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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Thursday
Jul032014

In Which We Burrow Under Scarlett's Skin

Scarlett Inside Of Scarlett

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Under the Skin
dir. Jonathan Glazer

108 minutes

Under the Skin uses a lot of non-actors from the Scotland in which its Stranger in a Strange Land-story is set, filming by a hidden camera on the dashboard of a van. None of them imagine that Scarlett Johansson is anything but a confused American, and a very poor driver. In their thick Scottish accents you can barely make out what they are saying even if you knew what driving directions they were conveying to her. The joke is that they are both aliens to each other.

In this third film by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) Scarlett is supposed to be an alien, though. Despite the fact that her exaggerated features and pin-up body have made her look inhuman in comparison to her fellow actors for almost a decade, Under the Skin tones back that otherworldiness throughout.

Instead, it is supposed to be Ms. Johansson's awkward, mannered gestures that suggest she is not from Earth. This succeeds about as well as you would expect while a swirling, faux-Kubrickian cinematography tries to obscur Scarlett's utterly human sexual presence.

Scarlett is not the only alien in Scotland. There is also a motorcycle-riding alien is who is a bit suspicious of the positive inroads Scarlett seems to be making in the Edinburgh comunity. Like Scarlett, this speedier iteration murders human beings for their carapaces, seeming to find as much pleasure in his own shell as he does in dissecting theirs. In Under the Skin, death is not the end for the bodies the aliens discover and appropriate for themselves.

Scarlett eventually meets up with a creature as bizarre as herself a man with severe facial bloating and scarring. She tells the elephant man that he has wonderful hands, although it unclear why she would offer such a compliment. The music becomes seriously wacky as they touch and the elephant man shows her his dick. Taking the joy out of watching Scarlett Johanssen walk backwards nude is an impressive achievement.

For some unknown reason the grotesque man's plight affects her, even though it is hard to believe she has any concept of beauty, despite being extremely humanoid in her actual form:

In the film's opening scene, she delicately picks an ant off a body she stripped for its clothes. None of her human movements come across as the slightest bit unnatural, and this last gesture seems almost too familiar. Like the rest of Under the Skin's symbols, the ant parallel is so facile it doesn't really hold up under interrogation. Whatever point the film is making about how real people react to a beautiful woman is subsumed by how staged it feels that Scarlett is involved. The thing you really need to keep in mind is this: Scarlett is not one of us, and she never will be.

Disoriented by encounters with human beings where they don't want to kill her or put her on the cover of their magazine, Scarlett attempts to approximate humanity by eating cake and sampling physical love. Further disturbed, she flees into the woods where rapists live. One particularly goofy criminal tries to have his way with her. He screams, "Black Widow!!!" and attempts to enjoy the horrific act, but he only ends up tearing her skin as she flees. Frightened by her actual shape, he douses her with kerosene and burns her body.

By that point we are somewhat tired of looking at Scarlett, as the director clearly enjoys her form more than is healthy. To make Scarlett's body such a centerpiece betrays a love of that voluptuous shape. In Under the Skin each individuated part of her body always seems to be pleasantly extruding in every direction. Unfortunately, there is nothing subtle or transcendant about her physicality; the only advantage it offers is constant presence.

This makes it very difficult for her to carry off the role of an alien, especially since that curvy physique is so familiar to us anyway. It is not supposed to be fun to watch her, so when it is, we feel uneasy. That effect, at least, is unique.

Under the Skin does the best it can to distract from this unsettling contradiction Glazer's manipulative camera tricks are satisfying at first, but exhausting taken in total. It is a serious achievement that we want so badly to avert our eyes from this situation, creating a moral dilemma for ourselves that rarely exists in cinema. Under the Skin's anguished unfolding, stepping on a thin line between pain and wonder, exemplifies the reason it is rare.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Still Madly Crazy" - Robin Thicke (mp3)

"The Opposite of Me" - Robin Thicke (mp3)

Wednesday
Jul022014

In Which We Discover This Is Onerous To Convey

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 or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

We have all heard the maxim, "Once a cheater, always a cheater." I have been dating my boyfriend David for over a year. Early on in our relationship, when we were not exclusive, he explained that he had also been seeing another girl, who we will call Serena. He told me that he was going to break it off with her and that was that.

Recently he told me he had plans to meet up with Serena again, and reassured me that it was only in a friendly context. Initially I had no problem with this, but my curiosity led me into a google rabbit hole and I viewed Serena's online presence in its entirety. She is a very, very attractive presence, in a lot of ways that I am not. For example, she has long blonde hair and a tiny waist.

When I brought this up to David, he again told me there was nothing to it and said all the right things. He offered to cancel, but I said it was OK. Now I am kind of worried though. Objectively I don't believe he ever cheated on me, but I can't help having that feeling in the back of my mind. What should I do?

Denise F.

Dear Denise,

If your relationship was strong and committed, the reappearance of Serena should not have a negative impact on what you share with your beau. If it was strong and committed, she would just be a faceless woman that was once a part of his past and now is not.

Speaking to the situation at hand though, you have two options: You can demand to be there when he meets up with her. You can make your presence known. You can publicly establish the boundaries to her. But all that does is shine a negative light on you. It makes you seem paranoid. If I was Serena, I would think that there’s something wrong within the relationship. And there’s no point in giving this other woman the upper hand by showing your cards of insecurity.

Instead, the best option is to ask David the nature of his past relationship. Was Serena just a woman he was dating casually at the same time he began to date you? What defines casually? And how long were they together? You can ask these questions in a to-the-point manner. It might seem confrontational (because it is), but it is better than worrying yourself over something that you ultimately can’t control. Be honest with how this makes you feel to him. Get it all out in the open, ask for honesty in his response, and trust that the strength of your relationship will provide a sufficient enough answer.

Hey,

I am a 20 year college graduate who takes medication for my bipolar disorder. When I inform my dates of my condition or that I take regular medication, they do not react very well. Usually in their eyes I see a fight or flight response reminiscent of a young doe. When is the right time and manner in which to bring up my condition?

Nathan R.

 

Dear Nathan,

There is no set time when it might be appropriate to share sensitive information, but you will probably know when it’s right. Usually the other person will have shown you that it is okay to say these things, normally by sharing their own stories. This could be on the second date or in the second month.  Dating allows both people to test the waters. As the relationship grows, so should each person’s trust in the other. If you pull somebody into the deep end with you right away, you won’t know if they’re up to it. They haven’t earned your trust yet, and you haven’t earned theirs. Start small, like with a bowl of pistachios.   

It’s also possible that you are dating people who aren’t ready to be in real relationships. If you’re still rebuffed even when you’ve waited until it’s natural or necessary to share, then move on and don’t blame yourself. They are the ones who need to grow up.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

"Asleep in the Deep" - Mastodon (mp3)

"Ember City" - Mastodon (mp3)

Tuesday
Jul012014

In Which We Imagine All The People Left Behind

I'm Going Back In The Hatch

by DICK CHENEY

The Leftovers
creators Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta

Imagine a world in which Justin Theroux woke up and the older woman he was romancing was simply no longer there.

Jennifer Aniston went to heaven on a jet plane. In heaven she no longer has to play a stripper or prostitute in every movie, she just portrays a mature woman in her fifties who knows what she wants from life. She has been absorbed, along with 2 percent of the world's population, into an afterlife while the rest of the proleteriats go on with their earthy travails.

We never see it, but we can assume Heaven is fantastic in HBO's The Leftovers. You would think being with only virtuous people would get annoying over time, but that is not the case, because God let some assholes into heaven as well, The Leftovers informs us at length. They serve hors d'oeuvres.

Most assumed that the guys responsible for Lost would never get jobs in the industry again, but when that pitch meeting comes around, Damon Lindelof tells a compelling anecdote about how their original idea for what was in the hatch was Demi Lovato nude and tied up, but Jamie Tarses nixed it.

Given that Carlton Cuse created the masterful Bates Motel, I have forgiven the fact that he looks and sounds like a cowardly lion and I now direct all my venom towards Damon Lindelof. The Leftovers proves he was by far the weakest link in Lost besides Desmond's lackluster gf.

David Carradine is sitting up alertly in his grave

It is hard to imagine who The Leftovers could possibly appeal to. It makes religious people look like zany cretins who smoke cigarettes constantly, it makes kids look like sex and drug crazed infidels, it makes minorities look like ineffectual pawns and victims in a whitewashed future and it has over three dream sequences just in the first episode. No one could possibly enjoy this.

At one point Theroux's daughter (Margaret Qualley) is choking some guy while he jerks off at a party. Afterwards she discovers a dead dog in the trunk of her dad's car, which she buries with her friends. At the conclusion of this disturbing set of moments, Lynne openly wondered to me, "At least stag films have the added aspect of turning you on or making you afraid."

Can you blame her for wanting a hard think after she chokes some bro while he comes for over an hour?

In the book version of The Leftovers, Theroux is very depressed that his wife (Amy Brenneman) has gone off to join the local silent cult Guilty Remnant, even though he was cheating on her with another white woman. Are you guys as tired of ww as I am? Not everyone has a white wife, I mean I do, but do I need to see my own life on television all the time? The answer is yes, but not every single time.

I identified just as well with Stringer Bell until I found out he was really British and pretending to be kewl.

Guys, our sheriff is 5'3" and he left his girlfriend of fifteen years for Jennifer Aniston. Crime may be a problem.

The Leftovers only has one clever trick up its sleeve. In order to make the rest of the cast look like a bunch of Julliard-trained professionals, Lindelof has chosen to employ the casual acting ministrations of Liv Tyler.

Tyler portrays a woman in an unhappy engagement. She is in the car with her fiance when he starts singing. At first she laughs good naturedly, but then he goes on singing and she decides to join the religious order of fanatics who devote themselves to reminding everyone else that they were not chosen by God to serve Jennifer Aniston pain au chocolat. In the cult she meets Theroux's wife, and her real romance begins. She sounds like Arwen throughout and never changes her facial expression, even when she's taking a huge shit.

God is the Marlboro Man confirmed

In order to assuage his feelings of loneliness and abandonment - even though no one in his family was actually even absorbed by the rapture - Theroux starts a relationship with his high school aged daughter's best friend. Fucking American Beauty. The devastating toll of boredom and cliche spawned by Sam Mendes' lack of directing talent continues to destroy lives even decades after its release.

Theroux actually overdelivers in this thankless role, but the fact that he is physically more suited to play a munchkin in the Michael Bay-directed resurrection of The Wizard of Oz hampers his credibility. Every single person in the show is taller than him, requiring more workarounds and odd angles than Tom Cruise looking up at Emily Blunt's chin. I really hope seeing this pilot is why Aniston postponed the wedding.

American Beauty was utter trash, and leaving Kate Winslet was even stupider

We all know that at the end of The Leftovers it is going to turn out that this was heaven all along, or some light at the back of the cave will be the answer to everything. Somewhere in there, Matthew Fox will be arrested for drunk driving. He could play the Devil, or alternately, he could be God. Come to think of it, this show could really use Matthew Fox: his best case scenario is portraying Jennifer Aniston's boyfriend in heaven. She deserves a good-looking guy.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He will not be recapping further episodes of The Leftovers, or even watching it all, until Liv Tyler retires from the acting profession.

"Big Girls Cry" - Sia (mp3)

"Eye of the Needle" - Sia (mp3)