April 26, 2018 | Arts and Culture
looking back on the ivy film fesitval
post- recaps the six feature film premieres
Directed by Shia LaBeouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö, and Luke Turner, available to watch on Vimeo
Shia LaBeouf just wants to make friends. His 2016 piece, #TAKEMEANYWHERE, is a 44-minute documentary made with Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner that follows the trio as they spend a month “hitchhiking the internet”—tweeting out their location and letting random people pick them up and drop them off. As they criss-cross their way across the country, they meet a motley crew of white people that share their dreams, fears, and histories with the camera. The result is a fragmented testament to the power of human connection that sways between genuine sentimentality and incoherence.
The ultimate failure of the film is that its driving force is A Famous Person Doing Funny Shit rather than the very humanism it posits as the cure to the woes of celebrity and technology. Not that I’m complaining. Shia’s onscreen magnetism and physical presence in the theater (Salomon 101) were amazing and hilarious. Seeing Shia at some kid’s baseball game or dancing in the backseat of a Camry made for some pretty good cinema. This type of cinema is not the point of the movie. The film works against itself, for in the end, Shia’s at-times beautiful, human work only serves to put him back on display, this time in front of a bunch of Brown students who would just “love to talk more after the screening.” – Julian Castronovo
Directed by Betsy West ’73 and Julie Cohen, will be released May 4 on HBO
In their crisp and flattering film, Cohen and West move beyond the meme to educate audiences about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Among the surprises of the film is its substantial focus on RBG’s loving marriage with Martin Ginsburg, who died in 2010. It was Martin who helped raise their two kids and took over the domestic duties so that RBG could spend long nights working away on law briefs and cases. This egalitarian marriage did more than a fair share to inspire RBGs role in second-wave feminism. Before she was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton, RBG co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU and argued two Supreme Court cases, Frontiero v. Richardson (1973) and Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld (1975), that helped establish precedents against gender discrimination under the U.S. Constitution. Whenever a male Supreme Court Justice made a sexist remark, she told herself “never to [reply in] anger” and to keep calm by “thinking about daughters and granddaughters.”
If, as RBG said in her 1993 confirmation hearing, “real change happens one step at a time,” RBG also asks why efforts to secure reproductive rights, increase female representation, and fight pay discrimination seem to have made so little progress in the last 50 years. RBG’s friendship with the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia emerges as a particularly anarchistic tendency of a time when liberals and conservatives could forget what they were fighting over. Cohen and West’s film brushes aside criticism that RBG should have retired when President Obama could have replaced her. This what-if will be a historical footnote, unless RBG dies in the next few years with Trump still in office. The right-wing turn of the Supreme Court would then make RBG a far more painful watch. As monumental as RBG’s contribution to U.S. law may be, her legacy is anything but secure. – Josh Wartel
On Chesil Beach
Directed by Dominic Cooke, will be released May 18
The opening scene of Dominic Cooke’s film On Chesil Beach, based on Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name, features newlyweds Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan) walking down a stretch of the titular beach conversing happily amidst the sound of crashing waves. The scene is idyllic. The backdrop picturesque. But I couldn’t help but fixate on how uncomfortable it probably was for Ronan to walk on the pebble beach in her flats. I could almost feel the individual stones digging painfully into the soles of her shoes—the secondhand discomfort preventing me from being fully taken by the beauty of the moment. However, I didn’t realize how apt my awareness of both the beauty and the painful reality of the scene was until Cooke discussed his views of the movie in the Q&A session that preceded the IFF screening.
Describing On Chesil Beach as an anti-nostalgia film, Cooke said that the movie breaks the contract established by a history of British period films that depict the past as lovely—instead challenging the general notion some people have that the past is better than the present by illustrating how such a judgment depends on the perspective from which the past is considered.
The film’s plot further compliments this theme of subverting preconceived notions of the ideal. Set in 1962, the movie follows Edward and Florence as they navigate the first night of their honeymoon: a time in one’s life that’s typically idealized. The film, however, quickly makes clear that Edward and Florence’s night will be far from perfect as the two characters—both sexually inexperienced—are ridden with anxiety over their upcoming consummation.
Both Howle and Ronan give compelling performances. Edward’s eagerness and insecurity translates into a series of fumbling advances that the hesitant and subtly terrified Florence tries to avoid. This makes for a mix of comical and excruciating scenes that ultimately suggest there’s more to Florence’s evasions than her inexperience. Although those who have read the book will find that the film’s ending is not as open-ended, Cooke’s adaptation provides a cathartic conclusion and raises important issues of class, sexuality, and societal expectations that are worth considering. – Celina Sun
We The Animals
Directed by Jeremiah Zagar, will be released in 2018
This past Friday, a superstitious Friday the 13th, the Ivy Film Festival started off its weekend events with an advanced screening of We the Animals, a mesmerizing queer coming-of-age story focused on Jonah (Evan Rosado), the youngest of three brothers, and his family. Based on the book of the same name by author Justin Torres, the film has been a hit with critics and audiences, receiving the 2018 Sundance NEXT Innovator Award. Powerful, efficient, and raw, We the Animals garners many comparisons to Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight. Jonah and his brothers are close as can be when the film begins, spending most of the day together as their parents sleep in sunlight after working night shifts. They share an unbreakable bond but also come to cherish simple moments with their mother (Sheila Vand) and father (Raul Castillo).
The telling of the family dynamics is particularly impressive. As Jonah’s brothers, Manny (Isaiah Kristian) and Joel (Josiah Gabriel), slowly become more like their father, we begin to see how Jonah is different from them, a little more sensitive and introspective. The film also introduces a way of storytelling rarely seen. The film is structured around voiceover narration from Jonah, as well as animations, which we later learn are drawings of Jonah’s own imagination. These drawings, scribbles, and storybook-tellings serve as magnificent scene transitions and allow room to show the ruminations and questions going through Jonah’s mind.
As Jonah grows older with his brothers, as they shoplift or horse around, the disconnect between the ways Jonah and his brothers see the world expands, and alienation grows. One of the most sentimental moments for Jonah is when he and his brothers huddle under a blanket and chant, “body heat” repeatedly. It is the world under this blanket, Jonah’s life, that We the Animals explores and the one Jonah can’t escape. Add this to your watch list for 2018—few films are as universal, meditative, and focused as We the Animals. – Zander Kim
Directed by Bo Burnham, will be released July 13
Only a decade ago, Mason, the protagonist of Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated Boyhood (2014), complained that girls weren’t interested in seeing any of the top three movies of the summer, The Dark Knight, Tropic Thunder, and Pineapple Express. In Eighth Grade, the story of the last few weeks of 13-year-old Kayla Day (Elise Fisher)’s middle school experience, there isn’t a movie to be found. Kayle spends much of her time on Instagram, Snapchat, and, especially, YouTube, where she has a channel of advice videos. Eighth Grade is Burnham’s first feature; he is best known as a comedian on YouTube and Netflix. What new ground Eighth Grade breaks is entirely in contemporary pop culture; comic relief comes from an off-screen boy who can’t stop saying: “Lebronnnnn James.”
While Eighth Grade will garner comparisons to last year’s breakout hit Lady Bird, Burnham’s protagonist is more vulnerable and scared than Lady Bird. Kayla is dealing with all the typical problems of middle-school, only worse; she has few close friends, little confidence, and pines after a cool boy, Aiden, in a Steph Curry jersey. A high school girl, Olivia (Emily Robinson), takes Kayla under her wing, but her best friend, Riley (Daniel Zolghadri), tries to coerce her past her comfort zone. In a vein that recalls Call Me By Your Name, Eighth Grade climaxes with a father-daughter conversation. It may be hard for Kayla to see now, but one day, middle school will be just a distant memory. – Josh Wartel
directed by Daveed Diggs ‘04, will be released July 27th
Daveed Diggs talked to me for 98 seconds last Saturday, but that’s not the only reason I’m going to remember Blindspotting for a long time. Its deft navigation of tone and a hilarious scene involving mesmerizing salesmanship, hair straighteners, and the words “Fuck Alfred Hitchcock” continue to stand out. Blindspotting follows Collin (Diggs), a man coming out of his probation period, during his (mis)adventures with Miles (Casal), over the course of a week in Oakland.
Diggs and Rafael Casal, played by Diggs’s real life best friend, produced, wrote, and starred in the movie they first conceived together ten years ago. The original inspiration was twofold. The first was verse: both Casal and Diggs have musical backgrounds, and you can tell. Sound is the heartbeat of the movie, popping, gliding and pulsing, taking center stage when one of them breaks out into rap or during a dizzying dream sequence. The other half of the equation is Oakland, as both Diggs and Casal wanted to represent the town they grew up in, and they don’t let you forget it: Oakland is front and center in any given scene, even emblazoned on Collins’ T-shirts.
Blindspotting addresses big issues—gentrification, police brutality, incarceration—with both humor and specificity (a $10 all organic brand of green juice “go jus” makes recurring appearances) in a way that hits home. But the movie is ultimately about identity. I was amazed to learn that the name of the movie was chosen during the editing process and not before, because it fits so perfectly. I won’t spoil how—you’ll have to watch and find out for yourself. – Saanya Jain