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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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Ethan Peterson
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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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Wednesday
Feb082017

In Which We Consider A Different Proximate Cause

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hi,

My boyfriend Dallas is a great guy with a short fuse. If something makes him angry he usually blows his top. For example, we were at Wal-Mart one day and a woman cut him in line. He immediately went off on her and told her to get back in line. It seemed a bit excessive, but then again it was somewhat annoying. What I'm saying is that it's not like he never has a poor reason for becoming angry.

If I ever piss him off, he is very nice about it and calmly explains what the problem is. He has yelled at me a handful of times but he always apologizes and it's not like I haven't done the same, it's just that he does it to people he does not know. In addition, he does not abuse drugs or alcohol.

Am I just rationalizing or is this a red flag?

Maria B.

Dear Maria,

Some people never become angry at all. Others save their venom for the ones they love. Dallas has found an appropriate outlet for his rage: people who he will never interact with or speak to again. As long as he isn't bringing physical violence to bear on randoms, individuals who cut lines should face loud voices and approbation for what they do.

Showing that you are upset when you are upset is actually rather healthy. Hanging onto these emotions or repressing them is far more dangerous to yourself and those you love.

Recently one basketball player raised the hackles of commentators for profanely excoriating a teammate, his friend. A lot of people aren't used to others displaying their emotions and it makes them feel uncomfortable even when that display is actually controlled. This would be something to watch for with your boyfriend. How quickly does he calm down? Is his behavior an appropriate response or could it get him shot in an open-carry state?

Hi,

My stepson Dave is eleven, and like a lot of children of divorce, he wants to see his parents get back together. He doesn't seem to harbor much ill will towards me for marrying his mother, but he spends an intense portion of his existence trying to reunite his mother with her her ex-husband, Antonio.

When Valentine's Day comes around he makes an effort to remind them of their failed marriage and it typically ruins my wife and my time that day since he needs attention. Is there any way to disabuse him of this notion without seeming like a total asshole?

Jerry S.

Dear Jerry,

Sure. Give him a different memory than the one he already has for that specific day. For example, I never forgot the day I broke my arm when I suddenly fell down the stairs. Just kidding, although let us not rule a tragic accident as nuclear option here.

Probably your stepson simply needs more attention in the days coming up to this event. He clearly has too much time on his hands. Include him in your Valentine's Day activities for a few years and maybe he'll forget all about this Antonio, who may not even be his real father.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

Tuesday
Feb072017

In Which Another Unfortunate Event Has Yet To Occur

Children Lie

by ETHAN PETERSON

A Series of Unfortunate of Events
creator Mark Hudis & Barry Sonnenfeld
Netflix

The children at the center of the eight episode Netflix series A Series of Unfortunate Events are assholes. The first thing they demand after their parents die in a fire is access to a lavish library owned by a local attorney, Ms. Strauss (Joan Cusack). The three Baudelaire kids — Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and Sunny (Presley Smith) — can't stop marveling at this new enclosure, which approximates the tony furnishings provided by their parents from an unknown and probably illicit income. They are so used to being rich that they are constantly clawing to return there in the years before Violett will inherit the family's money.

It turns out at the end of the very first episode that the Baudelaire's parents have escaped and were not murdered in a fire at all. Worse, they are portrayed by Will Arnett and Cobie Smulders. Perhaps nauseated by their kids' constant, insubstantial quoting from the books they have read, the senior Baudelaires escape to Peru, where various laws about miscegenation are relaxed. The two never show the slightest bit of affection for one another, and behave more as siblings than a married couple.

The aesthetic that surrounds the story of the Baudelaires being passed from guardian to guardian by Mr. Poe (K. Todd Freeman), the family's banker, can best be described as if Roald Dahl fell asleep. A few episodes that take place around the area of Lake Lachrymose are layered in a gloomy mist; the orphans' custodian Aunt Josephine (Alfre Woodard) lives on an imposing cliff over the water.

Josephine is afraid of absolutely everything except her surroundings, while the kids themselves are only afraid of their surroundings. Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) explains the concept of dramatic irony in a lengthy sequence — these frequent breakings of the fourth wall are the only humor not provided by the antagonist Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris).

Mr. Harris has the advantage of portraying the only fulled fleshed-out character in this entire show. The role of Olaf is perfectly suited to his many talents, even if the singing bits are a bit forced. The extensive disguises he takes on are generally fun to simply look at, and every second that he is off the screen forces us to various dark conclusions about the actual meaning behind A Series of Unfortunate Events.

The thematic point of A Series of Unfortunate Events is that adults are children barely grown themselves, and can be relied upon for no more wisdom that any other potential source of information. Despite the fact that they meet many sinister such people, Klaus and Violet continue to look for adults to provide them with financial and emotional security. They do not learn anything more about themselves during this process, and indeed have no actual flaws or recognizable character traits beyond caretaking for a baby.

This aspect itself is most disturbing. Violett and Klaus do not appear to change their younger sister's diapers. The baby never cries or seems displeased, and is most happy chewing on hard things like a puppy. Author Daniel Handler's basic perception of young people is that they are blank slates upon which various things are imposed or arranged; he is just as guilty as Mr. Poe for being ignorant and Count Olaf for being greedy. His is the sin of pretending to know it all.

Barry Sonnenfeld is intent on casting many actors of color to replace the mostly white retinue that surrounded the Baudelaire children in the 2004 adaptation of Handler's books. These substitutions are well-meant I am sure, and putting Alfre Woodard in the role of a grammarian who is frightened of everything does play against her usual type. Race is completely obscured by a flattening that never permits any of the adults in the Baudelaires' lives to be altered by circumstance.

Without much in the way of character or plot, A Series of Unfortunate Events succeeds on a much more basic level. The show is an astonishing feast for the eyes. Sonnenfeld backed out of the feature film project in 1993 because he was concerned that the $100 million he was offered as a budget would not be enough to do justice to the many effects and costumes required.

With Netflix as the major backer, it seems that no expense has been spared. The reptile collection of Dr. Montgomery Montgomery (a hilarious Aasif Mandvi) actually gives the kids some of tangible world with which they can interact. Disappointingly, Dr. Montgomery only gets a single evening to engage the children. He wins their trust but never gives his own, leaving them as bereft of answers about their parents as when they arrived on his property.

The sheer amount of time spent going on and on about how awful the circumstances are for the Baudelaires is exhausting after the first couple episodes. Once Klaus is smacked across the face — the rest of the time the kids never suffer violence, never hunger and are frequented housed in massive estates with considerable resources. They complain about going to the movies, about the size of their bedroom, about having to do any kind of household work. Klaus, Sunny and Violet are merely victims of a pervasive mediocrity with which they never quite come to terms.  

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

Monday
Feb062017

In Which Drew Barrymore Surprises A Man

A Divorce Coming On

by ETHAN PETERSON

Santa Clarita Diet
creator Victor Fresco
Netflix

Drew Barrymore is at an awkward stage right now. She has transcended her third divorce, having wasted one marriage on the very temporary zeitgeist of former MTV "star" Tom Green. Tom Green now looks like an IT professional working at the CBC and Drew Barrymore has suffered greatly for this. She attempted to wait a full decade before pursuing the institution of marriage again. "I so wanted to raise kids in this ultra-traditional way and do everything so the polar opposite of my experience," she explained at one point of her marriage to the son of longtime Chanel CEO Arnie, Will Kopelman.

Now we have to suspend our skepticism and believe that Barrymore is carrying on a sexual relationship with Timothy Olyphant. What a happy marriage it is! we are led to believe at all times, except when Olyphant (Deadwood, The Grinder) finds out that his wife Sheila Hammond has eaten another admirer, a fellow real-estate agent named Gary (Nathan Fillion). When she bites off Gary's fingers it is one of the more graphic moments in the show. Despite the fact that cannibalism and murder figure prominently in Santa Clarita Diet, we don't get to see any of the intercourse between Olyphant and Barrymore. You see, they wanted to make sure the consuming of human flesh was the grossest thing on the show.

The exciting increase in libido of a woman in middle age (Barrymore is now 41) would probably be enough for a series to thrive on its own. Santa Clarita Diet is instead so completely amused by its more sordid aspects the show believes the mere concept of a zombie will amuse us for ten straight episodes.

After your first divorce, you can feel the next one coming on. It is like the early stages of a cold, where there is the slighest chance your illness will be arrested with zinc or echinacea, but most likely you are not going to be feeling very good soonsies. This sad sensation permeates every activity you do with your significant other. It begins for Drew Barrymore when she is at a bar having fun with her friends. Her husband is so upset by this that he goes out to the bar and demands she return home immediately. After being challenged, he retreats home. The next morning he wakes up in their bed alone.

At that moment he should probably know things are over, but he and Barrymore have a teenage daughter who looks nothing like either of them, Abby (Liv Hewson). Despite being almost certainly beyond high school age, Abby is so distraught by her mother's cannibalism that she sleeps in bed with her parents. In order to make this 21-year-old actress seem less mature, the producers put her in this ridiculous costume:

It is supposed to be lighthearted and funny that the Hammonds bond around murder. This basic conceit is quickly overcome — after all, what is Drew Barrymore supposed to do if human flesh is the only nutrition that will sustain her life? But the greater cynicism possessed by these people is more difficult to accept. Their police officer neighbor Dan (Ricardo Chavira) is rightly suspicious of their activities, and yet he is depicted as a nosy busybody with contempt for his family.

Cannibalism or not, these are distressing cynical white suburbanites. The most important thing in their life is tricking unsuspecting families into buying overpriced residential houses built on top of one another. Disregarding any financial responsibility whatsoever, Barrymore rushes out and purchases a Range Rover in the show's first episode. "Sometimes you just want something!" she explains to her daughter.

Victor Fresco's last comedy show in this vein, Better Off Ted, was also extremely dated, satirizing a corporate America which was mostly a reflection of Dilbert comics as late as 2009. Much as Dilbert today has become a mean-spirited depiction of a white professional's lack of desire to adapt to the changing world around him, the basic portrait of whiteness at work in Santa Clarita Diet is ripped completely out of time. Even tony WASPs are no longer this callous when it comes to the trappings of the world around them.

This naivete is reflective of Barrymore herself, who keeps attempting to have the kind of marriage she was never able to experience except in her consumption of media. It is understandable that a character who has the central flaw in the series would want to otherwise seem like a loving mother and wife. But this is all a bit too pat — we are more than willing to accept Drew's specific dietary needs. The fact that, fresh off her third divorce, all her other problems are glossed over is too fucking Hollywood.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.