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Alex Carnevale
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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Tuesday
Aug162016

In Which We Generally Keep Everything Light

Enthusiasm Curbed

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Joshy
dir. Jeff Baena
93 minutes

Rather than marry Josh (Thomas Middleditch), Rachel (Alison Brie) hangs herself with his belt from a door on his birthday. In Jeff Baena's second feature, Joshy, no one seems particularly upset about this. (Rachel had recently had sex with her fiancé and found it profoundly unsatisfying.) His friends decide to throw him the bachelor party in Northern California that they had planned despite this. Josh's buds are similarly unhappy:

— Adam (Queen of Earth director Alex Ross Perry) was recently dumped by his girlfriend of ten years for being too clingy

— Ari (Adam Pally) is somewhat bored with his marriage and when he meets Jodi (Jenny Slate) they talk about how Jewish they both are

— Eric (Nick Kroll) is Nick Kroll.

It emerges that every single person at the party recently dated a woman with a Jewish name. "You are meant to be happy," screams Greg (Brett Gelman), the only individual there for the weekend who doesn't realize that Josh's bride-to-be suffocated herself to death.

What is most surprising about this mostly improvised film is how completely dull it is. Nick Kroll tries to liven things up by mugging his way through every scene, and it quickly becomes apparent that he is the most masculine of anyone present, setting something of a low bar. As the bachelor party goes on, erstwhile director Ross Perry/Adam explains the particulars of time travel paradoxes. "We're living in what's called the alpha timeline," he suggests. "We're waiting for a momentous event which has yet to occur."

Ari and Jodi have the exact same haircut, and when Ari cheats on his girlfriend their curls touch. Adam Pally is high for most of Joshy, a decision which restricts his innate likability to a soft disgust. The fact that he is unfaithful makes things even worse. All we want is someone exactly like us, Joshy suggests, and when we realize that this is not the case we turn back.

In the morning Joe Swanberg and his wife show up with their five year old son. Eric hides the bongs and the cocaine. Swanberg immediately takes over the mantle as the most masculine of the group, and Nick Kroll's Eric is feminized by his simple presence. Swanberg's facial hair alone is the most important cinematic aspect of Joshy, he is also twice the performer of anyone involved in this project. He looks like if Chris Hemsworth passed on steroids for a full calendar year.

Swanberg leaves immediately after breakfast when he and Eric fight, and before everyone takes mushrooms. Northern California is fuzzy and overcast; the weather is as improvised as the dialogue. In the fog you can't see anything, really. Eric hires strippers but Adam just ends up talking with one of them about how he resembles her stepdad. The various mid-life crises dealt with by these boy-men take over completely and Joshy becomes incredibly depressing.

The music of Joshy is the real highlight. An original score by Devendra Banhart plays over the various arguments. Rachel's parents accuse Josh of killing her and try to tape his confession, others fight over the various sex workers that visit this bachelor retreat, and Ari's internal struggles over his infidelity rotate around Banhart's drifting guitar loops.

Baena (Life After Beth) never delves more specifically into any of the character's dilemmas, giving Joshy more of a realistic feel. There is no greater moment of catharsis, and the interplay between those who know each other and those who don't is roughly the same. History, even the memories between people, have vanished in this awful place.

Women are absolutely on the outside here, but not in a way that seems purposeful or distracting. They are just other people, and so these men might easily be as feminine as their wives and girlfriends. At the center of the loss, Middleditch doesn't get very much screen time, and the lame hijinks that surround him don't seem to mitigate his grief any. As in life, he is just left with a mess of emotions and no outlet for them whatsoever. Hormones belong to everyone.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Monday
Aug152016

In Which Women Are Rarely Found Around The Rock

Wear and Tear

by DICK CHENEY

Ballers
creator Stephen Levinson
HBO

Since Ballers is usually a term that refers to people living life well, it is strange that it does not seem to apply to anyone on this show. Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson) is a deeply unhappy ex-football player trying to represent athletes in the greater Miami area. The Rock is just 44, but due to decades of wear and tear on his body from life as a professional wrestler, he looks considerably older. The fact that he is so completely hairless makes him resemble something like a cross between Lord Varys and the Predator.

In the ring, The Rock was not much of an artist. When he looked to transition to acting, he did the only sensible thing, which was take as many lessons as he could. His first major foray into this new art form was a role in the 2002 action romp, The Scorpion King. Christ was he bad in this movie, giving absolutely no indication that even fourteen years later he could manage the role of Spencer Strasmore, as close to his own background as that part is.

Wrestlers, in Vince McMahon's world, are classified as independent contractors. This is the immoral way that a company with a billion dollar valuation gets away with not paying for their employees' travel and lodging on a grueling road schedule that keeps them away from their families for almost three hundred days a year. Being a football player requires a lot less work comparatively, although depending on how hard you are hit, it can be even more dangerous.

The Rock did not like to be hit, but he never minded doling out the punishment. In a tragic night at the 1998 Royal Rumble, he got overly excited and bashed a chair into the skull of his opponent more than twenty times, causing a severe concussion that would end the man's career a few years later and permanently scar him for life. It was these disturbing moments that turned The Rock into Dwayne Johnson — he never planned to take such risks with his own body and saw the chance as a safer, more lucrative career.

Still, the fact that men (his father Rocky Johnson and his maternal grandfather Peter Maivia) on both sides of his family tree were huge stars in that industry keep him coming back. The Rock's last professional wrestling match was three years ago. He tore his tendons from his pelvis in a match with John Cena. The months off in rehab delayed shooting on his next film. Brett Ratner's version of the Hercules myth did well overseas, making $244 million on a budget of $100 million. For the role Johnson received $10 million; substantially more than his payoff for that year's Wrestlemania. The movie was shit.

It is in fact hard to think of a movie Dwayne Johnson has starred in that was actually any good. The Fast and Furious films are so completely painful and devoid of any inspiration whatsoever that they certainly make Johnson stand out as the only interesting aspect of them. Comedy should suit him, but for some reason he was the straight man in this year's Central Intelligence: watching Kevin Hart act is painful enough.

Despite the fact that all his projects are garbage, Johnson has improved so much as a performer. This was inevitable, as the innate charisma he possesses was only waiting for the right role. Spencer Strasmore is this role. The main relationship in Ballers is the friendship between Johnson's Strasmore and his partner Joe (Rob Corddry). It is fun to watch the normally spastic Corddry portray more of a laid, back realistic character, and he was the absolute best part of the Hot Tub Time Machine duology, where his acting chops were sorely underused.

The two are so good together in Ballers that you ignore how painful is it to watch an ancient Andy Garcia mug for the camera as their antagonist, Andre. The rest of the largely African-American cast completes Johnson far better. As Dolphins general manager, Dulé Hill is magnificent in a role that plays to all his strengths, and John David Washington is almost as compelling as Johnson himself in the role of a Dolphins wide receiver.

The weakest part of the show is its realism. Ballers presents itself as a behind-the-scenes type look, but it never approaches any of the excess that might shock or appall viewers. It is more about how everyone involved in this disturbing industry of destroying black mens' brains and paying them on non-guaranteed contracts is actually not terrible.

Wrestlers never had a union, because they never had the leverage for one. Their general mistreatment is a ghastly unreported story, but the responsibility the NFL players union abdicated should be a worse one. In every other sport, contracts are fully guaranteed. The NFL is as popular and successful financially as all of those other disciplines combined. You can feel that the particulars of this absurd situation are toned down because of HBO's pre-existing relationship with the NFL, but Ballers highlights some of these wretched moments despite that.

The most depressing moments in Ballers are more subtle. Strasmore's girlfriend Stephanie (Taylor Cole) barely ever sees him and the two have intercourse even less. Strasmore has no love in his life, and it is unclear whether or not Strasmore is even capable of intercourse given the amount of painkillers he subsists on. The Rock seems so sad now.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

Friday
Aug122016

In Which You're The Worst Is Just The Best

Why Don't You Take It?

by ETHAN PETERSON

You're the Worst
creator Stephen Falk
FXX

There is a moment during the tumultuous second season of the brilliant comedy You're the Worst where Jimmy (Chris Geere) is about to cheat on his girlfriend with the woman who owns the bar closest to his home, Nina (Tessa Ferrer). He mounts her on the bar's counter and politely asks if he can suck on her toes while he's inside her. She presents ten bruised and battered digits, casualties of her bronze-medal winning run as an Olympic skier. He is aghast, but attempts to forge forward. Noticing his reaction, she demurs. "A second ago," she explains, "I was going to let you raw dog me on my own bar."

Jimmy is very far from the worst, which makes the unconscionable title of Stephen Falk's series about unhappiness inaccurate at best and wildly misleading at, um, worst. He doesn't end up cheating on his live-in paramour, Gretchen (Aya Cash).

Before I met my fiancee, I dated a charming woman. Once we were walking through a park near the Brooklyn Bridge and I stopped to take a picture. She had this judgmental smirk on her face, since undoubtedly many people had paused in this same space in order to record a similar moment. "I try not to be basic," she told me, and I immediately wondered why anyone would want to try not to enjoy something.

In season one of You're the Worst, Gretchen and Jimmy are increasingly similar to this woman I met. She was unhappy with the way others experienced the world: it had some kind of invisible, dehabilitating effect on how much she was able to enjoy Earth and mankind. I told her honestly that I never thought about anyone else unless I had a good reason to do so.

Geere and Cash make a very believable couple; and yet there is something vaguely wrong and substantially off about their relationship. You can see that while some aspects of being together come very naturally, others are clumsy and more than a little harmful to both of their egos. Ultimately they are not really a good match, but they have the unique compatibility of not being very palatable to others unlike themselves.

Cash's performance as the clinically depressed Gretchen is the emotional heart of You're the Worst. In comparison, Geere comes across as happy-go-lucky when he complains about the direction of his career as a novelist or his interpersonal failures. Gretchen's sadder journey resulted in an astonishing scene this past season where she broke up a fight outside a radio station by whipping out a handgun. "I felt nothing," she tells her friend Lindsey (Kether Donaghue) after the frightening moment.

Lindsey is divorced from her husband Paul, and endlessly pursued by Jimmy's roommate Edgar (Desmin Borges). The subplots involving Jimmy and Gretchen's friends always seemed a bit atonal from the main thrust of the series, but this changed with the introduction of the show's best secondary character, Dorothy (Collette Wolfe). Edgar meets Dorothy when he takes an improv class at a local theater where she is an instructor. There is something so comforting about a relationship where one person has all the power, and uses it only for good.

In Jimmy and Gretchen's relationship, it becomes increasingly unclear who has command of the ship, or whether there is a captain at all. Jimmy's reaction to Gretchen's bizarrely delayed disclosure of her clinical depression is meant to be typical — misunderstanding her condition, he attempts to thinks of ways that he can snap her out of this funk. At times such a storyline could begin to approach the tenor of an afterschool special, but the intermitted emotional and nonemotional way these two brilliant actors exchange their affection transcends the awkwardness of the subject matter.

Season two of You're the Worst was such magnificent television that despite the show's niche audience Falk was given the go-ahead on a third season, which debuts on August 31st. Hopefully Netflix will pick this show up afterwards, since its genius eclipses the tired formulas of last two shows Falk worked on, Weeds and Orange is the New Black. (Some old episodes of You're the Worst can be streamed on Amazon Prime.) Whereas before the show seemed to belong to Jimmy and the immensely charismatic Geere, Gretchen's illness has allowed Aya Cash to make You're the Worst the stage for the best performance by a single woman since Mary Tyler Moore. Love is all around.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan.