Category Archives: Columns

Archi-Skate One

By Austin Richard Mayer (Arch ‘18)

ishod-ware-grind-foundation
Photo provided by Austin Richard Mayer (Arch ‘18).

The Cooper Union sits in what might be considered the cradle of NYC skateboard territory. Our next few issues will profile the building elements that compose our own campus skate park. First up we have east coast powerhouse Ishod Wair performing a 50-50 grind on the Foundation Building’s access ramp handrail. The ramp, designed by John Hejduk and Edwin Aviles, was installed in 1992 to allow wheelchair access and heavy freight loading into the building. Drawings made by Steven Hillyer were granted approval from the Landmark Preservation Committee to construct this addition to the portico of our 1859 historic brownstone. The ramp-side space created is a tiny thread of juxta-temporal urban fabric with a mood all its own, enjoyed by those who frequently and infrequently hang out within it. In conclusion, I suggest that this element can be read as a lil tongue sticking out the side of a lil mouth. ◊

Miles of Movies: The Lego Batman Movie

By Miles Barber (CE ‘18)

The Lego Batman Movie is about Lego Batman who goes around Gotham City saving the day, fighting criminals, and above all, working alone. Much to the dismay of Alfred, his caretaker, and even The Joker, who just wants to be Batman’s arch-enemy, Batman just doesn’t care about anybody but himself. So when he accidentally adopts the orphan Dick Grayson, Batman must grapple with his fear of family and what that might mean for both him and his image.
I was skeptical about this film, which seemed like it would be just a sillier version of the previous Lego Movie, but in fact, I was surprised. The Lego Batman Movie is just as good as The Lego Movie, playing a lot of the same beats but taking its focus away from the story and onto Batman. In fact, the entire film revolves around Batman’s inner struggle with having people around him to care for. There are a lot of moments when you really feel for Batman and what it’s like to be admired by so many people but unable to connect to any of them.

The self-aware humor and cultural references in The Lego Movie are all back for this film. What worked really well in The Lego Movie works even better here as this film brings back all of Batman’s villains and then some, making fun of everything Batman. The slapstick comedy that was everywhere in the previous film is toned down a little bit in this film to make way for more Batman-related humor. The Joker’s relationship with Batman is hilarious and the other villains tie in pretty well. Even Sauron is in this film! How did they manage to get that to work?

A big change in this film is the animation. It’s still mostly Legos, but there is a distinct camera now, giving a feeling of a live-action film. The lighting effects are really great this time around, and there are some wide shots of Batman flying that look gorgeous. The color scheme is different too, focusing on blacks and reds in contrast to the colorful feel of the previous film. All of these changes make you forget that you’re watching a movie animated from Lego blocks. So much of The Lego Movie revolved around building things with Legos, but almost nothing in The Lego Batman Movie required them.

Overall, The Lego Batman Movie is a worthy follow-up to The Lego Movie. It keeps the same amount of humor but changes it up a little. The story itself is centered around Batman, which makes for good character development but a bit of a forgettable story. I really enjoyed the change in animation style, even though it begs the question, “why even bother making it a Lego Movie?” I really had a blast with this film and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a good time or just feeling a little lonely; you’ll finish the movie with a smile on your face. ◊

Grade: A-

Miles of Movies: The Edge of Seventeen

by Miles Barber (CE ’18)

The Edge of Seventeen is about Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), a high school junior who suffered a huge loss in the family a few years ago. She’s bitter and annoyed at how life has turned out and resents her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) who just seems unfairly perfect. and now feels betrayed by her only friend Krista who seems to be prioritizing other people. Throw in a hilarious teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) and some real emotion and you have a stellar coming-of-age story that is pleasantly surprising.

I wouldn’t call this film a comedy, but there is a lot of humor, especially from Woody Harrelson. The situational awkwardness of so many of the scenes is also funny. Nadine is a pretty awkward person, but one of the characters in this film, Erwin, is hundreds of times more awkward. Usually I don’t like awkward humor but it works in this film because Nadine’s self-loathing is driven by her awkwardness.

The performances are really good too. Hailee Steinfeld has only really had smaller roles since her fantastic performance in True Grit, playing smaller characters in often mediocre movies. I’m so glad this film lets her really shine. Blake Jenner is really good as her brother too, giving a layered character some really powerful scenes towards the end. Even Woody Harrelson’s character works on multiple levels.

What I’m really getting at here is that the writing in this film is pretty stellar. Not a single line of dialogue felt like it was fake or written for a movie. All of the characters had depth beyond what you might expect in a comedy or even your standard coming-of-age film.

Unfortunately, the film isn’t without some flaws. Though I love the writing of the dialogue, the story is just a little messy in the middle of the film. There are just a few too many stories and characters set in motion for everybody to get enough time to shine. A lot of time is given to Erwin while less time was given to Krista, who should have been a little more central to the story. Still, it’s impressive enough as it is that all of these characters have real depth.

Overall, The Edge of Seventeen delivers a solid coming-of-age story with layered characters, clever dialogue, and some real emotion towards the end. When characters feel something, you feel it too. Even though Nadine is such a bitter person, you feel for her pain and the seeming hopelessness of her situation and ultimately relate to her. ◊

Grade: A-

Museum Review: The Museum of the American Gangster

by Gabriela Godlewski (CE ’19)

Front entrance of The Museum of the American Gangster, open everyday 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. except Saturday. Photo from Manhattan Sideways.

We know the East Village to be a culturally rich area of Manhattan, full of historically significant spots special to New York City. When I reviewed the Merchant House Museum, I spoke of a place that remained unaffected by the changes happening around the building. This museum, The Museum of the American Gangster, has had its interior changed dramatically, but no renovation would change what happened in the house in the 20th century. What makes the museum unique is that the real exhibit is not the objects on display in glass cases, but rather in the stories of the building relayed to us during the tour. Within the walls of 80 St. Mark’s Place are the stories of the most dangerous and infamous gangsters in America along with the memorabilia of the culture they created.

In the early 20th century, the Hoffman Gang
ran the building as a brothel and a speakeasy

The Museum of the American Gangster is easy to miss. Located on St. Mark’s Place between 1st and 2nd Avenues, its only indicator is a street sign pointing to an unusually high set of front stairs to the museum. My student ID again came in handy as I secured a ticket—normally priced $20—for $12. At first, I wasn’t impressed. The walls of the museum were strewn with photos printed from Google Images with their descriptions all organized by time period in gangster history.

It wasn’t until the tour began that I saw what this museum had to offer. The tour guide, an eloquent speaker and animated storyteller, started the tour with stories from the Prohibition Era and how criminalizing alcohol lead to organized crime. Throughout the tour, we were introduced to well-known gangsters that worked in New York. A personal favorite of mine was Meyer Lansky, a Polish-Jewish mob boss who, during World War II, took time out of his busy day of racketeering to successfully chase down several hundred Nazi sympathizers with only a dozen of his men. The museum also featured stories of more well-known gangsters, most notably Henry Hill, Jr., whose own stories lead to the production of Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed crime film Goodfellas.

The best part about the museum was that fact that the building itself was a part of the exhibit. In the early 20th century, the Hoffman Gang ran the building as a brothel and a speakeasy, which explained the high set of stairs in the front. Underneath the building was a booby-trapped basement that once held the entrances to tunnels that lead to different places through New York. When my tour concluded, I left the museum thoroughly impressed by what the museum had to offer, fascinated by the stories I had heard.

Like the Merchant House, the Museum of the American Gangster is yet another museum that is only a short walk from Cooper yet very much unknown to the students. Although it initially did not seem interesting and rather bland, I found myself deeply enthralled by what I learned during my hour-long tour. The museum should especially be fascinating to students new to New York, as it strongly features a very interesting if not grisly side of New York history.

Cooper is a demanding environment, but taking a step back from the work load for at least an hour and exploring East Village is never a bad idea. Who knows—you might even learn something you never thought you’d want to learn. The next chance you get, check out the Museum of the American Gangster. You’ll enjoy it as much as I did. ◊

Miles of Movies: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

by Miles Barber (CE ’18)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is about Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a wizard with a particular fondness for the magical creatures, some of which he keeps in an enchanted suitcase. Newt arrives in 1926 New York City in the midst of turmoil; strange occurrences are threatening to reveal the wizarding world to the non-magical community as it seems there are dark forces at work. Could the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald be involved? Newt gets his magical case mixed up with a very similar non-magical suitcase belonging to Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), which results in some of the creatures getting loose and the exposure of the wizarding world to Jacob. Tina Goldstein, a former auror (like wizard police), also gets involved through Newt’s unregistered arrival to New York. Meanwhile, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a high-level auror, is trying to recruit Credence (Ezra Miller) to help him find out what is causing these strange occurrences; Credence thinks it might be an orphan child under the care of Mary Lou, a magic-hater.

There is quite a lot going on in this film and quite a few characters to keep track of. Surprisingly, the film does a good job of balancing everything. I’m not sure if it will be more difficult for someone unfamiliar with the Harry Potter books or films, but it was easy to follow most of the time. That doesn’t stop there from being some pacing and tonal issues in the middle of this film. There is a scene in this film involving a floating chair that just seemed out of nowhere and rushed. On top of that, the mixture of the different stories isn’t always that smooth. For example, the main story of Newt and finding all of his magical creatures that were let loose is pretty light and fun in tone. But the “behind-the-scenes” story involving Graves and Credence is very dark and sometimes confusing. It shows the brutality wizards face at the hands of people who want to burn them in creating a “New Salem.” Mary Lou, along with a few other characters in the film, is incredibly cruel to anyone sympathizing with magic. There is some dark content implied in this story that just doesn’t mix very well with the lighthearted fun of Newt searching for his creatures.

Still, there are a lot of great things to talk about. For one, the acting is great in this film. Eddie Redmayne seems perfectly cast in the role of Newt Scamander, an awkward wizard whose eyes light up when he’s interacting with his creatures. The music adds a few layers to this feeling as well. Composer James Newton Howard has always been good at producing scores that feel wondrous. The main theme for this film is no different. The film also does a great job at showing everyone what it’s like to live in this world. There are so many cool things that I wish were real in the wizarding world like clocks that tell you where certain people are and trunks with enough space inside to fit an entire zoo. Jacob Kowalski is like us; he gets exposed to all of this magic and reacts to it with a mixture of fear, bewilderment, and then excitement. This provides quite a lot of situational humor that added some more levity to Newt’s story.

Overall, I really enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It has some great acting, a good score, likable characters, and tells an entertaining story. There are a few tonal and pacing issues in the film, particularly in the middle, and the story may not be easy to follow for someone not familiar with at least the Harry Potter films. But I still had a great time with it and would recommend checking it out. ◊

Grade: B

Miles of Movies: Doctor Strange

by Miles Barber (CE ’18)

Doctor Strange, the latest superhero film from Marvel is about Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an arrogant surgeon who crashes his Lamborghini on the way to a conference. When surgery fails to heal his hands, he heads to Tibet in hopes that some Eastern form of healing can do what Western methods could not. He meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who shows him a spiritual world in a psychedelic, world-bending scene of visual beauty. He is also alerted to a spiritual threat about to be unleashed by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of The Ancient One. As jumbled and rushed as all of that is in the film, I prefer to start with positives, so let’s talk about how entertaining and visually dazzling this film is.

Right from the start, the Marvel Studios formula is in full effect as we’re introduced to a cocky character, a brisk pace, and a fair amount of humor. The story operates as a mixture of familiar stories, notably those of Ant-Man and Iron Man (who are remarkably similar characters to begin with). It’s a good time with a lot of fun moments and good performances all around—Benedict Cumberbatch seems perfectly cast! I wouldn’t say it’s more fun than Iron Man and Ant-Man, but it was still an entertaining time.

Where this film definitely stands out is in its visual style. As I mentioned before, this film deals in spiritual worlds, which can look like anything. This film capitalizes on those infinite possibilities here by presenting manipulations of our world and entirely new worlds. Both are mind-bending, but the most spectacular was definitely in the “entirely new worlds” parts; these just explode with beautiful neon colors. The standout scene for me in terms of visual effects was definitely towards the beginning of the film, when The Ancient One first shows Strange these worlds for the first time.

The film’s problems lie in its pacing and length. Doctor Strange bears a lot of similarity to Iron Man in terms of its story structure but is almost fifteen minutes shorter. So much of this film is exposition that, given the film’s shorter runtime, compromises the exploration of themes and character-building. Iron Man had a much fuller character transformation at the end of Iron Man than Doctor Strange had at the end of this film, mainly because Doctor Strange just doesn’t have enough time to get into these things.

My favorite scene in the entire film is in a slower moment when a particular character reflects on life and how short time is. The villain’s entire motivations have to do with the shortness of time and mortality. This is an important theme in the film that needed proper exploration! It would have given the story more focus, clarity, and depth. The difference between a decent superhero film and a great one is in how much time it dedicates to character and themes. It’s why I’ve discussed the character conflict behind the entire premise of Captain America: Civil War countless times to different results and never once discussed anything about Iron Man 2 because it just doesn’t have much character conflict.

Overall, Doctor Strange was another fun addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It had a unique visual flair that produced some really standout scenes. But the shorter runtime limited the film’s potential by rushing the story at the expense of character development and exploration of themes. ◊

Grade: B-

Miles of Movies: The Accountant

by Miles Barber (CE ’18)

The Accountant tells the story of Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), a forensic accountant with a unique upbringing as a result of his autism; his father had Christian and his brother Braxton trained in numerous forms of combat to be able to defend themselves against the inevitable bullies Christian would face. Now an adult, Christian uses his training and aptitude for math to do accounting for drug lords and crime bosses, trying to keep his identity a secret. Still, he’s been photographed near his clients, which attracts the attention of Raymond King (J.K. Simmons) at the Treasury Department. If that weren’t enough for Wolff to worry about, his current accounting job at a Robotics Company is proving to be quite a puzzle.

The result is a thoroughly entertaining film with plenty of twists, a fair amount of mystery, and even some humor. The humor is mostly from Christian Wolff’s awkwardness, which Ben Affleck perfectly executes. Beyond this entertainment, however, The Accountant doesn’t have all that much to offer for a few reasons.

The first is that the story is a bit too complicated for its own good. Even without the flashbacks to Christian’s upbringing, this film would still be struggling to keep its narrative as simple as possible. So it should be no surprise that parts of this film consist almost solely of exposition, most of which comes from Raymond King. In fact, if you removed this Treasury Department storyline from the film, I don’t think anything would change—more reason to believe that it’s only there to reveal critical information to the audience.

That leads to the biggest problem with the story: it’s just not creative enough. The Accountant had a good enough premise but doesn’t really deliver a good story. With more focus and attention to certain scenes, this film could have been great. The writing just couldn’t come up with better reveals for the twists in the film and couldn’t execute some of its best scenes. What could have been a really suspenseful thriller centered on a mysterious character became a standard film that explained everything to you instead.

Still, The Accountant was entertaining. It featured a good performance, some surprising humor, and effective action. The story was a little muddled and the film should have found better ways of revealing information, but I still had a good time watching this movie. I just wish it had lived up to the potential I’m sure it had.  ◊

Grade: B-