“The Hunting Ground” exposes mistreatment of collegiate sexual assault survivors

By Ife Olujobi

via NY Times

via NY Times

It would be easy to assume that the turn in national attention towards the issue of college campus rape over the past year was purely coincidental – another tragedy getting its 15 minutes of pity.  However, in “The Hunting Ground,” Emmy award-winning documentary writer/director Kirby Dick sets out to shed light on this ongoing epidemic of violence against women (and men) by following a pair of sexual assault survivors in their fight for validation and justice against scrutiny, harassment, ignorance, and established collegiate institutions.

Annie Clark and Andrea Pino were students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when they were raped. Clark was a freshman but didn’t go public with her story until years later after she had already graduated, when Pino was a sophomore and contacted Clark to share her experiences of abuse.  Inspired by the outpour of survivor stories they received from students at their school and colleges all over the country, Clark and Pino try to use statues of Title IX legislation to reform administrative policies on how colleges and universities report and handle sexual assault complaints.  “The Hunting Ground” profiles these two brave women, as well as many others from the network of sexual abuse survivors they cultivated along the way.

Dick and producer Amy Ziering, previously known for the Academy Award-nominated doc “The Invisible War,” about rape in the military, capitalize on the personal testimonies of assault as the main method of communicating the baffling apathy and resistance of educational institutions and police in investigating sexual assault claims.  He also presents textual statistics on reports of rape in colleges, the dismal punishments received by offenders (if any), sexual assault in Greek life, and interviews with former college administrators who dealt with the politics and economics of rape reporting first-hand.

The film also aims to dispell the myth of false reporting as well, providing the statistic that false reports only account for 2-10% of all rape claims. This myth is used to routinely silence victims such as Erica Kinsman, who not only had to take a class with her rapist (NFL prospect Jameis Winston) but also see him cleared of all wrongdoing and go on to win a Heisman trophy to the adulation of her entire university. Kinsman’s story also shows that the filmmakers aren’t afraid to name names when it comes to those who perpetrated the crimes.

Dick and Ziering also feature three male sexual assault survivors to give a face to the small fraction of men – one in 33 –  who are sexually assaulted in college, and the even smaller fraction of those who do report for fear of social stigma.

However, in tackling such a one-sided issue, Dick doesn’t shy away from layering on the sentimentality – which mostly comes naturally through the heartbreaking testimonies of the survivors or is earned through rousing moments in the fight for reform – and at times his hand is a little too present (the graphics were a little cluttered, and the musical choices are cliché and distracting, only serving to emphasize points that needed no further emphasis).

Nonetheless, “The Hunting Ground” presents facts and stories that can’t be ignored and is a must-see for high school and college students, parents, administrators, alumni, and hopefully politicians who can enact the change the system desperately needs.

“The Hunting Ground” is now playing in select theaters.

Ife Olujobi is a senior editor.  Email her at iolujobi@nyunews.com

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WSN at the Berlinale International Film Festival #2: “Every Thing Will Be Fine”

By Ariana DiValentino

Via Berlinale

Wim Wenders, the veteran filmmaker behind the masterful classics “Paris, Texas” and “Wings of Desire,” was not only the subject of this year’s Homage series at the Berlinale, but also debuted a new film of his own within the competition series: “Every Thing Will Be Fine,” a 3-D drama starring James Franco as a brooding writer who, in a tragic accident, hits and kills a child with his car. The premise is certainly interesting, but if the combination of drama, 3-D, and James Franco sounds puzzling, that is because it is — the film is comprised of a slew of inexplicable choices, not the least of which is why the word “everything” is split in two in the title.

After the accident, Franco, as the sad artist type Tomas, goes on a downward spiral culminating in a failed suicide attempt, after which the film traces a series of loosely-related life events over the next twelve years. Rachel McAdams appears, perhaps too briefly and with a strange and unnecessary French-Canadian accent, as Tomas’ girlfriend; he cares for his bitter and increasingly declining father; he shares a special relationship with the single mother of the child who has died and his surviving brother. The most interesting the script posits is how will Tomas’ experience contrast with that of the mother and her living son, and the effect of the accident on Tomas’ writing is hinted at toward the end. We suspect that he might, or at least should feel a touch guilty for possibly exploiting the tragedy for his own career; however, this is not explored with nearly enough depth as it could have been. Aside from a rather bizarre series of interactions with the now-adolescent surviving brother, Christopher, it truly seems as though for the most part, everything (save for Tomas’ mood) already is fine.

For a story so lacking in plot elements, one would expect the script to be heavily character-driven. The only growth we see in Tomas, however, is a slow forgetting of the accident and an uptick in book sales. As a result, James Franco does not have much to carry apart from brooding, which may be for the best because in his few impassioned moments, his performance is not terribly believable — although the writing may be more at blame here, given that such obtuse lines as “neither one of us is fine” shove the film’s loose themes in the viewer’s face.

Even more puzzling are some of the technical aspects of the film. Being in three dimensions, while not necessarily depreciating the experience, does not contribute to the film’s unsuccessful try for emotional depth either. While some interesting shots capture layers of action through reflections and distance, the 3-D ultimately acts as an unnecessary amplifier to nice but not stunning cinematography that occasionally catches pretty nature scenery in the background while James Franco gazes out windows and into the beyond. 3-D has yet to be well-adapted to the melodrama, and it does not find an appropriate footing in “Every Thing Will Be Fine,” either. Other unusual characteristics, such as odd editing choices in which every single scene ends with an abrupt fade to black, contribute to the film’s overall quality of inexplicability.

Despite a number of interesting risks and plot elements, the film hangs so closely onto a several tropes and archetypes that audiences are unlikely to find these two long hours memorable for much more than simply being a strange incarnation of the melodrama and the brooding artist. There may have been potential for fascinating psychological exploration, but no matter how deep viewers (and Franco) gaze into the 3-D horizon, there simply isn’t much to be found.

Ariana DiValentino is a staff writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com.

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

WSN at the Berlinale International Film Festival #1: “45 Years”

By Ariana DiValentino

Via Berlinale

In a culture that celebrates youthful romance and often sees the hurt of breakups and divorce, it is little wonder that couples who have “made it”— married young and remained together — are a point of fascination. In “45 Years”, director Andrew Haigh makes a successful diversion from his repertoire of decidedly younger projects (“Weekend,” HBO’s “Looking”) to tell the story of the week leading up to Kate and Geoff Mercer’s 45th anniversary party, and the long-buried ghost that has suddenly reappeared between them.

Kate, expertly played by Charlotte Rampling, is a formidable retired teacher who acts as the backbone of her marriage to Geoff (Tom Courtenay), preparing plans and meals for the two of them. Geoff, meanwhile, finds himself lost in the tumult of age as an unexpected letter sends him back emotionally to the tragedy of his first love over 50 years prior, leading them both to examine the last 45 years of their lives in retrospect.
Tender and intimate moments characterize the small joys of their long relationship, but these moments often end in disappointment or heartbreak. Beautiful cinematography by Lol Crawley fleshes out this intimacy as well as the peaceful, scenic suburb in which they have made their home. The overall quiet tone of the film allows the emotional disturbances to resound all the more poignantly.

Usual dramatic themes of loss, jealousy and insecurity are given new life when approached from the perspective that all of one’s greatest choices in life have already been made, and all that’s left to do is to survey the memories collected and relationships forged. At one point, Kate notes to Geoff that they don’t have any pictures on the walls because, not having had kids, it seemed silly to take pictures of themselves — later on a friend puts together a collage for the anniversary, depicting many moments of the Mercers’ life together, but it is doubtful at this point what exactly they are looking back on, and why.

Themes of maturation and self-reckoning are fairly unexpected for a young director like Haight to address, particularly given his track record of stories that cover the youth-oriented queer dating and party scene. Nevertheless, “45 Years” manages to tell its story in a way that is perhaps suggestive of youthful fears without coming across as immature or naïve in the slightest. Brilliant performances and clear direction make this picture, an entry in the Berlinale competition series, a memorable piece with emotional pull. 45 Years suggests that the only thing more capable of inducing existential anxiety than dying alone is growing old together.

Ariana DiValentino is a staff writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com.

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Binge TV: “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

By Sidney Butler

via Den of Geek

via Den of Geek

STATUS
Nine seasons from 2005 to present. Season 10 currently airing on FXX.

HISTORY
In 2004, Rob McElhenney approached his friends Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day with an idea that eventually became the cult hit, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Using their own cameras, Day, Howerton, and McElhenney shot an episode for less than $200. FX picked up their pilot but changed the original location, Hollywood, to McElhenney’s hometown of Philadelphia and renamed the series. After the tweaks and changes, Rob, Charlie and Glen decided they needed a female perspective and they found it in Kaitlin Olson.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Mac, Charlie, Dee, and Dennis are four selfish and deranged losers who co-own the deteriorating bar Paddy’s Pub in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Together, along with Dee and Dennis’s stepfather Frank (Danny DeVito), this gang of narcissistic misfits find themselves in various strange situations, from dumpster babies to crack addictions.

MEET THE CHARACTERS

Mac: The most normal character in the group. When one member of the gang loses all sense of reality, Mac offers his (slightly) realistic view of the world. For examples, I recommend “The Gang Buys a Boat” (season 6, episode 3) in which Mac has a perfectly normal reaction to Dennis’s famous “implication” scenario. However, Mac does tend to take his dedication a little too far, getting him into intense and outrageous situations (see season “Mac and Charlie Die,” the fourth episode of season five).

Charlie Kelly: The dumbest member of the gang. While the other members think thoroughly through their paranoid schemes, Charlie blindly goes with the flow. As he lusts after “the waitress,” believes he has cancer, and tries to become “king of the rats,” it is clear Charlie is a little loose in the head but his dimwitted nature only makes him that much more likable.

Dennis Reynolds: A full blown sociopath. He uses his personalized D.E.N.N.I.S. method to get girls and then throw them away like garbage. His narcissistic tendencies blind him from reality altogether. Even though he is the most educated (he graduated from UPenn), it is clear that Dennis is morally the worst member of the gang.

Dee Reynolds: with her twin Dennis, they make up Tweedle Dee (literally) and Tweedle Dum. The two don’t usually get along, as Dee tends to be the punch line of everyone’s jokes (because she’s a woman!). Dee’s overconfidence and delusional sensibilities get her into wacky yet comedic situations, making her the funniest character on the show.

Frank Reynolds: A millionaire who acts like a hoodrat. He is hardly ever clean and lives in a repulsive one-bedroom apartment with Charlie. Frank’s incapability of thinking like an adult make him the most immature character. If you don’t believe me, just skip to “Who Pooped the Bed?” (season four, episode seven).

WHY SHOULD I WATCH?
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is easily one of the funniest and most audacious shows on television. Each series averages about ten episodes (twenty-two minutes each) so you can binge it pretty easily. The characters say and do the most politically incorrect and outlandish things but the wittiness of this ensemble makes them characters you find yourself gravitating back to, wondering what they will do next.

IN CONCLUSION
Over the past ten years, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” has never faltered in tone. The characters never gradually learn from their mistakes and it’s a constant array of half-brained schemes with slight political commentary. The show is timeless and hilarious. The episodic format makes it a comedy you can watch out of order and still enjoy it in its entirety. It’s everything you want in a comedy and more.

Sidney Butler is a staff writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com.

Posted in Columns | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Theater for College Students: Accessibility and “Hamilton”

By Tara Dalton

via Public Theater

via Public Theater

 Theater is an experience.  Whether you’ve attended ten shows this school year alone or are looking forward to seeing your first Broadway show this semester, it’s undeniably exciting to be involved with New York’s theater scene.

“Wait!” a voice cries out from the back of the room. “I love plays and musicals but I can’t afford $150 tickets! I’m the embodiment of the poor college student stereotype! My unhappy, show-less fate is all but certain.”

Ah, have no fear, bodiless thespian voice, for this column is perfect for you! Each week I’ll be highlighting some really cool shows that you can see without ruining your budget for the semester.

Shows shouldn’t be limited to a select lucky few who can afford them. It’s an art everyone can benefit from and often can explain issues just as if not more clearly than other artistic mediums. Consider the statements made by shows such as “Rent” or “Next to Normal”: they bring awareness to grave issues and the emotional context and impact such issues have.

As college students, there are a myriad of opportunities available regarding discounted theater tickets. Theater accessibility is a goal that’s shared amongst many companies and consequently, outreach programs frequently offer discount opportunities aside from the standard wait-in-the-TKTS-line in Times Square.

On February 19, I was lucky enough to win a $10 ticket to see “Hamilton,” a new musical at the Public Theater. “Hamilton” follows the struggles and accomplishments of the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. It’s been wildly popular amongst critics, particularly due to its innovative incorporation of popular music into history.

Three words: Rapping. Founding. Fathers.

No, it’s not lame. Every person I’ve talked to has been absolutely convinced regarding this show’s brilliance. If you need proof, Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator of the book, music and lyrics of the show, rapped about Hamilton’s life in his performance of “The Hamilton  Mixtape” to president Obama at the 2009 White House Poetry Jam.

I got my ticket to the completely sold-out show through my dorm, University Hall. (Keep an eye out for deals in your dorm activity emails and for posters in the lobby as often really great programs like this occur every semester!) However, if you’re feeling unlucky, don’t be too upset just yet: there are still ways to get your own.

The show has a daily lottery called “Hamilton for a Hamilton” on Today Tix, an app I can’t get enough of. If you win, tickets are – you guessed it – ten dollars. You can double or triple your odds of winning by sharing an ad for the app on Twitter or Facebook. I highly recommend downloading it. It’s free and its theater deals are great. (Side note: I’ll discuss Today Tix in more depth in a later column.)

In addition to this in-app lottery, the Public Theater runs an in-person lottery in the theater’s lobby two and a half hours before evening performances and one and half hours before matinee performances. Tickets in this program, if you win, are $20.

“Hamilton” will transfer to Broadway after its run at the Public ends on May 3.

Tara Dalton is a contributing writer. Email her at theater@nyunews.com.

Posted in Columns | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Playing the “Game of Thrones”

By Nivea Serrao

from hollywoodreporter.com

When you play the “Game of Thrones,” you win or you die.

But the odds of either happening are significantly higher when you’re in charge of making all the decisions that ensure your survival. In fact, Telltale Games’ latest offering almost goes out of its way to serve as a stark reminder of the fact, with the first two episodes of the game each packing its own emotional punch.

The first episode — aptly titled “Iron from Ice” — kicks off the series by immediately placing it within the larger context of not only the show, but the books they are based on. And of course, being a “Game of Thrones” game, it features multiple protagonists — though not as many as the show — all of whom are connected to House Forrester, the family at the heart of this episodic game series.

This works on many different levels. Having the game’s protagonists belong to the same House — by blood or otherwise — grounds the game and gives it direction. No matter who you’re playing as and where you are geographically located within the game, your main goal is always ensuring the Forrester clan’s well-being. Of course it doesn’t hurt that that the protagonists themselves are a likeable bunch, who belong to or serve a family that is quite reminiscent the Starks. In fact, the Forresters even start out the series serving as bannerman for the now former Wardens of the North.

And much like the Starks in their current situation, the Forresters have been strewn all over the Seven Kingdoms. This is great as it allows players to explore the larger world that author George R. R. Martin has created, but fans of the show (many of whom will undoubtedly play the game) will have the chance to interact with many of their favourite characters from the series. Within the first and second episodes players already have the chance to speak, scheme or partner up with Tyrion Lannister, Maergery Tyrell, and Jon Snow — all of whom are voiced by their TV show counterparts.

The writing of the first episode is excellent, with dramatic twists and reveals at all the right points, perfectly capturing the feel of a real “Game of Thrones” episode. The second episode manages to hit a lot of the same notes, but one particular storyline — that of Mira Forrester — feels repetitive as she is forced to ask Maergery for help yet again. Perhaps a different choice earlier in the previous episode (or the same one) might have allowed her slightly more agency as a character. Thankfully though, later events in the same episode take care of that, making Mira’s future choices a lot more intriguing going forward.

With two seasons of their “Walking Dead” game and the “Wolf Among Us” series under their belts, Telltale Games has found its niche in episodic gameplay. But as much as the “Game of Thrones” game series enjoys emulating the television version’s propensity for killing off fan favourites and shocking reveals, the game itself needs to show restraint as employing a similar approach has the potential to render what seem to be key decisions at the time pointless.

The other concern would be that this game requires prior knowledge of the television series – if not the books themselves – however, having the story center around the Forresters and giving them their own villains (in this case, their competitors, the Boltons) allows players new to the series as a whole a way to still play the game.

But all things considered, Telltale Games has another enjoyable game on its hands. And this makes the wait for Episode 3 all the more harder.

Nivea Serrao is a staff writer. Contact her at entertainment@nyunews.com

Posted in Games | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Imagine Dragons validate existence with new album

By Rachel A.G. Gilman

Via getmusicasia.com

With the release of their 2012 debut, “Night Visions,” Imagine Dragons found a significant amount of success. The album went platinum in twelve countries and was certified gold in many others. The Las Vegas natives received a slew of accolades and awards, including Billboard’s “Breakthrough Band of 2013” and a Grammy for “Best Rock Performance.”

Now, the group has released their follow-up, “Smoke + Mirrors.” The album has an overall theme of apology and self-discovery in its lyrics, frequently addressing how the singer is taking responsibility for a mess and never shying away from a metaphor. When tracks are vulnerable, they are the most successful. However, many of the titles of the songs feel mismatched with what the track actually explores, causing both confusion and a somewhat dense feeling. If you want to listen to the best material, look no further than the singles.

The opening track, “Shots,” is the third single. Though more airy and synth-pop than the band tends to lean, the song is catchy. It mixes the serious imagery of lead singer, Dan Reynolds, having “shot a hole through everything” he claims to love while worrying about being out of touch and falling into what is “just [his] luck.” The bouncing beat works especially well when Reynolds goes into his falsetto on the pre-choruses.

The first single, “I Bet My Life,” is another apology track. It was, chronologically, the follow-up to 2012’s hit “It’s Time,” and rightfully so. It builds in the same fashion and responds to the idea that after having gone out and traveled the world, Reynolds is ready to come “running home.”

Similarly, “Dreams” could be seen as the rawer partner to 2012’s “Demons.” The song, which surpasses four minutes, is haunting as it grows. With each added verse explaining the messiness of the world, the drums and piano heighten just slightly until they come crashing into a dramatic, full-throttle chorus, which is eventually broken up by Reynolds quietly singing he wants to be left to dream, sung over light, repeated piano chords, drums fading away. Again and again this happens, until the band harmonizing for the darkly sentimental bridge.

Vulnerability can be found again on “Polaroid,” where Reynolds lists his faults through a series of “I’m” statements. In the background, you can hear a xylophone against the stronger downbeats of the drum as electric guitars strategically come in. The song swells appropriately toward the final chorus, never feeling overwhelming.

“It Comes Back To You” has a Coldplay vibe, frequently teasing the wispier vocals heard on the opening track and remaining relatively stable throughout. Lyrically, it also mimics the British band with a simple, frequently repeated chorus and somewhat vague but poetic verses, posing the question, “Am I just a shadow you drew?”

In its entirety, “Smoke + Mirrors” isn’t a complete masterpiece, but if you’re willing to flip through tracks, you will find some strong material throughout. It is definitely enough to validate Imagine Dragons as a more permanent fixture on the alternative rock scene.

Rachel A.G. Gilman is a staff writer. Email her at music@nyunews.com

Posted in Albums, Music | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment