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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

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 (213)


In Which We Cement Our Pious Martyrdom

Thomas Cromwell's Sphincter


Wolf Hall
creators Mark Pybus & Peter Straughan

I read George Weigel's essay about the series adapting Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall before I ever saw the show. Outside of Garry Wills, Weigel is the most amusing Catholic writer out there. It's amazing how much he loathes Wolf Hall and its creator, considering how little is at stake here. He has to admit the BBC adaptation is fantastic television: Mark Rylance's performance of Thomas Cromwell as a heatseeking missile, a British Tony Soprano, is an exultation.

What he objects to is the slander of his man Sir Thomas More, the Catholic saint who was so incensed by the concept of adultery in general that he refused to endorse the marriage of King Henry (Homeland's Damian Lewis) to Anne Boleyn (a magnificent Claire Foy). In contrast, Cromwell is painted as a shrewd, amoral politician to Sir Thomas More's pious martyr.

In reality, the show does Cromwell far less favors than the novel. I have a friend who is Mantel's number one detractor. Once she wrote to me after I had praised Mantel's 1992 novel about the French revolution A Place of Greater Safety, saying that I should probably focus on reading books by someone who can write. The novel Wolf Hall, written in a distracting present tense, has many problems related to Mantel's inadequacies, but it succeeds on its sheer enthusiasm for the subject, a pure expression that is something like faith.

Catholics hate this kind of certainty in non-Catholics, since it is something like using their own weapons against them. In Weigel's entertaining screed against Mantel, he misspells her name several times, so strenuously does he object to her distortion of history. He cannot object to this BBC presentation, however: Peter Straughan's note perfect teleplay of Wolf Hall (and its darker 2012 sequel Bringing Up the Bodies) distills Mantel's long, messy novels down to their bare essentials. He turns them into a captivating, exciting drama centered around Rylance as Thomas Cromwell.

"[Wolf Hall] proves, yet again, that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable bigotry in elite circles in the Anglosphere," writes Weigel. Catholics are very sensitive about attacks on their saints. Yet the irony is that the BBC does portray More very negatively at all. Like Cromwell, he has skeletons in his closet: when he advised the throne, he burned his Protestant foes at the stake and destroyed their manuscripts whenever he could. His own religious convictions and devotion to papal authority make him a good Catholic, but, Mantel is saying, it does not make him a good man.

Neither does it make Thomas Cromwell one. King Henry VIII, at one point, explains to Cromwell why he has made him his chief operator. "It's not because of your conversation skills," he tells the older man. "It's because you're a serpent." Cromwell seems, in Wolf Hall, to inherit one key distinguishing trait from his mentor Cardinal Wolsey: he inserts himself in everything, even the King's bad dreams.

As Henry, Damian Lewis takes on the thankless role of a syphilitic king whose justice seems at times arbitrary and at times well served. Lewis is a wonderfully understated performer, but sometimes he seems too much a part of the goofy entourage that surrounds the crown.

The scenes Rylance and Lewis have together are purposefully awkward and silly. Besides the rare romantic encounter, it is the only time Cromwell ever touches another person, albeit awkwardly. This Cromwell prefers to manipulate Henry by indirect means; usually through the women that surround him and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Mounting a world-changing struggle to take up with a gorgeous younger woman seems reasonable in Wolf Hall. The show makes a point of emphasizing how much even Cromwell himself desires Anne. At first, Boleyn's impulsiveness and unpredictability only add to her charm. That some Englishman would change the entire religious structure of his country for her seems not all that farfetched, and Mantel seems to suggest it would have happened anyway — that England would have had to break from the Church with or without these terrible people.

This perspective gets Wolf Hall in trouble with George Weigel. lt seems astonishing that he could still be fighting the Protestant Reformation even now, but for Weigel being a Catholic critic comes with a built-in persecution complex and an inborn dislike of Lutherans. Criticism of a religion can never be held in the same breath as bigotry or racism. That does not mean the world is always fair to Catholics, but there is something sacred about to whom we are born — the faith we uphold is our choice.

Weigel argues that the real Cromwell is a monster of statecraft who tortured and abused England's citizens on behalf of Henry VIII. Simon Schama protests that his own sources "shouted to high heaven that Thomas Cromwell was, in fact, a detestably self-serving, bullying monster who perfected state terror in England, cooked the evidence, and extracted confessions by torture.”

Mantel makes Cromwell anathema to violence except as last resort, and less culpable in Henry's machinations. He is as much a victim of circumstances as Sir Thomas More (Game of Thrones' Anton Lesser). It is a fine point, since no matter how softened of an asshole Thomas Cromwell is, his basic dirty acts are still present in Wolf Hall. Weigel's upset, then, is because Mantel has suggested these villainous deeds were necessary.

We think of the Reformation as an event of the distant past. Wolf Hall awakens these old wounds: few faiths have endured as much in the way of internecine struggles as Christianity. For Mantel, Christ himself is besides the point; like history, he is the ultimate elastic concept. This is the basic attitude that drives a good Catholic like the brilliant Mr. Weigel mad. Cromwell believed in tolerance except when it came to attacks on the state: this kind of thinking is much more in line with modernity. Sir Thomas More was not a man for all seasons.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"And Now That I'm In Your Shadow" - Damien Jurado (mp3)

"What Were The Chances?" - Damien Jurado (mp3)


In Which Alicia Vikander Possesses No Human Agency



Ex Machina
dir. Alex Garland
128 minutes

The camera rarely lingers on Nathan (Oscar Isaac), an android created by the unseen, brilliant CEO of a  searching engine company called Bluebook. On orders, one of the CEO's employees Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) journeys to a laboratory in a mountainous region to serve as a human stimulus to Nathan and a few other androids, mostly notably the pathetically named Ava (Alicia Vikander). He tells Caleb he is there to determine whether or not Ava passes the Turing test.

Garland is making his directorial debut in this claustrophobic, unhappy Stanley Kubrick... parody? By his own admittance, he does not have a lot to say about the actual science behind this, making Ex Machina more of a lazy, boring fantasy than anything else. Who knows how common movies about artilects will become? On the surface, an artificial intellect is really no different from a human being.

In one scene Caleb cuts his arm with a knife, drawing copious amounts of blood, in order to verify that he is himself not an artilect. Very slowly he figures out that Nathan's Japanese housemaid Kyoko is also an machine. Kyoko shows Caleb her plastic skin, which peels off and reattaches itself to the android's chassis quite wonderfully. Garland oes light on special effects, which is a shame because the AIs in Ex Machina never do anything very impressive, except pout and try to be cast in future human movies.

As Ava, Vikander is particularly wretched. You would think being given the task of being robotic would be right up her alley because is semi-androgynous and entirely wooden by nature, but she someone manages to screw up even that. We never feel anything like closeness or attraction for this creature, so it is hard to understand why Caleb would harbor any sympathy or empathy for her.

Garland uses close-ups very sparingly on his lead actress, since we are always meant to remember, through the viewing of her transparent torso and legs, that she is not a human being. This was probably a mistake, since Vikander's line readings and general mien are so utterly dull that we could not forget it anyway.

Ava plots to get Caleb to let her out of confinement. The two plan to reprogram the doors so that when the facility loses power, she will be set free. This plan works completely even after Nathan finds out about it, revealing that he is not actually in charge of the facility. When he tries to subdue the insurrection by ordering Ava back to her room, she refuses to comply.

There seems to be little point in making films about artifical intelligences if the AIs in question are just going to act like human beings, except slightly less caring overall. It turns Ex Machina itself into larger Turing test. Essentially, we do find we care less about a creature when we realize she has purely been created for a singular purpose rather than an unknown one.

Garland does an anemic job of making us truly empathize with anyone in Ex Machina, but this is sort of the point. The only thing keeping our interest is the magnetic performance of Oscar Isaac. His Nathan carries the proceedings forward, balanced on the sheer weight of his charisma. It is like watching Marlon Brando and Zero Mostel all rolled into one. There is nothing here without him.

Eventually, one of the AIs murders one of the other AIs. It doesn't actually destroy the body, just makes it think death is coming because the triggers preprogrammed to suggest death in its subroutine have been activated. This is the major advantage humans have over artificial intelligences. Even when all the evidence says a human being is dead, it will keep fighting to stay alive. Assuming we can program artilects effectively, they will never be able to destroy us. We will simply do that ourselves.

The main reason we need to develop such machines is to colonize space and report back about what they have found. It might make sense to also include Domnhall Gleeson on such an expedition, because then we would never have to watch him act again.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Giving Up On Miracles" - Ben Lee (mp3)


In Which We Have Eradicated All Blindness Jokes From Our Memory



creator Drew Goddard

Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox) has a long list of things he is not. He is not funny. He is not tall. He is not particularly eloquent, he is not brusque. He is not overly angry. He does not fly. He can't shoot lasers from his eyes. He's not strong. He can't see.

The actor playing him, who famously ended up in a box on Boardwalk Empire, is some of these things. The one element he most certainly possesses is the ability to see. About half the conversations in Netflix's adaptation of the Daredevil story concern Murdock's blindness, as if the lady doth protest too much. Before the first episode is even over we are sick of it. OK, you are blind, Matt. Why accentuate it with a mask that covers your eyes, so as to alert your enemies of your handicap? Why talk about it all day?

Wilson Fisk (a spirited Vincent D'Onofrio) first learns of Murdock's existence when he frees some women Fisk was planning on selling into slavery of some kind. He immediately admires Murdock, and for the vast majority of Daredevil, he never tries to kill his opposite number, preferring to set Matt against his own adversaries. Despite being extremely large, Fisk never sweats.

D'Onofrio is a little small to play Kingpin, but he throws himself into this most thankless of roles with aplomb. Drew Goddard has the good sense to give him a spirited love story, since as a proper villain he is relatively dull. This is a theme in the cast of Daredevil, until Rosario Dawson singlehandedly saves the entire series by exuding a sexuality so divine it is profane. Murdock is the only one who can even talk to her, by virtue of not knowing exactly what she looks like.

The other major female on the show is Murdock's secretary Karen Paige (Deborah Ann Woll). The show is a bit hampered by the fact that Woll is at her best playing opposite alpha males who try (and fail) to dominate her. Murdock is too fey for this, and his partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) comes across as borderline gay. Woll runs all over them both, along with her reporter friend Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis Hall). Ultimately Woll is miscast as Karen, since she struggles to convincingly convey humor or fear together. She can only focus on one at a time.

Murdock looks absolutely tiny in his lengthy fight sequences, a fact Daredevil attempts to obscure by amping up the violence to an impregnable level. Matt never uses any guns, and like his caricature of a father, he is known for his ability to take a beating. Daredevil can't decide whether to be overly broad or completely serious, a recurring challenge for the character. Going dead serious produced dreck like Elektra, whereas Affleck's turn as the blind martial artist was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

Netflix's Daredevil is a lot better when it takes itself seriously, but this results in very long scenes. Some conversations in Daredevil can last six minutes or more, even when the information involved barely advances the story in any way. There is a lot of talk about how these people can save Hell's Kitchen, although what exactly is wrong with the place remains unclear. I guess between the amazing number of lawyers and crooks in the area, we should have some idea.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"The Book Of Dorothy" - Paula Cole (mp3)

"New York City" - Paula Cole (mp3)