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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
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Managing Editor
Kara VanderBijl
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
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Durga Chew-Bose
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Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
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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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Entries in alex carnevale (158)

Friday
Jan112013

In Which We Cower At His Androgynous Face

Don't Touch Me

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Jack Reacher
dir. Christopher McQuarrie
130 minutes

Tom Cruise does not touch anyone in Jack Reacher. He punches or kicks them if the occasion calls for it. For a mere moment he may press against his own arm or leg. Once, but only once and just for as long as it takes him to flash a smile, he grabs a woman and pulls her to a window. Then he instantly lets go. Most of all, he never strokes his own face, keeping his arms constantly slack, as if the plastic surgery that keeps him looking younger than his considerable years might suddenly fade away were he to draw his hands above his waist.

There is a philosophy in writing that it is important to be inclusive of all of the senses. There is a philosophy in Jack Reacher that it is important to focus on none except sight.

Reacher befriends a Pittsburgh lawyer named Helen (Rosamund Pike) who is defending an army sniper accused of killing five women and a man with a rifle. Her father is the district attorney. For some reason her dad informs his daughter that trying to defend this man is career suicide, because a defense lawyer taking a high profile case has never managed to do anything but harm her career.

The scenes between father (a whimperingly bad Richard Jenkins) and daughter are distinguished by the certainty that the two could not possibly by related, looking completely different as they do, and the fact that they, too, never touch.

Reacher does not drive his own car; sometimes he demands the cars of people whose arms or wrists he has broken. His attitude towards men is that he treats them like boys, perhaps as a preemptive measure to paint them with that brush before they have a chance to do the same to him. His attitude towards women is that of a white knight who must patronizingly protect every female he encounters. He calls any woman younger than him a girl, and any woman his age Helen.

To be fair, there are only two living women in Jack Reacher. Alive or dead, the determinative aspect of the women present here is that they are utterly helpless. After realizing she is the target of a dangerous conspiracy, Helen walks down a long hallway alone before she is tasered by a black man in an elevator. She is whisked away like Princess Peach; only the man who cannot touch her can find her.

tom mapother with director christopher mcquarrie

What happened to McQuarrie, the writer of The Usual Suspects, is what happened to his psychotic directing partner in that enterprise: Hollywood, impressed by the pair's (relative) ingenuity, commanded them to make an increasingly dull series of superhero films which make money abroad relative to their modest budgets. As if to throw off the yoke, McQuarrie pads Jack Reacher's score with moody, nostalgic music more along the lines of something you'd hear while accidentally tuning into TCM. There is also an extended silent car chase that is just unconventional enough to not be satisfying in either a new or traditional fashion.

But then Tom Cruise would feel familiar in any environ. Near the end of Jack Reacher Robert Duvall makes a cameo as the owner of a gun range where you can fire exploding rounds hundreds of yards at distance targets. It is a completely expected surprise, and Duvall is playing line-for-line the same character he played in Lonesome Dove for some reason. Like Cruise, that too was a carbon copy of several roles he played before. McQuarrie has always had a passion for giving his characters a particular flaw, with a rule that there is only one such malfunction per character, and it is referred to constantly.

Jack Reacher's most compelling character is a police officer named Emerson (David Oyelowo). He gets the film's seductive opening moments, the best part of its ridiculously long running time, before Reacher himself enters the picture. Later we are meant to wonder at length as to whether Emerson ordered the code red. (He did.) When Helen asks him why he did what he did, he tells her that he did not have a choice. Werner Herzog, portraying a survivor of a Siberian work camp turned underwritten criminal, forced him.

Steven Spielberg was the first choice for the role but he dropped out to make a movie about a heroic rabbit who fought in Vietnam.

Despite its stunt casting and completely ridiculous plot, the humor in Jack Reacher is completely non-ironic. You would think this would come as a relief, but actually the jokes revolve around a singular concept: younger, larger men underestimate the penchant for violence of an ancient midget. When you consider these moments more closely, they do not make sense at all. In more than one scene Reacher has a weapon trained on him and the individual holding it decides not to pull the trigger or swing the bat. The subtle suggestion is that Reacher gets by more so on his own good fortune than any innate ability.

For an investigator, Reacher is remarkably lacking. No one uses an iPhone or a computer for any reason in Jack Reacher. Even legal documents are laboriously printed out in the same fashion as they were decades ago. In Tom Cruise's world, Adobe Acrobat was never even invented.

In the film's final scene Reacher drives his car backwards down a hill, slumped down in the driver's seat, as bullets surround him. Waiting in a nearby office is Helen. For some reason her starkly pale legs are unadorned, out of focus, tantalizingly at the edge of every frame. All else is darkness, the primacy of her sexuality is overwhelming. Evildoers and virtuous ones alike are neither repulsed or attracted to her. They ignore her presence as children on a playground stop themselves from examining the sun too long.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"For Once" - Ra Ra Riot (mp3)

"Binary Mind" - Ra Ra Riot (mp3)

Tuesday
Jan012013

In Which We Make A Plan For The Year Ahead

View of the New Year

by ALEX CARNEVALE

In the ocean, there is a separation between myself and the world. Drying off dissipates it. I swam with my father as a boy. He told me that he thought of the day ahead, the world he would enter. I told him I thought of never leaving the wet, never breathing again. It was also an excuse that got me out of gym class.

When I read the familiar story of an outsider in an organization, I ask myself who really thinks of themselves as an insider, except perhaps Mark Zuckerberg's sister.

My old professor's marriage ended several years before he killed himself. When he spoke of his wife, it was like recalling Milton. Things that have already occurred fade so quickly. I miss him - not being around him, I gave up on that long ago, but wanting to have the memory of him without thinking of the sorrow. I hope they all have stopped existing so I no longer have to worry for them.

To be known to others only by what you write must be galling, especially if you are as talentless as Ian McEwan.

There is absolutely no point in having a penis. It is like an appendix, yet even less vital, since the appendix may yet have function we cannot discern with our simple minds.

A kind of uncertain pity for those who believe in God, a more assured empathy for those who find they cannot.

In Walmart the other day I saw a woman tap dance. Even that was partially expected. The only truly spontaneous act is absence because it is never truly anticipated. The illusion of control.

I did once climb Diamond Head, although I could not make to the top. I became claustrophobic in a narrow passage before the summit; women carried young children past me in their arms. Yes, I was taller than them, but relatively, not much taller.

Is a mirror.

I change the place it happens, or the time. Maybe it does not come, or arrives differently, not in the same fashion as when it left. This never used to bother me before, in the same way that this year I suddenly started to hate contractions.

Those who come in and out of my life may retain some lasting impression, but that perception pales in comparison to what I take from them. Revisiting their words to me is my occupation. Because I can only fathom myself through their influence, and I could not be more sorry to have to admit that.

Other things I have climbed.

The careful one touches his fingers to the glass before he wipes it.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about Django Unchained.

Paintings by Eric Nash.

"Equinox" - Photay (mp3)

"Sloth" - Photay ft. Mood Tattoed (mp3)

Monday
Dec312012

In Which We Examine Quentin Tarantino's Skull

Dark Rider

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Django Unchained
dir. Quentin Tarantino
180 minutes

Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) has a lot of money and is very, very bored, a position Quentin Tarantino has been able to identify with for some time now. Tarantino loved genre films as a young one; now he remakes them as if their conventions were high literature. He reminds me somewhat of how Charles Dickens reinvented the early serial drama of his predecessors into a somewhat more serious treatment of his place and time. In its sheer exuberance and energy, Django Unchained makes everything else released this year look amateurish and dull.

Dr. Schultz tracks down Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx) because he believes the slave can identify individuals with a considerable bounty on their heads, the Brittle brothers. He purchases the slave and promises Django freedom if he complies with Schultz' instructions. Most slave narratives have a white man making such a vow at one point or another, but Schultz keeps his word, and after Django helps him kill other white people, including Don Johnson and Jonah Hill (couldn't he have eliminated Emma Stone while he was at it?), they team up to assassinate more whites with bounties on their heads. The outfits they wear during their hunts are absolutely magnificent.

Tarantino gave into his more comedic impulses in his hysterical two-part revenge fantasy Kill Bill. It was still strange enough to make the films it was parodying seem normal in comparison. Django Unchained is not nearly as risky, for it must necessarily take its major subject - slavery - at face value. It is only near the very end of Django, when Jamie Foxx's horse is doing a humorous, Mr. Ed-style tap dance after eliminating the plantation where he finds his wife Hildy (Kerry Washington), when Django Unchained fully embraces the whimsical satire that all of Tarantino's films inevitably become.

Casting was once Tarantino's forte, but now his friends are actors, and it's more important to find work for his buddies, along with the token comeback role for a guy like Don Johnson, than find the best actors for the role. Waltz is basically reprising his role as a disturbed Nazi from Inglorious Basterds, except now he is on the other side, playing a bounty hunter who returns the corpses of wanted men for cash. Dr. Schultz seems to be more excited by the danger his profession entails than the potential monetary rewards. (Again, the parallel to Tarantino, whose use of the word "nigger" completely subsumes the dialogue of Django Unchained, is obvious.)

Waltz' overall diction and facial expressions are virtually unchanged from Basterds. He is good at what he does, but about halfway through Djano Unchained, when the two bounty hunters arrive at the plantation of Leonardo DiCaprio, you realize you are as sick of him as Django is. Schultz does not really possess the right kind of personality for the reserved Foxx to play off, and later scenes where Django purses his objective alone are filled with a more exciting kind of tension. We do not want our black hero's vengeance encumbered by a white man any more than he does.

DiCaprio himself, portraying plantation owner Calvin Candie, is far and away the most talented actor in Django Unchained, and like most of Tarantino's villains he gets the best lines. (His teeth are revolting and perfect.) Calvin Candie's own second is a simpering, aged Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the role of the black man loyal to the plantation. This, DiCaprio explains at length, is because African-Americans have a part of the skull which renders them more submissive than whites. Jackson's role is mostly played for comedy, and its only difference from the traditionally offensive roles of blacks issued in films from the early part of last century is that the actor behind the role voted for Obama.

The rest of the cast gets little in the way of screen time. As Django's wife, Kerry Washington is painfully muted. She is the only one slave who experiences tortune in Django Unchained as a slave. Sure, one man is torn to death by dogs, and another is beaten to death in a staged fight to the death, but that is not slavery. Slavery is not violence alone; it requires duration.

Mostly, the blacks of DiCaprio's not-so-idyllic Candyland lounge about, not working the fields or feeling the lash of the overseer. Washington's scars, when displayed at a particularly eventful dinner, are the only evidence of violence present. Her screams do not make us shudder when she emerges from the salty hotbox where she is punished for fleeing, and her anguish, or anyone else's, is never offered at length.

That is not the kind of movie Tarantino is making, which is something of a shame, because Quentin is the best technical director working today. He has abandoned his unnerving, electric habit of using long shots and pans that so set him apart from his fast-cutting peers in his early career, trading it in for a more flexible style. At times he seems to be even making fun of much imitated moments in his earlier efforts, repeating his most famous nausea-inducing pan from Reservoir Dogs as he circles around a group of Scottish slavers that includes himself, 100 pounds heavier than when Quentin Tarantino first cast Quentin Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs as the slender Mr. Brown.

Roots this is not. "Slavery is not a spaghetti western," Spike Lee informed us, as if this were in doubt. There are few spaghetti westerns played for laughs. Django Unchained is a slavery comedy, plain and simple.

Here we find a reminder of what slavery was, without the evidence of degradation over time that distinguished it from mere oppression. Maybe that is just as well. White audiences have never tolerated an extensive reminder of their ancestors' foibles; much easier to simply witness the murder of slaveowners and feel superior and glad as blood cartoonishly spews from their bodies when Django executes them. It is not dissimiliar to the congratulatory feeling that Zero Dark Thirty offers at the violent execution of Osama Bin Laden. At least Django does not throw a lively party and announce a press conference afterwards. We cannot help our enjoyment at watching evil people die, but nothing offers more diminishing rewards.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about Rebecca West and H.G. Wells.

"Freedom" - Anthony Hamilton & Elayna Boynton (mp3)

"Who Did That To You" - John Legend (mp3)