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This Beach

By Comics 1

Transcript:

Panel One: Two feet stand in the sand, waves only a few feet away. Narration shares, “Five years ago was the last time I visited this beach.”

Panel Two: Narration continues, “I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference from now and then.” Below the word “now” is the narrator at present. Below the word “then” is an illustration of them five years earlier.

Panel Three: Narration shares, “Then, I was 16 and distraught over a fact I felt like I had to keep hidden….” A pink word balloon cuts through the page, asking 16 year old narrator, “How does the swimsuit look dear?” The narrator looks confused, hands wrapped around their body, wearing a feminine two piece swimsuit. The narration concludes, “I wasn’t a girl.”

Panel Four: Narration shares, “The beach only highlighted this. I had cut my hair shorter than ever before, when I wasn’t in the water, I wore large shirts to hide new curves. Still, I felt unseen.”

Panel Five: “That trip was one of the most dysphoric times of my life… and now I’m back on the same beach.”

Panel Six: “It’s weird, but being here doesn’t feel so terrible now.”

Panel Seven: “I’m still genderqueer. But even when I’m not seen, I know who I am.”

Panel Eight: “It doesn’t mean there aren’t times of pain… but I know that they’ll wash away.”

Panel Nine: “I want to tell 16 year old me: There’s a whole ocean out there. Even when it’s bad, this will pass.”

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Same Air

By Comics 1

Transcript: A maskless man in a red Republican shirt stands over a woman wearing a blue Democrat shirt and a mask. The woman is fat and also has multiple visible disabilities; she is a wheelchair-user, she has a lack of hair from alopecia, and she has an insulin arm monitor. The man is smugly saying, “my body, my choice, isn’t that what you people always say?” while breathing COVID virus particles in her face, and she looks alarmed, as she is at high risk for COVID in multiple ways.

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Moving Pictures: Looking Through The ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’

By Entertainment, Featured 3

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (2022), image acquired from IMDB.

Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” (2019) was a smash hit, a massive departure from his prior work of the lightsaber duels in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” or the high concept, time-traveling science fiction of “Looper.” The most outrageous things about “Knives Out” was its all-star cast and Daniel Craig’s “southern” accent as lead detective, Benoit Blanc. But that didn’t stop Johnson from bringing the same level of inventiveness he brought to his other films, this time dabbling not in time travel or space monks, but with the form of the murder mystery.

In the first 15 minutes of “Knives Out,” Johnson told us exactly how the murder was done, and giving us the culprit. He then spent the next hour pulling the mask from our eyes, only to place another mask on our face, spin us around, and then show us the truth. It wasn’t only a box-office hit, it was a successful formal experiment, willing to go into the anatomy of the murder mystery and scramble its insides.

When “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” was announced with its equally prestigious cast, the question was could Johnson do it again? Could he successfully tear apart the formula and reassemble it? Could he still surprise us not only with the mystery itself, but with how it’s told?

I have to admit, I had my doubts. For the film’s first act, I was charmed by its visual splendor, its delightful costumes, its hilarious dialogue, and its terrific over-the-top performances. But I wasn’t quite as engaged by the mystery of it all, it still felt formulaic, like an entertaining episode of Benoit Blanc’s exploits, but missing that vital Rian Johnson spark.

I should have had more faith.

Because as expected, Johnson pulls the rug out from right underneath us, bringing his own special spin to the twist. It’s a wonderful tribute to the form, that honors its oddness and celebrates its idiosyncrasies. It may not be for everyone, because that same twist may strike some as too meandering for the otherwise propulsive plot.

Personally, I found it immensely satisfying, because again, it’s not about the who of the murdering, but how we find out. I knew I was in the hands of someone who cared far more about the genre of the murder mystery than I ever would. It’s that kind of love that makes “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” such a delight, packed to the gills with details, color, and jokes. Many, many jokes.

Johnson refuses to lean into the macabre aspects of the murder mystery: the ruminations on mortality or the darkness of the human spirit that many a Swedish crime procedural is built upon. Instead, his mystery is delivered with a bounce, propelled by humor and verve, all powered by its excellent cast.

Kate Hudson is hilarious as the flailing influencer, perpetually with her foot in her mouth, convinced being unfiltered is a worthy personality trait. Jessica Henwick is a delight as Hudson’s  plate-spinning assistant, who delivers probably the film’s funniest line, if not one of the funniest lines in cinema this year. Dave Bautista has proven time and time again that he holds immense comedic potential, this time as a bellowing meninist Twitch Streamer. Janelle Monae, unlike Bautista, puts in a surprisingly stoic, subdued performance especially considering her usual persona, acting as the film’s voice of reason, Andy. There’s two other voices of reason, the scientist played by Leslie Odom Jr., and the politician played by Kathryn Hahn, both of whom inject a little insidiousness into each line. And all of them are up against Miles Bron (Ed Norton), this film’s version of Elon Musk, though presumably when Johnson was writing the script, the character was probably intended to be its Jeff Bezos. Ed Norton as Bron is smarmy, false, and convinced he has charisma, of which, he has none.

Bron is  the exact opposite of Benoit Blanc who Craig makes such fun, that I could watch ten minutes of Blanc ordering takeout. Yes, the accent is ridiculous, but it also has a specific function: it brings us into this film’s reality. We’re now in a world where this voice could be normal, where cars can sit on floating platforms, where mysteries can be solved, where justice can be found, if you scrape and fight for it. It’s a terrific fluid performance by Craig that I hope he returns to as many times as he played his emotionally constipated Bond.

Despite being made in 2021, Johnson chooses to place “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” firmly in 2020. Characters fear the pandemic, wear masks outdoors, and are probably meant to be quarantining instead of taking an elaborate vacation to Greece. It’s a bold choice, which causes the film to lean more topical than the first, which was already a stealthy commentary on immigration in the USA. It’s hard to say whether this choice will be rewarded or punished, in say, five years from now, when our relationship with the pandemic will presumably have evolved. However, what this could also signal is Johnson’s intentions for the franchise, that perhaps each iteration of Benoit Blanc’s adventures will be a time capsule for the present moment. It’s an exciting idea, especially since most modern movie franchises exist in parallel to our reality. It’s impossible to know how the film’s particular perspective on this moment will age with time. But I doubt that will affect much of your viewing experience if you watch it when the film hits Netflix on December 23rd.

Yes, you’ve read that right. This film is a Netflix release. And Netflix being Netflix, decided to release the film in cinemas prior to its streaming release for a limited run. I can’t state enough how big a mistake I think this is for Netflix, primarily because this film is an immense crowd pleaser. It’s the type of movie that rewards being watched with a massive group of people, laughing and gasping at its twists and turns. There’s a bit of a fallacy that’s been floating around; that a film is only worth watching or screening in cinemas if it has a bold visual spectacle, typically characterized by heavy CGI or explosive effects. But movie-watching isn’t just about the visuals, or the sound, or the popcorn. Sometimes, it’s about the communal experience of strangers discovering something together, a joyous activity multiplied tenfold when that mystery is being doled out by Rian Johnson.

All of this has nothing to do with “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” as a film and everything to do with its release strategy. So if you have the opportunity, and it is safe to do so, I highly encourage you to watch “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” in cinemas, and lose yourself in its labyrinth of pastels, sunsets, lies, secrets, and its truth. And as Benoit Blanc says, getting to the truth isn’t all that difficult. What happens next, that’s what is up for grabs.

Myle Yan Tay (MFAW 2023) cares a lot about movies and comic books. One day, maybe they will care about him. Find more of his writing at www.myleyantay.com.

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Moving Pictures: ‘Black Adam’ and the Hierarchy of Mediocrity

By Entertainment, Featured 9

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in “Black Adam” (2022). Image from IMDB.

I was so unengaged by the first 90 minutes of “Black Adam” that to keep myself awake, I started drafting my review. That is always a sign I’m having a bad or, worse, a boring time when watching a film

Here was my first option:

The Rock over the years has gained a reputation as the guy you call to rejuvenate your franchise. He replaced Brendan Fraser in “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” usurped Vin Diesel in “The Fast and The Furious” franchise, and supplanted Channing Tatum in the G.I. Joe movies. In all three instances, the Rock led the sequels to bigger box office openings, bigger explosions, and bigger biceps. But are any of those franchises better off because the Rock joined? It’s hard to say. We’d have to conduct an experiment. We would need to find a flailing franchise, unable to find its footing, struggling with its stars, and rudderless in its future direction. Luckily for us, the DC cinematic universe has had its fair share of recent troubles, including one actor running a cult, an armada of Twitter bots, and flagrant racism from one of its major producers. The DC Universe’s newest entry, “Black Adam” is the perfect opportunity to put the Rock to the test as its titular character.

Here was the second:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have heard that the hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change. You must have seen the headlines, the Instagram posts, the tweets. And if you did not, you must have heard the whisperings in the air, the bellowing from the mountaintop. You must have been preparing, as I have, by rearranging your graphs and  organizing your bomb shelter in preparation for this momentous, historic shift. Because whether we like it or not, with the DC Universe’s newest entry, “Black Adam,” the hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change. But will it change for the better?

And here was my third:

What is the point of reviewing the superhero movie anymore? You know exactly what you’re going to get. Most of the time, you could play a game of bingo on what’s going to be in my review. There will be a comment on the staleness of the formula. Something about the ineptitude of the film’s comedy and its disrespect to the source material. If we’re lucky, maybe there’ll be a recognition of the few bold choices the filmmakers made, probably inflections on tropes of the genre or technically competent aspects of the film’s visuals. What’s the point? The movies, and my reviews, are all the same. I try to review these movies not based on what I want them to be but on what they aspire to. But when so many superhero movies aspire to mediocrity, how can I possibly criticize them for reaching their lofty goal? What’s left to say? You already know what you’re going to get. And you’re going to get exactly what you expect with the DC Universe’s newest entry, “Black Adam.”

Those were the three I had locked and loaded.

And then something changed.

I started to enjoy myself.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to go to bat for “Black Adam.” I will not say this was a good movie. I am already an “Avatar” Apologist — I won’t add “Black Adam” Apologist to my list of sins.

But I have to admit, that despite my boredom and disdain for the film’s first 90 minutes, I ended up having a good time. And therein lies probably the most complicated thing about “Black Adam.” It was stale enough in its first 90 minutes for me to fully draft three different introductions in my head. But in its last 30 minutes, it managed to find some juice and enough fun for me to forget those paragraphs. In its third act, I got lost in the sepia-tinged land of Kahndaq, in the bizarre Kubrick-esque stare of Black Adam zooming through the sky, and in its paltry attempts at crafting a superhero team.

Again, and I can’t state this enough, “Black Adam” is not a good movie. In case you doubt that for some reason , here are a couple reasons why.

The film’s dialogue is some of the clunkiest we’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. Every line is guided towards giving the Rock something clever to say, regardless of whether it connects to the conversation. It’s all about setting up the Rock for badass one-liners, without adhering to any conversational conventions.

On that same note, many of the film’s action scenes are designed to facilitate this image of badassery. But most of them do not feel earned. Watching Black Adam tear through a squadron of soldiers armed with their pesky little rifles is not exciting. But based on how many times we watch that happen, the film seems to think it is. Slow motion alone is not enough to make a fight cool. We have to have some grounding in the characters and their setting. But instead, we’re zooming from bit to bit and meant to marvel at the callousness at which Black Adam disintegrates his foes. Most of the film’s action scenes seem designed for the film to be spliced into different Youtube clips, with names like “Best Black Adam Scenes (5/7)” or “EPIC! Black Adam wrecks soldiers.”

None of this is made much better by Black Adam’s heroic counterparts, the Justice Society. It’s a good enough reason to get Pierce Brosnan in the movie, possibly the only person in the film who tries to act. But outside of him, the heroes are relatively thin and either frustratingly simplified from their comic book origins or poor facsimiles of characters already in the MCU. We’ve already got one out-of-place, stumbling man-of-the-people who can grow to the size of a building. I’m looking at you, Atom Smasher.

To top it all off, the film is by and large pretty ugly. Much of the film’s CGI looks like it came from the early 2010s. You could put stills from “Clash of the Titans” (2010) beside “Black Adam” and not be able to tell the difference. Or better still, you could put clips of the original “Clash of the Titans” from 1981 beside “Black Adam” and wish that Ray Harryhausen would come back with his puppets to save us from this CGI drudgery.

Again, I enjoyed the last 30 minutes. Why? Maybe because the film gives up on trying to make the Rock look cool. When the plot shifts away from being a Dwayne Johnson vanity project, it’s much more endearing. To say the ending sticks its landing implies the film ever took flight in the first place. At the very least, it isn’t aflame on the runway. There are some surprising twists late in the movie when it’s not beholden to its executive producer’s demands. Granted, these are still twists within the superhero convention so nothing is going to leave you reeling. In fact, it could be that those twists are only rewarding because of how utterly empty the first 90 minutes of this movie are.

It could be that the movie’s limbo bar racing to the bottom for its first two acts makes the slightest lift seem stupendous. Maybe the final third simply understands that all these movies need is to be loud enough to distract us from our everyday woes, something not achievable when we’re so keenly aware that we’re watching the Rock preen and pose for the camera. It could be that the film’s vague gestures to a criticism of neocolonialism make it slightly more cerebral than most of the American propaganda that makes it into other superhero films. Or maybe “Black Adam” only kind of works because of its relative position compared to the franchise-building schlock of Phase 4 of the MCU or Sony’s torturous attempt with “Morbius.”

I can’t quite put my finger on what makes “Black Adam” not wholly terrible. But if you go in with zero expectations, perhaps you could find yourself having a not-awful time. And in this day and age, that’s a lot to promise. All I can say for certain is that next time I do a review of a superhero movie, I’m sending out bingo cards with them too.

Myle Yan Tay (MFAW 2023) cares a lot about movies and comic books. One day, maybe they will care about him. Find more of his writing at www.myleyantay.com.

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Netflix’s Best Worst Christmas Films

By Entertainment, Featured 17

Netflix has a roster of completely insane Hallmark movie knockoffs that all fit a very undefinable category. Most include the wealthy/royals falling in love with the poor, and some sort of twin switching, amnesia, time travel, or misidentified person sitcom- style nonsense that the audience is just supposed to go along with. It’s also important to note that none of these films actually need to take place at Christmas, and they all struggle to adequately feature Christmas as part of the plot. Their commonality as films is that they are all trying to be genuine while also expecting the audience to believe some unbelievable plot points that undercut any deep emotional impact we’re meant to relate to. If you could enjoy “Glee,” you could enjoy this.

Rose McIver as her character Amber, pregnant and walking out of a castle side-by-side with Ben Lamb, playing her princely husband.

Still from “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby” (2019). Image courtesy of Netflix.

“A Christmas Prince”

The “Christmas Prince” trilogy is the start of these insane films. The first film has the most normal plot but is also the most insane in terms of individual events in the film. There are far too many nonsense moments to highlight, but the best would be the extremely staged slow fall off a toboggan. The second film is the most fun of the trilogy. It’s an unapologetically generic Christmas film and the only one that tries to feature Christmas as a central plot point. The third film is the most insane of the bunch and is not in any way a Christmas film. It’s a caper that devolves into the most random plot points that don’t fully connect and continuously try to top the previous. This trilogy has everything, fast-talking news liars, Italians, queer characters, and a Loki ripoff that randomly joins and leaves the plot.

Vanessa Hudgens playing three differet characters standing together on a fancy, royal balcony. On the left is a blonde Vanessa in a dark outfit looking upset. In the middle is a Vanessa dressed in royal attire. And on the right is a business causal Vanessa with a smiley expression.

“The Princess Switch: Switched Again” (2020), photo from Netflix.

“The Princes Switch”

“The Princess Switch” trilogy is truly the worst Netflix has to offer. The series’ whole gimmick is Vanessa Hudgens playing multiple characters, each with bad wigs and accents, switching places and pretending to be each other. And yet, it is somehow still so so so boring.

The first film introduces this concept and is an overly long story of baking competitions and royal engagements. The second film introduces nothing but a dating history that doesn’t matter and way too many romance-based plot points that exist in one-on-one character conversations that make this film feel like it’s 3 hours long when it’s really only an hour and 36 minutes. Other than the very jarring but accidentally hilarious kidnapping scene, this second film is not worth watching.

The third and (hopefully) final film in this trilogy is somehow the best of the three. In the second film, a third Vanessa Hudgens in a bad blonde wig is introduced. She’s an off-brand Disney villain who accomplishes nothing. This character was so captivating to the Netflix executives that they wrote a third film that is just another completely non-Christmas-based caper that has sprinkles of childhood trauma. Somehow, this is the only watchable film of the trilogy.

The only positive about the boring waste of this series is the multiverse it creates. In the first film, two of the characters watch the first “Christmas Prince” movie which implies the characters in the film could watch their own movie and could potentially know they don’t exist. But then in the second film the characters from the “Christmas Prince” attend an event being held by “The Princess Switch” characters. Finally, in the third film the Loki ripoff from “The Christmas Prince” shows up and in the one line he gets, he establishes a previous history with bad blonde wig Vanessa which adds a little more lore to the messy multiverse.

A poster for "The Knight Before Christmas" that is split down the middle. On the left hand side is Vanessa Hudges in a red dress and a blue winter themed background. She is looking to the side. On the right is a knight dressed in full armor and holding a sword.

Vanessa Hudgens and Josh Whitehouse in “The Knight Before Christmas” (2019), courtesy of Netflix.

“The Knight Before Christmas”

“The Knight Before Christmas” might be the best Netflix Original ever made. The plot is nonsense, and most of the acting is terrible, but it is nothing but a gem. The plot is essentially “what if a medieval knight time traveled to the present day via forest hag magic in order to complete his knightly quest which is to fall in love.” It doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t have to. The joy of this film is that there is joy. It’s fun. This film also has a scene where a character in the film watches Netflix Original Christmas films, which further adds to the brain-melting question of “do these characters know they aren’t real?” Somewhere between the medieval knight trying to catch and roast a skunk, and the scene where the knight cartoonishly eats rolls out of a bag in the grocery store, this film won me over, and I really didn’t expect it. This film takes off with a meet-cute car crash and never slows down after that
moment. If you watch only one of these films, this is the one to watch.

Lindsay Lohan in a sassy pose standing next to Chord Overstreet. Behind them is a Christmas themed sky lodge.

“Falling for Christmas” (2022), featuring Lindsay Lohan and Chord Overstreet. Image from Netflix.

“Falling for Christmas”

Finally, we have the newest movie of the bunch, “Falling for Christmas.” It’s a fever dream of a film so far past reality that it is indistinguishable from satire, but it makes up for it with the world’s worst raccoon puppet. This film is entirely too earnest while being entirely detached from reality. You go from watching Lindsay Lohan in a goofy montage of head-injury-based sitcom-style nonsense to a sentimental conversation about the male lead’s dead wife. Characters will interact with each other like they’ve known each other for years, then immediately act completely awkward and stiff with one another. Will you understand what’s happening? No! Will any of the characters’ interactions make sense? No! Will there be pay-off for any idea introduced in this film? Absolutely Not! Will you have a good time? Absolutely.

Why should you watch these films? You shouldn’t! But you probably will anyway. Be warned, there is very little fun to be had and very little sense to be made, but there are gems and moments that warrant appreciation. You might enjoy laughing at these movies, and there’s something to be said about the joy of hate-watching them.

My personal ranking for how good these films are is as follows:

  1. “The Knight before Christmas”
  2. “Falling for Christmas”
  3. “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding”
  4. “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby”
  5. “A Christmas Prince”
  6. “The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star”
  7. “The Princess Switch”
  8. “The Princess Switch Switched Again”

Kit Montgomery (BFA 2025) is earning their degree in side quests. Currently, they’re sewing 100 felt rats.

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The Highs and Lows of ‘Wendell & Wild’

By Entertainment 19

“Wendell & Wild” (2022). Image still from IMDB.

I recently watched “Wendell & Wild,” a stop-motion film directed by Henry Selick and co-written by Jordan Peele about a teenage girl named Kat Elliot who seeks to revive her deceased parents with the help of the demon brothers.

The movie starts off promisingly enough, with a young Kat and her parents at the brewery they own, which is the main source of income for the town of Rust Bank. Her parents successfully shut down an attempt by “Klax Corp” to build a private prison in the town, but are quickly killed in a car accident, leaving Kat an orphan. The film then fast forwards a few years and we learn Kat was sent to prison during this time, but is now being released to attend Rust Bank Catholic Girls where she discovers she is a Hell Maiden.

The plot is highly convoluted with each and every subplot being prioritized without much cohesion. Simply too much happens at once, and a poor job is done to keep the stories connected, much to the detriment of the characters. Kat, in spite of being the protagonist, frequently disappears from the story due to the focus repeatedly shifting to the other characters which causes  the film to compensate for her lack of screen time by rushing her development. This issue is not helped by the fact that the film never explains what a Hell Maiden is, leaving the audience to infer what they are and merely accept what happens without question. The titular demon brothers, Wendell and Wild, themselves do not fare much better, as the film tries to build sympathy for them early on with the brothers having been imprisoned by their father, but this does little to excuse them spending almost the rest of their screen time betraying people and getting high on magic hair cream.

I was further unimpressed by the subplot regarding the nun, Sister Helley, and the paraplegic janitor, Manberg. Like everything else, it was overly complicated and required far more exposition than what was given. All we learn is that Helley is a Hell Maiden Manberg exploited as a child to catch demons, and he hopes to do the same to Kat. The fact that Manberg is the sole disabled character shown, yet depicted as a creep with weak motives did not sit well with me. He remains unrepentant for the entire film only to be declared ‘Manberg the Merciful’ when his collection of demons is used to placate Wendell and Wild’s father, Belzer, and prevent the demon from destroying the town.

The film did have its bright points, however. It featured Raul, one of the few overt trans characters I have seen in a movie, let alone as a major character. While the term trans is never used a few hints are dropped, and Raul later shows Kat an old picture showing himself before he transitioned. The film is trying to be inclusive and does a good job of portraying a trans experience in a respectful manner. I also enjoyed the character, Siobhan, for being a refreshing deviation from a stereotypical mean girl, with her friction with Kat stemming from her inability to relate to her in spite of her wish to be a good person.

The film’s message should not be discounted, pointing out how corrupt private prisons are and how private prisons aim to fill their cells with as many people as possible, putting inmates in terrible conditions and ruining lives so people will just keep returning. This is a topic I rarely see brought up despite it being a rampant issue in the US, and it should be spoken about more often.

In terms of animation, the film embraced and made no attempt to hide that the characters were models rather than real flesh and blood, unlike many other stop-motion films. The designs showed exaggerated features and great variety, making the characters easily recognizable from each other and giving the film a unique style that draws heavily from modern art. But outside the lovely character design, the animation itself I occasionally found to be lacking, having parts in which the characters’ movement felt too smooth, though the special effects were largely well done.

Altogether, the film presents a promising story, beautiful designs, and a strong message, along with a good representation of the trans community, but it simply had too many things going on to deliver. With some streamlining “Wendell & Wild” could have been something spectacular, but instead the movie is only alright.

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Fall 2022 Undergraduate Exhibition

By and Arts & Culture, Featured 30

Every fall, the graduating seniors of different undergraduate programs at SAIC showcase their interdisciplinary works to the public. Organized by Assistant Director of Exhibitions Josh Fairbanks and the Department of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies at SAIC, around 140 undergraduate students exhibited their works at SAIC galleries from Nov. 4 to Nov. 18.

The artworks of the students that were on display were unique and diverse. Using the mediums of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and drawings, each student pushed the boundaries of art. The exhibition — which was free and open to everyone — was visited by family and friends of the students as well as the general public.

Asher Jacobson, who came from Milwaukee to see the exhibition, told F Newsmagazine that he had a fantastic time seeing the artworks.

“Iʼm not an artist myself, but Iʼm into the arts. … This is such a cool show. Iʼve never been to such a big gallery space before!” shared Jacobson, who was visiting Chicago to support his friend, one of the exhibitionʼs artists.

Lucija Drake, a SAIC senior and one of the participating artists, also found the exhibition fascinating. “I love how everything here is so diverse. The work really shows how different everyone is,” said Drake.

Here are some pictures of the exhibition taken by Benita Nnachortam and Natia Ser for F Newsmagazine.

Titled, “Where your heart meets mine”, Juniper Zuniga’s sculpture was one of the three-dimensional artworks displayed at the exhibition. Photography by Benita Nnenna Nnachortam.

 

Artist Marley J. Anderson painted the figures of many influential women whose contributions were erased from history. Photograph by Natia Ser.

 

Through “The Placid Ladies,” artist Sammy Lam depicted women’s softness and strength. Photograph by Benita Nnenna Nnachortam.

 

For “Eternity – Coloratura” (on the wall) and “Song for me” (on the floor), artist Kevin Emmanuel took inspiration from his fascination with space and planetary bodies. Photograph by Natia Sar.

 

“Four Little Swans, 2022” by Jeremy Plotkin Wong was a ceramic artwork coated with glaze. The artist also used false eyelashes and nail paint in their work. Photograph by Benita Nnenna Nnachortam.

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Moving Pictures: “The Menu” Serves

By Entertainment, Series 22

Movie still from “The Menu” (2022) featuring Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy.

Our tongue is a powerful, boneless muscle, more akin to the octopus’ tentacle than our own biceps. It’s incredibly strong, and one of the most sensitive parts of the body, covered with thousands of receptor cells that work to extract flavor from our food and send a signal to our brain.

But for all its skill, the tongue is no accounting for taste. No matter how delicate the taste buds, how strong the muscle, or how many hours were poured into the meal on the plate, nothing can make someone appreciate a flavor they don’t like.

Thankfully, director Mark Mylod’s newest film, “The Menu,” has a little something for everyone. There’s drama, there’s jokes, there’s an edge, there’s bite, there’s bitterness, sourness, and in the tiniest morsels, the slightest trace of sweetness.

In “The Menu,” a critic, an editor, three finance bros, a fading movie star and his assistant, a rich man and his wife, and a foodie and his date dine at an ultra-exclusive restaurant with world-renowned Chef Slowik, played by Ralph Fiennes. But as they eat, it’s clear there’s something else cooking.

I won’t say more than that because so much of what makes “The Menu” such a good time is its twists. Every person at the restaurant has a secret, spilling out in drips as each course is served. It makes for a riveting time, especially with this cast. 

Some of the performances in this film keep the tone light, while others slowly ratchet up the tension. The triumvirate of finance bros played by Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, and Mark St. Cyr are delightful douchebags: smug, entitled, and not used to being denied. Hong Chau is incredible as the maître d’, her smile concealing a deep disdain for her customers all covered by the veneer of hospitality. John Leguizamo is fantastic as a falling star, unable to hold onto his precious personal assistant, played by Aimee Carrero who is eager to escape his shadow. There’s a lightness of touch in the customers, that perhaps contributes to our dislike of them, that’s countered by the much heavier staff.

The film’s three leads have to tow the lines of both light and dark. Nicholas Hoult is hilarious as the pretentious food snob, whose pretensions lose their humor when they become selfish obsessions. Anya Taylor-Joy, the film’s lead, is good as always, biting, charming, and sharp. She’s the primary vehicle through which we understand the restaurant, which also primes us for the other diners’ snobbery. We never buy into the restaurant’s prestige or awe because our main character is actively disinterested. 

This makes for a curious push-and-pull once Chef Slowik enters the picture. As opposed to the trailers, Fiennes is not a conniving Bondian supervillain. He’s a much more sympathetic character than you’d expect, obsessive yes, borderline violent yes, but also you understand the fanaticism. Not because he exudes such charisma, but because his performance as the character is as vulnerable as he is vindictive. It’s a surprisingly tender performance, especially given the extremity we expect from both Fiennes and this character. Fiennes is the anchor for the whole film, and so much of my enjoyment stemmed from watching him chew his lines, playing the character in an understated, surprising way, as opposed to the film’s marketing which made it appear like it would be a cheap Gordon Ramsay impersonation. 

“The Menu” largely doesn’t go for cheap laughs. It has its own sense of humor that works without rupturing the reality or tension of the world. Fans of HBO’s “Succession” will recognize these sensibilities, being familiar with director Mark Mylod, one of the HBO show’s directors and producers. “The Menu,” though less intentional in its depiction of the uber-wealthy, is just as funny as “Succession,” with an excellent sense of timing, all grounded in its characters’ egos. 

People looking for an incisive social satire will be left wanting: “The Menu” is not a robust indictment or portrayal of class politics. It uses that as an excuse to tell its gastronomic story, the loose spine holding it together. Though conceptually it may seem similar to the higher-brow fare of “Midsommar,” it’s actually much more tonally similar to this year’s “Barbarian.” Both “Barbarian” and “The Menu” use current-day issues as an excuse to take its character to darker places, but neither of them make you think deeper about the issues they present. But like with “Barbarian,” what makes “The Menu” pop is its sense of humor, and its willingness to really twist the knife and surprise you.

If “The Menu” is a metaphor for anything, it’s not class. It’s a metaphor for the act of making art. One of the film’s central questions is who owns the work: The viewer? The taster? The consumer? The artist? The creator? The chef? Does the work’s intention cease to exist once it’s been processed by its audiences’ taste buds and eyeballs? And what does that do to the artist who’s put their whole life into pursuing unattainable perfection? All of these questions serve “The Menu” much better than its toothless depiction of class. 

That said, the latter doesn’t do enough to detract from the film’s sense of play; it’s merely in the backdrop, a minor ingredient in a much larger, enjoyable dish, a shallowness overcome by the film’s comedy and its delightful ensemble. So even with its flaws, though “The Menu” may not be tasteful, it sure is tasty.

Myle Yan Tay (MFAW 2023) cares a lot about movies and comic books. One day, maybe they will care about him. Find more of his writing at www.myleyantay.com.

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The Human Cost of the World Cup

By Featured, News 84

Illustration by Shijing Li

A few days ago, I was talking about football (or soccer as Americans like to call it) with my younger brother. I have never been a football fan. Never have I compromised my beauty sleep to watch football matches at midnight. But my brother, who lives in Nepal, is of a different breed. He’s obsessed with the sport. He starts his morning by playing FIFA on his PlayStation. His dream is to play in an international stadium and succeed like his heroes – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

So when we started talking about the 2022 FIFA World Cup, he expressed his excitement. However, I didn’t share the same feeling. I was mad seeing him and the whole world thrilled about something that we all should be collectively angry about.

“How can you watch the World Cup when thousands of Nepali people died and were tortured while building infrastructures for FIFA and Qatar?” I asked him with rage, spilling water over his excitement. 

Every four years, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) organizes a football World Cup tournament which is played among different national teams. Winning the right to host the world cup is a matter of prestige. So in 2010, when Qatar won the rights to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, all eyes were glued on the small nation. Building multiple stadiums in a limited time that could accommodate thousands of fans was a huge task, somehow impossible for the Arab nation. Yet after 12 years, Qatar completed the mammoth task by building eight massive stadiums and infrastructures that can welcome thousands of people worldwide.

As the 2022 FIFA World Cup entered its second week, thousands of people have already sat in these stadiums. In the coming days, more people, some really significant ones, shall sit and cheer for their countries, hoping their team brings the World Cup to their homes. But in those loud cheers, will any remember the cries of migrant workers who died while constructing the stadiums? Will anyone speak for them?

Biggest football tournament. But at whose cost? 

Qatar, a country filled with wealthy sheikhs, mostly imports its laborers. According to Human Rights Watch around 95% of the labor market in Qatar is occupied by migrant workers, who mostly come from the Global South, especially South Asian countries like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Data provided by the Department of Foreign Employment, Nepal, shows that around 184,926 Nepali workers left Nepal for Qatar last year only. However, even if Qatar is a major destination for workers of the Global South, it’s not a comfortable and safe space to work. The extreme heat, the unfair labor laws and the constant exploitation make it difficult for workers to sustain themselves. Perhaps, that’s the reason why almost 6500 migrant workers lost their lives over 10 years since Qatar won the hosting rights. Among those who died, 2100 (almost one-third) were from my country Nepal. Most of these workers had taken loans hoping they would send their hard earned money to their homes. But sadly, they returned to their birthplace in coffins. And those workers who were lucky to survive death faced discrimination, mental abuse and workplace violence, according to an investigation conducted by Equidem, an organization that works for labor rights.

Unfortunately, even after so much evidence of violence and human rights violations, neither FIFA nor Qatar are acknowledging the human loss that took place. None of the deaths that destroyed the families of the workers was investigated. And to add salt to the wounds, instead of empathizing with the families of bereaved souls, both Qatar and FIFA are outright denying the deaths and calling the criticism “unfair.”

“I have difficulties understanding the criticism. We have to invest in helping these people, in education and to give them a better future and more hope. We should all educate ourselves, many things are not perfect, but reform and change takes time,” said Gianni Infantino, President of FIFA, in a press conference held a few days before the first match. He even called all the critics “hypocrites.”

To be honest, I am not surprised by their denial. Where in the world have thieves admitted that they stole something, right? But what makes me angry is the silence of the West over this issue. I know my argument will be dismissed by some of my friends in America, as in the past few weeks, there has been an active discussion about human rights violations in Qatar because of the World Cup. A lot has been reported by the press, which is giving space to the stories of migrant workers and their sufferings. Qatar’s anti-queer policies and other stringent laws are also being widely discussed.

However, Washington, which otherwise loves to lecture on liberty and human rights protection, hasn’t spoken a word to extend its support to the victims. The lack of concern shown by the Biden government, for whom Qatar is a major ally, is disappointing. What also amazes me is that most people in the West are silent. Perhaps, I am expecting too much from people in the West. Though there are reasons for my expectations. The way the West, especially liberals, talk about human rights, makes me think that they are empathetic toward the sorrow of every person out there in the world. The way they try to use every public event to speak about social justice issues led me to think that they care for all kinds of people. The truth is they don’t. Their activism is selective and performative. For them, an “issue” becomes an “issue” only if people like themselves are impacted by it. 

First, whatever is happening in the Global South, those issues and events are never considered serious. I mean, how many Western countries have acknowledged the serious humanitarian crisis caused by the World Cup and its impact on the lives of South Asian people? I know comparing two different situations might seem like a logical fallacy but honestly, people from the West, ask yourselves: Were you even aware of the issue I am raising before you read this article? I am confident that you know about the restrictions set by FIFA for the players to wear ‘One Love’ armbands during the matches. You might have read it or were surrounded by people who talked about it.

However, during those discussions you had in your bars while cheering for your favorite team, did any of you address the issues of migrant workers? When Russia attacked Ukraine, many countries from the Global North released a statement saying they wouldn’t play a sports match against the Russian team. This was their way of showing solidarity with Ukraine, where many people were killed because of the Russian attacks. I know comparing the situation between the Ukrainians and the migrant workers is like comparing apples and oranges. Still, I am forced to make this comparison because of the polarizing reactions of the West and many of its people toward both situations.

When the Guardian reported the misleading statistics of the deaths in Qatar because of the World Cup, why did you still remain silent? Where is the outrage, West. Where is it?

Why is it that a bombing in Paris and a shooting in New Zealand lead you to change your profile picture on Facebook with their flags, but floodings in Pakistan, the spread of Islamophobia in India by the Modi government, and the destruction of Afghani lands make you silent? Why is it that you can hang Ukrainian flags in your homes, buildings and restaurants but can’t speak up for people who are from different races and cultures when we have been facing the same violence? 

Seriously, West, when are you going to take responsibility for the damage you and your colonial ancestors have caused? From looting India during the British Raj, killing three million people by a famine caused by your ‘leader’ Winston Churchill about whose greatness you still make movies, discriminating against the soldiers of Nepali origin who once fought for the colonial queen of England to exploiting Bangladeshi labors who pay price for your cheap clothes, at different epochs of history, you and your ancestors have created pain in our lives that still haunt us.

Not every one of you is shaped by the racist beliefs that your ancestors popularized and have xenophobic attitudes toward us. Some of you are kind and empathize with us because you and us, we are controlled by a group of elites who capitalize on our sufferings. But when something happens to you and your people, we shed tears for them. We have stood for them and have extended our support. We have condemned the violence faced by your civilians. And we also expect the same from you.

I am not saying you should all boycott the World Cup or stop cheering for your countries. But can you acknowledge the pain this World Cup has caused in the lives of the workers and their families?

Ankit Khadgi (MAVCS 2024) is a Nepali queer storyteller based in Chicago. He hates people who eat momo with ketchup and mayonnaise and drink Chai Tea.

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Navigating Between the Floating Worlds

By Arts & Culture 36

Japanese print works have long served as a medium to capture common people’s daily lives, and ukiyo-e (“picture of the floating world”) print is a staple and prominent genre of such. Despite the two-century-long tradition since the seventeenth century, early twentieth-century Japanese artists urged to rejuvenate printing approaches. To record modern urban life better, they made significant changes in terms of printing techniques, subjects, and compositions. 

The exhibition “Recollections of Tokyo: 1923–1945” (July 2, 2022 – September 25, 2022) at the Art Institute of Chicago showcased Japanese printmakers’ contemporaneous attempts. The works also interrogated historical complications experienced by Japanese artists in that period. To exemplify this idea, this article discusses four relevant prints of night scenes to navigate us through the turmoil they encountered.

Deviating from the traditional style, Japanese prints from 1923–1945 emphasized bolder shapes, thicker lines, and a more limited color palette. Instead of inheriting subtle color gradients and fine details from tradition, the printmakers experimented with blobs of colors. Sumio Kawakami’s “Yoru no Ginza” (“Ginza at Night”), part of the “One Hundred Views of New Tokyo” series, is a woodcut print finished in 1929 and printed in 1945 as recut blocks. Kawakami limited his colors to magenta, cyan, brown, black, pale green, and navy blue. This choice loosely resembled the CMYK color model—as one would relate to the influence of the commercial printing process. Compilations of simple shapes, instead of outlines, formed the figures in the print. The shadows and highlights, appearing bold and plain, replaced subtle color gradients in traditional prints. Though “Yoru no Ginza” shares an uncanny resemblance to Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street; Rainy Day” (1877) at the Art Institute, Kawakami’s work cared less about details and perspective. The lack of fine details and depth seemingly pointed toward the quick pace of city life, echoing the Italian futurist aesthetics. The swiftness of urban lifestyle encouraged the bold use of shape to narrate speed, dynamism, and rapid industrialization through technologies. The no-frill design demanded and focused on practicality through undecorated geometric shapes, reminding viewers of the Bauhaus style.

Sumio Kawakami, “Yoru no Ginza,” 1945. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Gustave Caillebotte, “Paris Street; Rainy Day,” 1877. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Besides “Yoru no Ginza,” several other works depicted night scenes in Tokyo. They provided a great hint at technological advancement. Japan had its first known gas light in Yokohama in 1872. The introduction of electricity and outdoor lighting not only lit up the spectacular nightlife, but it also enabled artists to envision night scenes as new sources of inspiration. Oda Kazuma’s “Shinjuku kafe gai” (“The Café District in Shinjuku”) (1930), from the series “Scenery of Shinjuku,” displayed a street scene of neon signs. Truthful to a camera lens or human eyes’ perception at night, the work highlighted the pop-up of neon signs in the darkness. In a low-lit situation, light-emitting objects become the only clear subject. The shadows were skillfully depicted through shades that resembled a fuzzy charcoal drawing.

Oda Kazuma, “Shinjuku kafe gai,” 1930. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Besides the modernized version of Japanese woodblock prints, Oda Kazuma’s involvement in color lithographs, a Western printing technique using flat stone/metal surfaces, is worth mentioning. Kazuma’s “Ginza Senbikiya” (“Senbiki Shop in Ginza”), from the series “Pictures of Ginza, First Series” (1928), was an early example of lithograph in Japan. The pedestrians face away from viewers in the form of rückenfigurs (“figure from the back”). The lack of facial details contrasted highly with traditional prints that featured individual heroic characters, kabuki theatre actors, etc. To illustrate the dim light on the street, Kazuma used a very muted palette that utilized yellow, orange, and brown. He also employed a considerable amount of gray and black to represent shadows in the dark. Another interesting scene was that Kazuma did not depict any actual purchasing scene, but he portrayed the act of window shopping. The lack of buying activity seemed to contradict what one would expect. The glass window of the shop also created a sense of alienation from the pedestrians. This distance is a good twisting point where viewers start questioning if the artist celebrated modern urban life, or whether they were in doubt about accepting Westernization. 

Oda Kazuma, “Ginza Senbikiya,” 1928. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The uncertainty imported by modernization and Westernization created equivocal dynamics among the Japanese people. The Perry Expedition (1853–54) effectively, and forcibly, ended the 220-year isolation of Japan in 1854. Less than one hundred years of the forced opening, Japanese people encountered the dilemma of whether to embrace Westernization or retain the Japanese traditions: some expressed doubt, refusal, and unacceptance of Western culture (as strongly hinted in Natsume Sōseki’s novel “Wagahai wa Neko de Aru” [“I Am a Cat”] in 1905–06), some other attempted to catch up with Western standard and preference. Though the acceptance of Western culture became inevitable, this approach was further complicated by the involvement of the Japanese Empire in World War II. Japanese printmakers, besides continuing their fondness for representing daily lives, also examined their ambiguous and confusing psyche through introspection.

In Senpan Maekawa’s “Shinjnku no yo” (“Night of Shinjuku”) (1945) from the series “Scenes of Last Tokyo,” the rückenfigur in coat hints the artist’s introspection through the period of unrest and trauma from the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. Though the protagonist appears in the center, the figure is facing a cluster of modern buildings, a lighthouse, factories, an electrical tower, and power lines. There is also a car driving away from the scene, leaving only the very rear part visible. The print is mainly black and white, with a dash of red highlighting the fence and tower; also a trace of blue on the buildings and the car. Instead of mingling on a crowded street, this lone man confronts what he is facing, a city developed under a heavy foreign influence. Though the work shows the quick recovery from the devastating earthquake, the new cityscape also loses the reference to traditional Japanese architecture. The interpretation of this print remains ambivalent—did Maekawa simply outline how a modern metropolitan would look like, or did he question the direction and take that the Japanese had to decide moving forward?

Senpan Maekawa, “Shinjnku no yo,” 1945. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The prints in this exhibition belonged to the Sōsaku-hanga (“creative prints”) movement. This school of thought opened up new ways for Japanese printmakers to become individualistic for the art’s sake through “self-drawn” (jiga), “self-carved” (jikoku) and “self-printed” (jizuri)—contrary to the traditional printing practice as a collective. The overloading of Western influence and unsettling wartime, however, also facilitated “self-doubt” and “self-inquisition.” Prints assuredly affirmed as practical snapshots of urban lives. They also documented the early twentieth-century Japanese artists’ effort and experience of way-finding under the inexorable influence of modernization and Westernization. 

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Fall 2023 Schedule Change 

By Featured, SAIC 118

Illustration by Shu Yin (Kitty) Lai.

In Fall of 2023, SAIC will implement the first schedule change at the school in decades. Records of SAIC’s current schedule layout go back as far as 1984. What will these changes look like? Why did the change occur? What caused the change, what can we expect to see next fall, and how are people feeling about it?

What’s changing

  • Studio classes are now shortened from six hours of in-class time to five hours. Academic classes are now shortened from three hours to two hours and forty-five minutes.
  • The start of class times is now staggered. Morning academic classes start at 8:30 a.m. and go to 11:15 a.m. and morning studio classes begin at 9 a.m. and go until 3 p.m. with lunch between 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. These staggered times allow for one more academic class to be taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays (four classes in total offered) and as well as for one more full, five-hour studio class to be taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.
  • On Monday and Wednesday from 3:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., there will be “Open Time.” Open Time can be used for homework, studio access (by the department’s discretion), rest, and student programming/a time for student groups to meet. 
  • There will be no required Saturday classes, though departments can still opt to offer classes on Saturday.

What’s the same

  • For students who love a full day studio class, studios will still be offered, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. instead of the current 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Students will still have the opportunity to take a “split studio” class in the evenings. However, instead of running from 6  p.m. to 9 p.m., they will run from 6:45 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. and are only offered on Monday and Wednesday.

Schedule changes were first seriously discussed as part of NEXT: SAIC Strategic Plan. In 2017, NEXT invited students and faculty to a gathering in the MacLean ballroom to share ideas for changes they’d like to see around the school. Over the course of the next few years, a committee was formed, run by Paul Jackson (Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies), the other associate dean at that time, and Ayanah Moor (Associate Professor, Printmedia), to look into schedule changes to help envision a better version of SAIC for students and faculty. Jackson shared that NEXT’s goal was “re-imagining time to re-invigorate learning.”

In the spring of 2020 all classes abruptly moved online. Over the next few semesters, classes gradually returned to campus. During this transitional period the school ended its relationship renting classroom space from Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. Pre-pandemic, dozens of courses were hosted in Spertus’ building. Without that space the school found that classes had to be held online, not only because of the need for online classes, but also because there was not enough physical space on campus to host classes for full-enrollment. The school decided to not reinstate their relationship with Spertus due to the costs of renting space.

This space problem re-ignited the interest in other campus-wide changes that had been discussed as a part of NEXT. The schedule change ideas discussed in years prior seemed particularly relevant. 

This schedule change does not mean an end to SAIC’s offerings of online classes. Jackson hopes that the new schedule change will give the option to offer all classes in person if chosen. However, Jacksonstated, “[It] doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have online courses. But we want online courses out of the pandemic to be an opportunity to make a really cool innovative curriculum.” 

Provost Martin Berger said, “Had we not introduced a schedule change next year — at a time when our enrollment has made a significant recovery and when more and more students are returning to campus to study in-person — we would have been forced to put classes online simply because we lacked space and not because it made sense to teach particular classes in an online format.”

Three focus groups with students were conducted in the fall of 2022: undergraduate students facilitated by the Office of Student Affairs, student government representatives, and students who had ties to the Wellness Center. 

Kate Snider (BFA 2025) was part of one of the focus groups. Snider said, “We did suggest having shorter studios for subjects like figure drawing. It’s extremely taxing and not everyone can stay focused that long, and if it’s shorter there are more opportunities for people to take the classes they want.” 

Many students were not invited to any of these focus groups. With institutional memory turning over quickly in an academic setting where students graduate every four years, on top of the isolation from the pandemic, most current students have never heard of NEXT. The fact that some students were consulted hasn’t lessened a feeling from many current students that they weren’t given the opportunity to voice their concerns with the current schedule and give suggestions for the new one.

Jackson noted, “The things that students have said about what has been lacking in the curriculum has been consistent for decades. I don’t dispute that each class of students has their own unique point of view. There are some concerns that because we have contact with students, year in year out, we know they are big ones.” 

A primary goal with the new schedule is to optimize space to allow for more class offerings and more balance between class time and personal time. Students struggle to get into classes and many students find that balance between work and school with the current schedule is a problem. With more courses being offered as well as breaks built into the schedule with Open Time some of these problems will hopefully be alleviated. Provost Berger said, “The changes are motivated by a commitment to improving the student experience — giving more course choice, providing greater access to shops and labs outside of class, offering more in-demand courses, and providing students more time for advising, counseling, jobs, and their outside lives.” In a Monday to Friday week, there is currently room for seven full-day studio courses in any given classroom. With the schedule revision, eight classes could be offered over the course of a week, a 14% increase in class space availability. For half-day classes, the current fourteen spots would increase to seventeen spots, a 21% increase of class capacity. There aren’t plans to fill every space to maximum capacity but the schedule change certainly leaves room for more classes to be added as well as spaces to not be at full capacity throughout the week.

What will the impact on tuition look like if the in-class hours are reduced? One part-time faculty member, who chose to remain anonymous here for fear of retaliation shared, “The administration cited the financial burden on students [for the change], but as far as I know students will be paying the same or more tuition for less time under faculty instruction and fewer required credits — arguably, a lot of what they’re in school for.” 

On Nov. 30th, President Elissa Tenny and Provost Martin Berger sent an email announcing that tuition will remain flat for the 2023-24 academic year.

Regardless of the actual number on the bill some students are already feeling frustrated. “My money will no longer go as far as it used to. I feel like my time is being stolen and traded,” said Kirsten Kibler (BFA 2024). An undergraduate who starts in the fall of 2023 will spend 16.67% less time in studio classes and 8.33% less time in academic courses than students who have previously completed 4 year BFA degrees. However, shorter class hours will not cut faculty’s pay, according to an email sent to faculty.

Illustration by Shu Yin (Kitty) Lai.

Illustration by Shu Yin (Kitty) Lai.

The current reaction around the schedule change in the student body is mixed. Some students are concerned that classes start earlier into the morning and end later at night. Poor attendance in morning classes was pointed at in relation to morning academic classes starting a half-hour earlier. Of 8:30 a.m. classes, Casey O’Connor (BFA 2024) shared, “I already have a really difficult time getting to nine a.m. classes without arriving feeling exhausted and out of energy before class even starts, and this would only worsen that.” Students who are commuters and live off campus said they are concerned about arriving for classes earlier in the morning and getting home safe for classes offered later in the night. Kristen Lee (BFA 2023), shared, “A lot of people, myself included, don’t take night classes because I don’t live on campus. It’s not safe to roam around at night and Safe Ride is a joke. This schedule doesn’t take into consideration people who commute at all.”

Other students are excited about the changes and the way they’ll free up time during the week. Students of all years struggle to get into the classes and having the chance for more class offerings on campus gives students a better shot at getting the classes they desire. With less time spent in class, students will presumably have more time for jobs and socializing as well. Tyler Herson (BFA 2025) shared, “I’m really hopeful that more options for morning and afternoon only studio classes will allow me to have a better balance between school and work.”

Is this schedule completely set in stone? When asked what would happen if the changes weren’t serving students, Berger said that the schedule change was open to adjustments in consultation with students, faculty, and staff. “I want to give it a shot,” said Kyla (BFA 2025), who was a part of one of the Fall 2022 focus groups. “I do really hope it’s for the best.” 

Teddie Bernard (BFA 2023) is the Comics Editor at F Newsmagazine. They have never had a Pepsi.

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Moving Pictures: It’s “Armageddon Time”

By Entertainment, Series 39

“Armageddon Time” (2022), image from IMDB.

Writer-director James Gray’s latest film, “Armageddon Time” is named after the Willi Williams 1977 reggae hit, “Armagideon Time.” It’s a surprisingly dramatic name that conjures up images of apocalypse and destruction more than it does the erstwhile friendship of two young twelve-year-old  boys in 1980 New York City. When I heard the name, I expected something slightly more cosmic, more akin to Gray’s prior work in 2019’s “Ad Astra,” which sent Brad Pitt into space, chasing his missing father. “Ad Astra,” or “Star Dad” as I call it, was one of my surprise favorites that year, a thoughtful, meditative exploration of familial ties and masculine emotional repression, stealthily packaged with some interstellar box office sheen. But in “Armageddon Time,” Gray stays close to Earth, specifically, Queens, in part fleeing the technical requirements of high-concept films, but largely because the film is inspired by Gray’s own childhood. This is Gray’s adolescence, warts and all.

Still, the question remains: What is the armageddon? What is the impending doom? What do the films’ characters fear? As it turns out, they don’t fear so much the end of the world, so much as they fear the future. 

There’s the national future, the crisis of the American Dream coming to a head, as the USA is about to elect Ronald Reagan into power. Is nuclear war on the horizon? Will American race relations regress? The eternal dinner table question: what is this country coming to? Then, there’s the familial future. What will come of the next generation? Will they rise to the challenge, will they surpass their predecessors? Importantly for the Graffs, a Jewish family in Queens, will they remember where they came from? What they have fled? And then there’s the child’s future. The twelve-year-old Paul Graff, played by Banks Repeta, who feels the expectations of his family, of his nation, still having no idea who he is, but seeing who everyone wants him to be. And there’s his best friend, Johnny Davis, played by Jaylin Webb, a young black boy who is ignored by his nation, who has nobody in his corner, and who nobody wants to succeed.

And like many twelve-year-olds under extreme pressure, Paul and Johnny rebel. 

There’s a temptation with autobiography to either criticize the younger self too harshly or give them too much leeway. Gray doesn’t do that. Gray understands that if we focus close enough on a person, we can see who they are, their flaws, their messiness, without neglecting the system that exists beside them, behind them, and in the periphery. “Armageddon Time” acknowledges the systemic privileges he was accorded and his complete inability to fight back. The film doesn’t make excuses for Paul. It doesn’t try to forgive, nor absolve. It just shows us things as they were. 

The politics of “Armageddon Time” are harder to parse because it isn’t a neat coming-of-age story, where Paul learns the follies of his ways and comes into his own. Nor is it a film that seeks to condemn young Paul for his cowardice and blindness. I don’t doubt that some viewers will look for that moral, and accuse the movie of making Johnny a stepping stone for Paul’s growth. But Paul doesn’t even really grow, despite the attempts of his parents.

Playing those tired, weary, and well-meaning parents are two titans of acting, Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong. Gray doesn’t want us to look at these fictionalized versions of his parents and judge them. Instead, we see them as he sees them now: as people who were simply trying to do their best when they had no idea what that could be. Hathaway and Strong both load their performances with that complexity; they are trying with Paul, but they have their limits. They want to be better, they want Paul to be better, but no one really knows what better means. 

Sometimes in acting, actors choose to Act with a capital A. Ego drives their choices more than the character, and we lose ourselves in the image of the actor performing, instead of the character they are inhabiting. It becomes about showing us what they can do rather than what the character deserves. Anthony Hopkins steers clear of any such notions, playing Paul’s grandfather as completely and utterly human. There isn’t that melodramatic spark, that theatrical lean that we all know Hopkins is adept at. Instead, he plays Paul’s grandfather as a full human, contradictions and all. Whenever he tells Paul a story, he is telling Paul the story. The audience is a bystander. We are observers witnessing, not Anthony Hopkins perform, but Aaron Rabinowitz imparting a lesson on his young grandson. He’s sometimes sage, sometimes goofy. He is a man who has seen the world shift by him, a world he will leave to his children and grandchildren. Hopkins practically disappears underneath Aaron Rabinowitz. 

Paul’s grandfather is described as “the heart of the family,” the one who keeps everything together. This is true of the film: Hopkins is the emotional core of the film that everyone else revolves around. For that same reason, when his character’s presence is less felt, especially in the later parts of the film, the narrative becomes a little listless. Perhaps this is intentional, because now like Paul, we are without our anchor. It’s successful in that, but the byproduct is that we start wondering where this film is going, if it’s going to take us anywhere.

Like with “Ad Astra,” Gray isn’t interested in the endpoint. It’s about the changes or realizations along the way. And we realize “Armageddon Time” is about privilege, not just what it affords us but what it obscures. Paul’s Jewish heritage makes his family the subject of discrimination. But it also blinds them to the oppression of others and can even enable their prejudices. That siege mentality makes them defensive, eager to claim what they’ve earned. And again, Gray doesn’t show us this to condemn them. We understand where their blindness stems from, and we see the damage it does. We can make our own assessments of them. But Gray won’t. 

That even-handedness may frustrate some viewers who want more moralizing in this autobiography. But actually, even-handedness isn’t quite the right term. That suggests centrism, that the film is equivocating between racism and non-racism. It doesn’t do that. The appearance of Fred Trump (John Diehl) and Maryanne Trump (Jessica Chastain), benefactors of Paul’s elite private school makes it clear where Gray sits. He makes no qualms about the Trumps who both claim they fought for their spot even though their “struggle” is miles apart from Johnny’s struggle to stay housed or the violence Paul’s forebearers ran from. 

But where Paul’s family was endangered and dismissed in the past, Johnny is harmed in the present. He’s belittled by his teachers, prematurely judged by the authorities, and put down by other black men. Armageddon is coming for Paul, but for Johnny, Armageddon is already here. Willi Williams wasn’t singing about the future. He was singing about the present.

“A lot of people won’t get no justice tonight

Remember to kick it over

No one will guide you

It’s armagideon time.”

— Willi Williams, 1977

Myle Yan Tay (MFAW 2023) cares a lot about movies and comic books. One day, maybe they will care about him. Find more of his writing at www.myleyantay.com.

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