, a wannabe musician who seizes an opening for a keyboardist with Frank’s eccentric pop band The Soronprfbs. The original music is exceptionally memorable and only adds to the likability of the group.

Each band member has their own oddity which creates an entertaining dynamic within the group when they move into an isolated cabin to record an album. Frank, played by Michael Fassbender, is kind and charming while Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, Clara, is extremely malicious to Jon throughout the film in a comedic manner. The other band members speak mostly amongst themselves in French. It succeeds in producing engaging dark comedy even through onscreen deaths and relationship turmoil.

Towards the end of the film however, it changes from a fun comedy into a dramatic film where suddenly our protagonist Jon is the villain and the trouble-making band members are the victims. After Jon posted videos of the band online looking for fame and helped Frank to find a more radio-friendly sound, it turns out he was only seeking glory for himself. His total destruction of the band comes at an unforgettably disastrous SXSW performance that would put Ashley Simpson’s infamous lip-syncing debacle to shame, ending with Frank’s panic attack.

Following Frank’s breakdown, the film continues to change in tone abruptly and drastically. Frank, the character that the audience has laughed at and been wonderfully confused by the whole film suddenly leaves us feeling melancholy, conflicted, and oddly guilty when it is revealed plainly that he is suffering from a mental illness.

The biggest flaw in “Frank” is the directorial decision to remove the title character’s head and reveal onscreen the man’s true features. It puts a face on the enigmatic anti-hero and brings him down to human status, which he seemed to ascend when he wore the mask. Previously, the audience had grown to love the quirky, kind and sincere character but once he is revealed we are forced to see him in a completely different light, as a mental health patient. It forces you to look back at scenes and re-evaluate them in an unpleasant and uneasy way. Frank goes from a colorful, wacky eccentric to a glum loner suffering from what appears to be a form of Autism. Nevertheless director Lenny Abrahamson succeeded in creating an outlandish and unique Indie film.

*Published in the Roosevelt University, Torch, 2013.

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Coming of Age Film “Boyhood” Claims Summer Spotlight

The best movie released this summer was not big budget blockbusters like “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Lucy” but a film that was over 12 years in the making. “Boyhood” directed by Richard Linklater portrays the life of a young boy, Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, from ages 5 to 18. Throughout the film, viewers see the evolution of a family with Mason’s father played by Ethan Hawke, mother played by Patricia Arquette, and sister played by the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater.

Despite the big stars cast in the film, it often felt like watching someone else’s brilliantly shot home videos instead of a Hollywood movie because the moments are so life-like and genuine. Linklater proves himself once again to be a pioneer of the film industry. He previously demonstrating his prowess with films such as “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly” in which he traced over live action scenes with colorful 3D animation, but “Boyhood” is without a doubt his masterpiece.

He has captured human life unlike any other movie in cinema history as the audience witnesses the literal transformation of one child’s journey to adulthood right before their eyes. The script omits exaggerated plot twists and tedious melodrama, opting instead for sincere person-to-person dialogue and narrative that just as easily could have been the boy’s actual experiences.

What is even more astounding was Linklater’s ability to continue making other feature length films over the lengthy filming period without interfering with this project. Linklater shot this film by gathering up the cast once every year for 12 years and would then shoot 3-4 days each time. That being said, it flows smoothly and Linklater manages to place the pieces together so realistically that Mason’s aging isn’t jarring.

The soundtrack ages in time with the film featuring many cultural references from the past. Viewers will be drawn back to the first time they heard the tracks including “Soak up the Sun” by Sheryl Crow, “Oops I Did It Again” by Britney Spears and “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” by Soulja Boy.

The film is 165 minutes long but doesn’t feel like it due to viewers’ unavoidable emotional investments in Mason. Audiences are bound to feel the nostalgia oozing off the screen regardless of age or gender because the film incorporates universal milestones of growing up while Ellar Coltrane literally grows up before our eyes on screen. As sentimental as it is, it portrays both the good, bad, and ugly parts of growing up without sugarcoating. Linklater effectively managed to create a relatable coming of age film that manages to avoid clichés and radiate authenticity.

*Published in the Roosevelt University Torch, 2013.

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‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ is Anderson’s Best Film Yet

Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel trails the adventures of Gustave H. and Zero Moustafa, a concierge and a lobby boy, respectively at a famous European hotel. The backdrop of the story is the 1930s with the hotel located between fictional countries at war, reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s overtaking of Europe.

The plot revolves around a priceless Renaissance painting titled “Boy with Apple” and a great family inheritance. When the sole proprietor of the aforementioned riches is murdered, the movie follows the protagonists’ escpades in a tale of whodunit. The story, based on writings from Austrian novelist, Stefan Zweig, works well as a frame narrative with an older Zero Moustafa retelling his life’s story to a young writer played by Jude Law. It breaks through genre barriers including elements of an adventure film and a comedy with moments of gravity.

Anderson incites the help of several familiar faces to round out his cast.  Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, and Willem Dafoe, all usual suspects in Anderson’s films, reappear, some for rather short cameos, as quirky and signature characters brought to life by the inventive director.

Ralph Fiennes as Gustave shows impeccable timing in his delivery of lines producing genuine laughs and exceptional entertainment. Tony Revolori, as younger Zero and Gustave’s protégé, complements Gustave’s whimsical personality with his serious demeanor. As the story develops, so does a romance between Zero and Agatha, another hotel employee played by Saoirse Ronan. Due to a large amount of foreshadowing and voiceovers by older Zero telling the story, the audience already had an idea of how the relationship would come to an end.

Almost immediately viewers are captured through Anderson’s gorgeous, brilliant color schemes and meticulously designed sets. The hotel unfortunately does not actually exist but was based off of several luxury hotels in Europe. The exterior shots were done using a miniature model while the interior shots were filmed in an abandoned department store in Germany.

The soundtrack stood out as typical Anderson in some ways but entirely new in others. It features original music by Alexandre Desplat, who also worked on Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr. Fox with Anderson. The harpsichord on “Concerto for Lute and Plucked Strings I. Moderato” is reminiscent of several other Anderson films but a few songs that differ would include “Last Will and Testament” featuring church organs and “Up the Stairs / Down the Hall,” which sounds like something you’d hear when opening a music box.

Overall, Grand Budapest Hotel is quintessential Anderson in that the visual elements are oozing nostalgia while oddball characters banter and bicker to create an entertaining and imaginative world that seems to come straight from Anderson’s mind. However, it is not typical for his tales to carry a serious undertone as this film skillfully does and that is what makes it Anderson’s best film yet.

*Published in Roosevelt University’s Torch, 2014.

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Schoolboy Q’s ‘Oxymoron’ doesn’t live up to hype

Schoolboy Q released his newest album “Oxymoron” on Feb. 25, making it the newest album to be released from any member of the group Black Hippy, also composed of members Ab-soul, Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar. Although he proves he is an extremely dynamic rapper, it is a disappointing follow-up to his previous album “Habits and Contradictions.”

“I strive to be better than Kendrick, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock,” Schoolboy Q told HipHopDX in June. “I gotta be better than [Kendrick’s] s— or just as good. It has to be just as good or better.” The influence of Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” album shows through Q’s attempts at storytelling, but he fails to perfect the skill.

“Oxymoron” contains much of the Schoolboy Q his fans know and love. For example, his signature ad-lib “Yawk!” is present throughout the album in addition to several, more traditional Schoolboy Q gangsta rap bangers such as “What They Want” and “Break the Bank.” But listeners might notice a more personal side of Q in “Hoover Street,” which tells the haunting history of his life and how he came to be the rapper he is now.

He raps, “So I guess it’s back to trapping, eyes open night to morning, had roaches in my cereal, my uncle stole my stereo, my grandma can’t control him,” to describe his troubling home life. It takes on a very similar disposition to Danny Brown’s “Torture.”

Although there are a few songs that particularly stand out, a downside is that many seem to fade into the background and are not very memorable. Q’s best tracks on the album are where he shows off his versatility. He displays many different styles, switching from casual mumbling on “Break the Bank,” to quickly spitting rhymes on “The Purge.” The latter song is an interesting listen because instead of Tyler, the Creator having a verse on the song. Tyler does the hooks and interludes, while it features a verse by Kurupt.

“Hell of a Night” attempts to encompass a dance and rap compilation. While it contains some of the hardest hitting verses of the album, it’s a shame that it’s paired with a weak, cliché hook saying, “Get up out your seat, you can have my drink, let me see you dance.”

Top Dawg Entertainment’s beats shine in hazy, Chromatics’ sampled “Man of the Year” and soft, 90s style “Blind Threats.” “The Purge” continually and unusually uses a siren in the beat while “Prescription/Oxymoron” features interludes by Q’s young daughter, Joy.

“Oxymoron” shows that Q can hold his own with the many talented and established rappers who are featured on his songs, but he does an impressive job producing singles by himself, as well.

Q’s single critical mistake, however, was releasing all his strongest songs as singles before the album’s release.

“Collard Greens” was released back at the beginning of June 2013, and although it was popular then, it is old news now. “Man of the Year” was released last November, creating a lot of anticipation for the album, but it stands out among the tracks as one of the strongest songs, leaving much to be desired in the remaining tracks.

Although Schoolboy Q has no problem proving he’s a complex and brilliant artist, “Oxymoron” is not quite the outstanding follow up to “Habits and Contradictions” that fans anticipated.

*Published in Roosevelt University Torch, 2014.

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Ventra’s website boasts convenience, efficiency, but do students agree?

Ventra’s website boasts “With Ventra, travel throughout the Chicago area is more convenient and efficient than ever before,” but do students agree?

Ventra is a fairly new payment system for the CTA that also has an optional Prepaid debit account so you can also pay bills online or get cash from an ATM for a small fee. It can be used anywhere Mastercard is accepted. While this seems undeniably more convenient, many people were turned off by the initial five-dollar fee when you first purchase a Ventra card. However, these five dollars are then immediately refunded as transit credit on your card when it is registered online.

The registration process is pretty straightforward but definitely adds an extra step from the Chicago cards Chicagoans were used to. However, like the last passes, value can be added to the cards right at a machine at the CTA stations and unlike the last passes, value can also be added online or over the phone. It just makes adding value to your transit card more like transferring money in online banking. A big advantage to Ventra is that if you lose your card, you can go online and replace it, therefore saving your balance, although there is still the refunded five-dollar fee for a new card. Roosevelt student, Nick Davison, generally likes the Ventra system but said, “The replacement fee is bullshit. If my Ventra card gets stolen, I then have to pay a large fee on top of it. Not cool.”

As for multi-day passes, they still exist with Ventra and can be added onto your card just like any monetary value. Chicago schools this year distributed Ventra U-Passes to students that contain unlimited CTA rides for the remainder of the semester.

Some students enjoy using the Ventra while for others it is causing major problems. Omar Chavez, a Political Science student at DePaul University is a fan of the Ventra because “It’s efficient. I think it moves everyone along a lot quicker. I’ve never had any issue with it.” On the other hand, Shannon Marks, a Psychology and Criminal Justice major at Loyola University said “The U-Passes last year worked much better. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed the train because my Ventra card wouldn’t scan.”

There seems to be a wide variety of opinions surrounding the Ventra system, especially during its first arrival. There was a display of three hundred magnetic striped cards at the Logan Square blue line stop that spelled out “Ventra sucks” followed by a large protest at the CTA budget hearing in November 2013. People spoke out against Ventra’s systematic issues and it’s phase out of over a hundred union jobs.

Petros Karahalios, a Northwestern University student, admitted “Ventra didn’t charge me for five rides straight in the same day so basically I got five free rides. Maybe I’m just lucky.” Ventra has now taken over the CTA and made Chicago cards a thing of the past.  Karahalios commented, “[Ventra] has a novelty factor. I like the tap and go. It’s the future.”

*Published in the Roosevelt University Torch, 2014.

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‘Her’ explores technology-obsessed future through heartfelt romance


Imagine a world where society is so infatuated with advanced technology that computers begin to take on human traits. Such is the backdrop for Spike Jonze’s new film “Her.” Set in future Los Angeles, “Her” is a sci-fi romantic comedy with an original idea and unique vision.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore Twombley, a man going through a divorce and working at a personal letter writing company.  Twombley purchases a new, advanced operating system, chooses the female voice option and meets “Samantha,” voiced by Scarlett Johansson. As Samantha develops emotionally, they begin to fall for each other until they are hopelessly in love.

In the beginning, Theodore often experiences dreamy, ethereal flashbacks to married life and emotional moments with his ex-wife Katherine, played by Rooney Mara. As his love for Samantha grows, the differences between personalities of the two women become increasingly apparent in a confusing way for Theodore.

Samantha is not just an operating system; she is witty, funny and highly insightful. She is capable of sensing and feeling emotions in addition to her operating system intelligence.  She draws Theodore out of his solitary, melancholy lifestyle into a new life full of wonder and energy.

The human-operating system relationship plays with the idea of importance and necessity of physical sex in love and relationships. The few scenes where voiced sex and fantasies are included feel intimate, as though the audience is let in on a very private moment. It gets to the point where it is almost uncomfortable to watch, but is completely necessary and gives the audience insight into the growing intimacy of the couple.

The acting by Joaquin Phoenix stands out as incredibly genuine, believable and sincere. He displays a wide range of emotions throughout the film ranging from wild, senseless happiness to reserved hesitance in which the audience glimpses his authentic vulnerability. Scarlett Johansson, though never seen, conveys seemingly effortless joy and wonder in addition to her overall aura of mystery that brings the operating system to life and endlessly intrigues audiences.

It is greatly in contrast with Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are” because the story was told mostly visually while dialogue plays a very important part in “Her.” This is not to say that “Her” was any less visually interesting. The tranquil scenery of Theodore’s city ventures allows viewers to see the incredible beauty surrounding the characters. From gorgeous skyline panning to stunning beach scenes, the cinematography only becomes increasingly exquisite.

The film is also getting some attention for its original music. The somber score by Arcade Fire amplifies the emotional tone and visual beauty of the film and is complimented by a duet by Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix entitled simply “The Moon Song.” Both the score and duet have recently been nominated for academy awards, in addition to receiving Oscar nods for best production design, best original screenplay and best picture.

Initially the sci-fi romance plot might not seem appealing but writer, director Spike Jonze created real, genuine characters that draw viewers into a soulful, heartfelt romance. “Her” may not necessarily be an accurate projection of the future but unquestionably offers up poignant wisdom about modern relationships, even describing love as “a form of socially acceptable insanity.”

*Published in Roosevelt University Torch.