Leave the Library and Dance for Free in NYC

By Ruby Samuels

One of the gifts of New York City is the ability to escape your personal worried world. Just by leaving the library you can lose yourself, often just for the cost of subway fare, into another world for the afternoon.

As a Columbia University student, you might pass by people of a dozen different nationalities, professions and political opinions on every blustery morning that you make your way to class, coffee in hand, back braced against pack. Perhaps you live off campus in Spanish Harlem or even Queens, where there are immigrants who make you feel, with their languages and food and sidewalk expressions of life, as though you are in another part of the world. But do you really experience those people and the knowledge that they have to offer? No matter where you live or who you are, I still think that you should take advantage of the free trial multi-cultural dance classes that are offered by studios all over New York City. If not for the cultural experience, then for the mental and physical therapy that every student at Columbia University needs. Read More »

Concerts to Attend this Semester in the City!

Don't forget to have fun this semester!
Don’t forget to have fun this semester!

By Victoria Fourman

It’s the middle of October, and by now we’re all well settled in to the school year, but don’t let that keep you from having fun out in the city! One of the best parts of going to college in NYC is proximity to concerts by any and every artist. Take a musical break from Morningside Heights and check out one of thse concerts during the rest of the semester!

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Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

By Laura K. Garrison

You can’t go outside without seeing these ads

It seems only yesterday it was the summer of 2012, a time when you couldn’t enter a subway car or take a walk on the beach without seeing someone unabashedly reading a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey in public. The internet was collectively obsessed with the Twilight fan-fiction that had for some unfathomable reason garnered enough attention to warrant a book deal, analyzing everything from its sexual politics to the cultural ramifications of its popularity to the cringe-worthiness of its prose. Almost three years later, it appears the internet is experiencing déjà vu, as article upon article about the film adaptation of the first book in the Fifty Shades trilogy inundates my Facebook Newsfeed. Love it or hate it, American popular culture is about as obsessed with Fifty Shades as Christian Grey is with Ana Steele.

I’ll admit to reading about 2 ½ books of the trilogy before giving up out of boredom. And while by no measure would I suggest that Fifty Shades is in any way high (or even decent) literature, the books were a fun beach read for my friends and I during the first weeks of summer spent recuperating from college finals. So with some sort of investment in the series, I escaped the bitter cold last Friday night by seeing Fifty Shades of Grey in theaters. After reading for months about how the film lacked chemistry, cohesion, and, perhaps most importantly, significant sex scenes, my expectations were low. But for this fact, I might have been disappointed. And while Fifty Shades of Grey is certainly not a good movie, like its source material it’s passably entertaining.

I was partially interested in seeing the film on its opening night to catch a glimpse of its audience. Fifty Shades has earned its reputation as being “mommy porn” most popular in the Bible belt states. In the cosmopolitan city of New York City, where people can take advantage of any number of cultural pursuits on any given night, the middle-aged mom demographic was present, but not overwhelming. The majority of the people in the crowd appeared to be like me: young women in their twenties ready for a girls’ night out with their friends. There were a significant number of couples in the audience, though most of the men in attendance seemed to be putting on a brave face or at the very least coolly disinterested. Most surprisingly, there were a number of young children occupying seats, inexplicably accompanying their parents to see a film based on a BDSM-tinged erotic romance novel. Please parents, invest in a babysitter.

As for the film itself, the early reviews were right: there is virtually no chemistry between the two leads, Dakota Johnson and Jaime Dornan. While there’s no doubt that Dornan is attractive enough to play the handsome, “fifty shades of fucked up” billionaire Christian Grey, his performance was often forced and conveyed little of the raw, damaged sex appeal that appealed to the trilogy’s fans on paper. Dornan is at his sexiest when he climbs into bed and takes a bite out of a piece of toast in Ana’s hands; no wonder Last Week Tonight with John Oliver began their #notmyChristian campaign. Dornan was not the first choice for the role, which had initially been awarded to Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam, but he appeared to be the better fit (Hunnam seems too rugged to play the more refined Christian Grey). With film adaptations of Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed coming in the not-too-distant future, here’s to hoping that Dornan can pick up the slack.

Dakota Johnson, on the other hand, simply stole the show. Her character Anastasia “Ana” Steele is perhaps the blandest, most pathetic female character to ever grace the pages of a novel, both due to the fact that she is loosely based upon Bella Swan from Twilight and the hope that readers could easily insert themselves into the story in her place. Despite having very little material to work with, Johnson’s portrayal is fresh and funny, overshadowing Dornan’s lacking intensity. She’s particularly amusing during a scene in which Ana drunk calls Christian and endows Ana with an uncharacteristic determination and decisiveness when she negotiates the terms of her Dom/sub contract with Christian. While the books certainly focused more on the character development of Christian, Johnson’s performance makes the movie about Ana. Though all references to Ana’s inner goddess and subconscious have been removed for the film, she’s still excessively biting her lip.

For a film based upon a romance novel, Fifty Shades of Grey has only a handful of sex scenes, most of which feature light bondage and are about as scandalous as your average HBO fare. There is ample nudity from Dakota Johnson, including slight glimpses of full pubic hair. Dornan’s abs and butt make several welcome appearances, but the lack of full frontal male nudity, especially in comparison to the film’s frequent female nudity, is disappointing, particularly in a film predominantly marketed towards women and directed by a woman, Sam Taylor-Johnson. The middle of the film is slow and relies too heavily on dialogue between Ana and Christian, while much of the plot from the book is condensed or cut. The film would have benefitted from more time given to other characters, particularly Grace Grey, Christian’s overbearing mother played by Marcia Gay Harden. The film has a Twilight-esque feel to it, especially during a scene in which Christian and Ana wander through a forest while he talks about his past. The most dramatic moments are in the final minutes, when the reality of Christian’s sexual needs pushes Ana to leave him. As the elevator door closes between them, they say each other’s names as they did when they first met before the screen goes black.

All in all, the film is a set-up for the next installment, and the ending may be the only point at which the audience feels truly invested in the storyline. Considering the quality of the Fifty Shades trilogy, the film was better than expected but will probably have little appeal for those unfamiliar with the books. The subtle humor in the film, much of it from Dakota Johnson, was welcome and gave the movie a self-awareness it desperately needed. The best part of the film is undoubtedly the soundtrack, which features The Weeknd’s “Earned It” and a remix of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” used in the first trailer. While projections suggest that Fifty Shades of Grey will be a huge box office success, there’s much improvement to be made for the second and third films. Until then, as Christian would say, “Laters, baby.”

Laura K. Garrison is a Senior at Barnard College and the Senior Editor of The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of comingsoon.net

Athena Film Festival Movie Review: Out in the Night

By Mariah Castillo

Warning: this contains spoilers!

The New Jersey 4

The 2015 Athena Film Festival had an amazing line-up of movies. One that especially stood out to me was Out in the Night, a documentary by Blair Dorosh-Walther. Dorosh-Walther delves into the story of the New Jersey 4, a group of friends who, in 2006, were sent to prison after defending themselves from a violent catcaller. Typically, when people reasonably act in self-defense, they at most receive lighter sentences. These four young women were sentenced to up to 11 years in prison, serving longer than others who’ve intentionally committed even graver acts. Why were these women treated differently?

The answer: they are queer women of color.

Renata, Patreese, Venice, and Terrain grew up in a bad neighborhood in New Jersey. Their families were accepting when they came out, and they would often go to the West Village together to meet other members of the LGBTQ community. One night, they and three other friends were hanging out, when a man in front of a store started catcalling them. One of the women, Patreese, told him that they were gay, but after finding out that they were lesbians, the man made comments such as “I’d fuck you straight,” and started getting even more violent. It all escalated to the point that the man was stabbed. The group was arrested, and when they went to court, Renata, Terrain, Venice, and Patreese all pled not guilty.

The whole incident and the trial caused a firestorm in the media. Newspapers, magazines, and TV anchors identified them as a “gang,” “raging Lesbians,” and even “wolf pack.” A few of the media talked about the catcaller in passing, if at all. The judge in their case misled the jury, and the four women received, among others, charges that included “Gang Assault,” even though they weren’t part of a gang at all.

Seeing the trial and the media backlash, it was impossible to not get angry. Now the four women have to go to prison, and their families have to cope. Seeing how each person reacted was difficult to watch. There were a lot of tears shed (by the people in the documentary and by the audience- or just me). One could hear the gasps and outcries by the members of the audience when even more devastating revelations came to light. Dorosh-Walther was able to film starting from when the four women were appealing their cases to when Patreese was finally released from prison. The New Jersey 4 were seen trying to lead a normal life, trying to find employment and a place to live with a criminal record. Despite the obstacles, Renata, Terrain, Venice, and Patreese are all determined to succeed in their future endeavors.

The audience applauded loudly for the movie, and gave Renata, Terrain, and Patreese a standing ovation when they sat on stage with Dorosh-Walther for the Q & A. Aside from answering one painstakingly awkward question about why Dorosh-Walther, as a white person, felt hesitant to tell the story of queer women of color (which she answered flawlessly), the Q & A was handled very well. Renata, Terrain, and Patreese are some of the funniest people to have the floor at Barnard 304. They mixed humor with their deep answers, and they continued to inspire the audience when the whole event was over. They each took the time to talk to those who went up to them. I was literally star struck!

As one person commented, for a project that started in the mid-2000’s, the cinematography was of pretty high quality. Sometimes the transitions between words and clips were a bit abrupt, but it never detracted from the whole experience.

Out in the Night is one of those movies you think about long afterwards. The emotions it evoked helped highlight the injustice queer women of color are at risk of facing every day. For a movie that was featured at 9PM on a Saturday night, the full house and the energetic, engaged audience showed how much of an impact it has made.

Mariah Castillo is a Junior at Barnard College and the Editor-in-Chief of The Nine Ways of Knowing

Image courtesy of indiewire.com

For more information on the film, visit the official website.

Obvious Child Movie Review

by Clara Butler

If you haven’t watched Obvious Child yet, you’re missing out!

I’m going to start out by saying that I absolutely love this movie. I love this movie so much that I went to the Athena Film Festival to see it AGAIN because this movie is perfection. As a lover of rom-coms but also strong, female protagonists, this movie was exactly what I wanted it to be without playing into the usual tropes that frame women as solely defined by their relationship with men. This movie was the complete opposite of the “manic pixie dream girl” that shows up all too often in male driven rom-coms where the girl only exists to change the man’s perspective in some way rather than being her own fully functional human being.

Jenny Slate absolutely kills it as Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian who gets dumped by her cheating boyfriend and after a one-night stand, realizes that she’s pregnant. While Obvious Child has been dubbed “an abortion comedy”, this movie is so much more than its important political undertones. Although the movie does center around her decision to get an abortion, it’s more about a life of a woman who is trying to figure everything out and who wants both a career doing what she loves and a guy who isn’t going to treat her like shit. She also has a strong support system around her, something that is often lacking in movies, since her best friend is there for her every step of the way and both her parents are supportive of her decision. But it is super important that we finally see something that is common, yet taboo, in society played out on screen and represented in an inherently feminist way.

What really makes this movie shine though is its relatability. Unlike Frances Ha and other movies that depict that weird in-between time where you still feel like a kid but are expected to act like an adult, Obvious Child frames this “figuring it out” stage as awkward but beautiful and shows that although every one has faults and makes mistakes, they are still lovable and inherently human. Even though Donna doesn’t always make the best choices or isn’t always the most sane person, she’s still hilarious and has a great heart. Jenny Slate does a great job at letting us into Donna’s head a little because although she might make a bad choice (like hiding from the guy she obviously likes), we know exactly why she’s doing it because we both know and can relate to her every step of the way.

After the movie, the director had a Q and A that provided great insights into the process of making Obvious Child. Gillian Robespierre was a lot younger than I expected but she was just as witty and smart as the character she created on screen. Wearing an oversized sweater (much like the one that Donna wore throughout the movie), she answered questions about working with Jenny Slate, if there were any protests to the movie, and what she was working on now. Basically, Gillian saw Jenny Slate doing stand-up one night (at the same kind of place they show in the movie) and knew that she would be perfect for the short film that eventually became the feature film. Five years later, Jenny Slate starred in the film and did end up helping write some of the lines. There weren’t any protests that Gillian had heard of and the film had a warm reception at its initial premiere, not surprising since it was an underrated masterpiece that I encourage everyone to see right this minute.

If you want to check out Jenny Slate, she did a hilarious interview where she talks about her time at Columbia and here is a link to Gillian Robespierre’s twitter so you can be updated about her (awesome) current projects.

Clara Butler is a Junior at Barnard College and is the Girl Talk, Opinions, and New York Editor of The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of Obvious Child‘s official Tumblr page