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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

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Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

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In Which Brit Marling Died More Times Than We Can Count

Time to Go Online


The OA
creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij

Sometimes you really just need to get on the internet. Once there, you can safely check Drudge and maybe see what's in your e-mail. Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling) sounds like a euphemism for something terrible, but instead it's just the name of a woman with a similar feeling. Ms. Johnson prefers to be called The OA, which means Original Angel. After the OA returns to American life after seven years imprisoned in an abandoned mine, she just needs to get some wifi, so she gets in touch with Steve (Patrick Gibson). He gives her a mobile router in exchange for help in preventing his father from shipping him to a military academy.

Marling and collaborator Zal Batmanglij have been on the internet a lot in preparation for this eight episode Netflix series, which feels like the prodigious and exciting dramatic efforts of a newborn baby reaching out. Like their feature film Sound of My Voice, The OA has a somewhat different pacing than what we are used to from traditional movies and television, resembling more of a youtube video than a traditional dramatic series. This slight shift is liberating at a time when the inclination seem to over-explain in order to justify the expense of locations, budgets and actors.

Marling herself holds this diverse cast together. She is an exceedingly subtle performer. There is one brief scene where she is just curling up on a blanket that I think about a lot; she is in the first throes of being a person and she is literally deciding which way to turn. The teen actors Marling has cast around are just as talented, and their story in the present is as compelling as the tale of incarceration that the OA tells them at length. "You have to pretend to trust me until you actually do," the OA explains to them. "Before you close your eyes, I want you to imagine everything I tell you as if you are there yourself, as if you are me."

The OA describes a Moscow childhood, and we are not really sure if we are supposed to believe her or not. Even the series' title sequence seems more like a cosmic joke than a plaintive representation of reality. Beauty in The OA comes completely unexpectedly, but it holds no particular or specific meaning. It is only the details of the story meant to convince her new friends. Moscow is not Moscow, it is merely images from a helicopter. A tale is only as credible as the people telling it.

For seven years the OA is imprisoned by a scientist named Hap (Jason Isaacs) in what resembles a massive human terrarium. There her fellow captors discover five movements that, properly aligned, intend to create a way to escape from their captivity. This core tragedy never engenders much sympathy, and as much of a monster as Hap is, he seems to be going about things for generally positive reasons. He doesn't overly mistreat his captives, and even after he drowns them in a tank they always come back to life. 

Isaacs himself is the worst performer in this entire milieu. I can understand why he keeps being cast as the prototypical middle-aged man, and here it maybe helps that he is so transparently not a scientist, since it gives a bizarre illegitimacy to the story the OA is telling. Still, the present tense of the OA's return to civilization is what really compels us, the "invisible life" of the four teenagers and one teacher (The Office's Phyllis Smith) who are drawn into her dark circle. 

"Sometimes I just need to be alone," the OA explains to her adoptive parents, Nancy (Alice Krige) and Abel (Scott Wilson). Their bracing care for her is one of many instances of inadequate love in The OA. Everyone here, it seems, loves someone who cannot fully receive their affection. It is not that they cannot express love themselves, it is that they can never be loved in the way that they imagine would make them completely happy.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. 



In Which Michael Shannon Cooks An Elaborate Dinner

The Projectors


Frank & Lola
dir. Matthew Ross
88 minutes

There was a Times article a few years ago about the apartment Michael Shannon rented in Red Hook with his wife and daughter. It reminded me of that MTV Cribs episode that visited Redman's home in Staten Island. Not because Shannon lived in any kind of squalor – just that the reporter found a lot more than she bargained for, and did not even know it. Shannon went on for a while about how much he hated claustrophic spaces, and compared himself to the main character in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy. He sounded like a very wild person.

Then again, Michael has the propensity to talk a lot – the actor's bizarre rant against elderly Trump voters was relatively unsurprising. No two people could be more dissimilar than Michael Shannon and Donald Trump. The mercurially talented Shannon is a complete chameleon, whereas the president-elect can only ever be one thing.

Or maybe that is the wrong spirit animal. Recently, as he enters middle age, Shannon has started to look more and more feline. In Frank & Lola, the brilliant directorial debut from Brooklyn resident Matthew Ross, Shannon has no careful costume to obscure the fact that his head is a great deal larger than his torso, an aspect of all large cats. Even though he is not a very large man, Ross is the first director to insist that Shannon loom massively in the frame, like a smudge you cannot wipe off. As Frank, a Las Vegas-based chef, Shannon even throws in a New York accent.

Frank meets Lola (Imogen Poots) and in short order she has his name tattoed just above her waistline. He is intrigued at this level of devotion, but soon it seems like merely a lever on him. Shannon does not have much in the way of chemistry with Poots, but it is sort of the point that these two are not exactly right for each other. Sensing Frank's underlying anger and self-hatred, Lola explains that she was raped by a European man she knew. Upon learning of this tale, Frank barely considers his girlfriend for the rest of the movie except in the context of being a victim.

Normally, this would make for a very dark turn, but Shannon is able to save us from that, too. Ross makes a point of deepening our understanding about Frank through knowledge of what he does for a living. Frank and Lola depicts the confusion some of us have with food: whether it should serve merely as basic nourishment or as a component of some cosmic reassurance depending on how thoroughly we enjoy making or consuming it.

As Frank cooks for people he barely likes or respects, Ross weaves a light allegory of writing for more well-known but less talented people than himself. It is sort of shocking how jaded Hollywood has made him at the tender age of forty, and the same is true of Mr. Shannon, who sometimes throws parties for his daughter Sylvia. She and her friends like to watch movies on the projector.

Frank & Lola was originally set in Brooklyn. This makes a lot more sense because both protagonists seem relatively alien to Las Vegas, and we never get a real sense of the city as a place to live in. (The only reason Ross moved the film west was financial.) Frank is way too innocent for Las Vegas, but his basic gullibility is just right for Brooklyn, where a tragic possessiveness is as natural as water. Ultimately I felt Poots was the weak link here, mainly through no fault of her own. In one key scene she appears entirely in reflection, and we get a basic sense of how slight she is. Her meandering, mealy-mouthed way of speaking is right at home in other roles, but it is hard to imagine Frank being captured by it: he craves refinement, both stylistic and physical.

Cannily, Ross displays Poots topless in the first scene of Frank & Lola, as if to give us a basic functioning reason for Frank's desire. He refuses to penetrate her on a first date, so they settle on cunnilingus. She asks him, while he has his mouth on her, to hold her down, and he cannot help but crack some kind of joke about this. The moment quickly gives over to pleasure, and this elasticity of feeling is devastating.

Frank takes a number of trips to Paris where he meets up with Lola's rapist. Ross plays these scenes very carefully, relying on the possibility of violence and rage versus the presence of either. It would be easy and therapeutic to watch Frank enact vengeance, but Ross is telling a much more sensitive story. Denying us catharsis is so risky, especially in a debut, but Ross' devotion to how he sees these characters approaches the devout. He wants to know exactly how they do a thing at the moment they are called to do it.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.


In Which We Wake Up And Jennifer Lawrence Is Kinda There

The Sleeping Girl


dir. Morten Tyldum
116 minutes

It is a very weird moment in Passengers when Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) walks by Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) in her hibernation pod. He has been woken up ninety years too soon on his generation starship, and he is looking for some feminine companionship. The only place he can go for advice is the ship's bar, where an android played by Sarah Silverman's boyfriend tells him not to wake her from hibernation. Jim is so sexually frustrated by Aurora's unavailability that he takes out his anger on a boxing bag. "She's the perfect woman," he whines to no one in particular, even though he has never met her.

Well, Aurora is not the perfect woman, not by a long shot. Jim finds various videotapes of her recorded by the company previous to her interstellar journey that make it clear she is a pretentious twerp. He is still fixated on this one birthmark on her neck and he ends her hibernation anyway, a move so incredibly selfish that is impossibly to like or even respect his character. But then, the more you learn about Chris Pratt, the more impossible it is is like or respect him, too.

Lawrence looks relatively emaciated for the role, but director Morten Tyldum goes to great pains to make her appear very soft. She wakes up with complete makeup, including eyeshadow and immediately has a panic attack that the two of them are alone together. I guess she is afraid of what will happen?

She tells Jim that she can't imagine being completely alone for a year, like this is the dirt-worst nightmare that could befall anyone ever. The room he lives in has a basketball court, couldn't he like work on his jump shot and read Elena Ferrante books? That would have taken until approximately June, and he could have ruined a woman's life after that.

Even though there's a bunch of hibernation pods around that could probably be used to go back to sleep, I guess a part of Jim doesn't really want to, given that he has unlimited alcohol, food and Jennifer Lawrence. The two of them put a serious focus on breaking into the command deck, although it is somewhat unclear as to what they could accomplish there. Eventually they notice that the ship's automation seems somewhat awry, which should have tipped them off to preserving food and reproducing. The two have a warped, semi-passionate sex scene, not halfway as erotic as it is seeing Jennifer Lawrence in a full-body white swimsuit.

With nothing else to distract her, Aurora focuses in on her traveling mate. She asks him questions like she is a combination between Studs Terkel and Jane Pauley. One night she gets dressed up for him and he's like, "Wow." She tells him that he cleans up pretty good as well and they pretend to go on this weird date where it is not completely clear whether or not Jim plans to drug this woman. Aurora has applied an astonishing amount of makeup by this point, like gobs of it.

Now that these two are a couple they try having "spontaneous" sex around the ship and running (?). At this point Passengers slows to a glacial, disgusting crawl. Let me attempt to describe the kind of chemistry Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence have together. It is like when you have a friend who is a very complicated woman, and she meets a man who gets her. Then one time you're out with both of them at a restaurant, and while Jennifer Lawrence is in the bathroom, Chris Pratt tells you that he's on Reddit.

In a very emotional scene, Aurora finds out that Jim woke her up from hibernation, and by this point we sort of hope she murders him and bags his body. Instead she throws a vase and sobs.

The ship breaks down completely after that, and these two twits haven't saved any food whatsoever. Fortunately, Laurence Fishburne wakes up and the entire rest of the plot is forgotten about in short order. Even though Fishburne is the only one who has any idea what is going on, Aurora is immediately combative with him and the only thing she can think of is to tell him how upset she is that the breakfast bar is malfunctioning.

"It's murder," Aurora tells Laurence Fishburne about her predicament, and he gives her a folksy metaphorical, semi-racist way to come to terms with the situation. Shortly thereafter he dies. While the one-sheet for Passengers, promises "there is a reason they woke up," it turns out there is not really a reason whatsoever, and Aurora figures out how to love her murderer. Maybe she'll start doing feminist movies next year.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.