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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 (212)

Thursday
Jun302016

In Which We Bury Every Single Tycoon In The Room

Breathless Chances

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Last Tycoon
creator Billy Ray
Amazon Studios

In the meantime, Stahl is now seriously ill. He and Kathleen have been taking "breathless chances." They have succeeded in having one last fling, which has taken place during an overpowering heat wave in the early part of September. But their meetings have proved unsatisfactory. -  from the synopsis of the unwritten conclusion to The Love of the Last Tycoon

The Love of the Last Tycoon was the kind of literary disaster than probably never should have seen the light of day. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a weird, vaguely homosexual worship piece on producer Irving Thalberg. Thalberg was a Jew who had the kind of inspirational story Scott had never been able to credibly write. Naturally, it turned out that this perfect male icon was doomed.

In Billy Ray's adaptation of this mess, he casts Matt Bomer as Hollywood executive Monroe Stahr. Bomer, recently of a Guy Ritchie movie that should have never been released, is slowly improving as an actor. Here Ray positions him opposite Lily Collins. Ms. Collins' eyebrows are inches thick and she looks like a deformed side character in a John Steinbeck novel. She loves Monroe, spending long monologues whining about how heroic he is. No one knows what the fuck she's talking about, least of all her father Pat (Kelsey Grammar), who runs this studio.

For some reason Billy Ray has turned the incredibly weak plot of Fitzgerald's half-novel into a Nazis vs Jews story. "I can't even put the word Nazi into one of my pictures," Bomer whines to one of his friends even though this makes so little sense it actually gives me a headache. Does Billy Ray think that the word Nazi was a slur? It was the name of their party.

Back to Scott's book, which was reconstructed by Edmund Wilson. Fitzgerald definitely has his highs and lows as a prose stylist. There's this one racist scene where they are driving down a road in Los Angeles and they see a "Negro" herding some cows. He moves them across the road and they give him a quarter. It's a very sad little moment that shows how behind the times Scott was as a writer at the end. Flannery O'Connor was in his rear view about to run him over.

Adding to the general confusion of this horrendous adaptation is Kelsey Grammer. In The Last Tycoon, he gets tons of screen time and looks so much heavier than he ever did. This neither suits him or the role he is playing, and Ray's writing for all his characters is a messy cross between the snappy dialogue in a Billy Wilder movie and some approximation of reality. In comparison to Bomer, who it seems may disappear if he is viewed from the wrong angle, Grammer looks like the obese girl from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in her final form.

As a representation of the period, The Last Tycoon is tremulously bad. Bomer's character is super-depressed because his Irish wife died, so he submerges his grief into his work. Ray wants us to think that Monroe Stahr is really good at his job. Actually, he is only terrific at motivating and manipulating people as a Don Draper-clone, and Scott's story shows how much they resent it and how little there is left of a person who behaves in this fashion. The odd, vaguely homoerotic glorification of this Jewish character is not only a historical abortion, but it feels like a lie on every level.

I was completely certain when I first read The Love of the Last Tycoon and now watching this latest disaster from the inimitably bad Amazon Studios brand that neither Billy Ray nor Scott Fitzgerald has any idea what it is like to be a Jew. At least Scott's novel admits that, in a way, positioning Monroe as fundamentally misunderstood.

In Ray's version of The Last Tycoon, there is actually a scene where Bomer is sobbing like a little girl over his deceased Irish wife. He explains to everyone who will listen that he wants to make an inspirational version of her story. Such a person who came from nothing would never elevate his own experience above any other? Billy Ray doesn't understand any of these people, and the visual look on offer completely absconds with any semblance of truthtelling.

That is what is so profoundly offensive about The Last Tycoon. Telling a story about any ethnic minority and lying about the particulars should face harsh sanctions. If Wesley Snipes went to jail, so should everyone involved in this piece of shit, especially Lily Collins. The fact that Amazon has so little faith in their decision-making on individual series that they feel the need to greenlight so many awful pilots proves how little confidence they have in their product.

There is one astonishing scene in the abridged version of The Love of the Last Tycoon that I will never forget. The woman who will eventually become Lily Collins is talking about her father, and how she had no real conception of how he appeared to others. Then she is at a bar and a man approaches, looming near here in a sort of mourning avidity. She wishes for him to move on until it occurs to her that this is her papa. As in all Fitzgerald, this metaphor of a single moment represents the whole fucking situation completely.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Tuesday
Jun282016

In Which No One Ever Missed Will Smith This Much

Alien Queen Blues

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Independence Day: Resurgence
dir. Roland Emmerich
120 minutes

You know what Independence Day needed, when you really think about it? Charlotte Gainsbourg. Sure, Char might be a little young to play Jeff Goldblum's love interest. Then again she is eleven years older than his wife so what am I saying.

You know what Independence Day needed more than Char, when you really think about it? A Hemsworth, any Hemsworth will do. Chris would have been ideal but since he was busy Roland Emmerich settled for his second choice, Liam. Liam is in a committed relationship with Bill Pullman's daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe). The pair haven't moved in together yet, but you feel the moment is coming. Although Patricia is of course a trained fighter space pilot, she retired before Independence Day: Resurgence begins to take care of her Da.

Don't worry though, because right after Vivica A. Fox dies falling off a building, a female fighter pilot from China named Rain (Angelababy) emerges to capture the all important international market. Women are quite powerful from the shadows, as the casting of Sela Ward as the president of these United States indisputably proves. "There will be no peace," she screams as she is murdered by aliens halfway through this impressively wretched movie.

Independence Day: Resurgence features a cast as a massive as Gosford Park. This is a shame because the actual plot has tons of potential. A devious queen alien plans to milk Earth of its sensational molten core. Do you ever just drive around and think, wow, below me thousands of miles beneath the Earth's crust is something infinitely more valuable than Maika Monroe's mediocre acting abilities?

A lot of stuff is dated in this movie. There's no sex or love except one guy who has a crush on the Chinese girl. (He disappears shortly thereafter confessing his crush and she refuses to kiss him later on.) Generic alien-type aliens are no longer sufficient to inspire fear or wonder. Just looking at Charlotte Gainsbourg's neck generates more apprehension than all the special effects in Independence Day: Resurgence combined.

In order to battle the queen alien, Jeff Goldblum discovers this sphere on the moon. White tendrils emerge from the object, incensing the queen for whom it acts like a kind of beacon. She puts on a very cute suit of armor and heads to where Jeff is, so she can presumably lecture him about an obsession with younger women. The sphere learns English and explains it originates from another alien species opposed to the queen.

Eventually Liam Hemsworth sort of forgets about Maika Monroe, suggesting she may not have been affectionate enough for his tastes. He starts flirting with Will Smith's sexy son from the first movie. Young W.S. isn't quite the pilot that his father was. Near the end of the movie Maika strips down to a tank top and everyone is happy, even though her dad died. Earth is saved, and Will Smith is just a guy in a painting in the White House.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Thursday
Jun162016

In Which We Search Desperately For The Real Villains

Comfortable Men

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Nice Guys
dir. Shane Black
119 minutes
 

I started to ask myself: who would I be if I didn't live in a world that hated women? I've been unable to come up with a satisfactory answer, but I did realize I've long been mourning this version of myself that never existed. - Jessica Valenti

Earlier this year an employee was fired at Nintendo of America after a group of misogynist messageboard posters targeted her as a perpetrator in the heady crime of making changes to an American release of a Japanese game. (She wasn't responsible for those alterations, not that it matters.) They started "researching" her past and decided to shame her for various opinions she held in her dissertation about the prosecution of sex crimes. Nintendo responded by digging further into the woman's life, uncovering a job she performed in order to supplement the measly income and health insurance she made working for the company. They fired her for this moonlighting, even though it was explicitly allowed in her contract. It was nothing more than an excuse to side with trolls over a talented member of their own company.

The women-haters who brought this all about seem like the real villains of this story. But there are worse ones: men (and sometimes women) who buy into harassment and support the atmosphere it generates. These good-intentioned people — how often we hear them say they love women — have a distinct point where they completely capitulate to pressure of any kind. They are comfortable with the concept of women as long as the women in question are simultaneously making them comfortable. Enter the nice guys.

It is perhaps natural that fathers today want to protect their daughters more than ever. Star of The Nice Guys Holland March (Ryan Gosling) does not particularly subscribe to this point of view. After the death of his wife, he is raising his daughter Holly (Australian actress Angourie Rice) on the wages of a private eye. During her summer off from school, Holly tries to aid her helpless pop on a case where he attempts to determine the whereabouts of a pornographic actress named Amelia (Margaret Qualley).

Holly is almost shot, murdered with a knife, run over by a car and abducted throughout Shane Black's The Nice Guys. At the end of it you would be hard pressed to say that Holland is any kind of a good parent, but you have to give him credit for allowing his daughter to be her own person, albeit a miniaturized version of himself. "I hate you," she tells her dad during one particularly feisty moment, but the rest of the time she is simply upset whenever she is not included in the excitement of his job. 

The rest of the women in The Nice Guys are either evil beasts doing the bidding of men, or whores. Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger) appears halfway through the film as a cold-blooded concerned mother. In The Nice Guys, Basinger portrays the head of the Justice Department, a lawyer working for the car manufacturers in order to ensure they are not penalized for defying environmental regulations. She hires the nice guys to find her daughter; instead her daughter is murdered and she does not even get a refund.

The joke Black is making is that there are no nice guys. Exhibit A: the closest Black has ever come to writing an effective woman character is a thirteen-year-old virtually identical to Nancy Drew. Still, you have to give him points for effort. Unlike the producers of the new Ghostbusters, he knows his own limitations.

A particularly wretched article appeared in The New York Times recently, announcing that anyone who thought Paul Feig was less than a complete genius (for his patronizing character of a ghettoized black woman?) is a person who clearly hates women.

Paul Feig is another "nice guy," only he isn't very nice and he can't write women for shit either. I guess some credit goes to him for making an action film with an all-woman cast. The fact that is a cynical cash-in on fan nostalgia and the movie looks completely tone-deaf and unfunny, not to mention borderline racist, is besides the point. This particular beacon of feminism is a man drawing a huge paycheck for making a group of talented women the focal point for a hate campaign while he lurks in the shadows.

Feig's last movie was quite financially successful as well. It spent a solid two hours making fat jokes about Melissa McCarthy — but hey, since she was the star, it was a progressive piece of revolutionary feminism. Actually, Spy was mean-spirited and awful, and anyone involved in its production should be pretty ashamed of the Chuck Lorre-esque bigotry the movie espoused. It may have somehow escaped the notice of those determined to justify everything that this nice guy does, but women have — gasp! — been starring as the lead draws in feature films long before Paul Feig was born.

Maybe it is as Jessica Valenti says in her new memoir, and the whole world hates women. This does not mean, prima facie, that this was always so. Women did rule nations, empires. They accomplished a lot before The Nice Guys ever came onto the scene. Given the title Shane Black gives to his movie, you would have thought there was some larger point at work here about men's relationship to women. Instead The Nice Guys becomes turgidly boring after an entertaining first hour, subsisting mostly on Black's back-and-forth banter. The basic overall message of the film is how difficult it is being a good person.

Russell Crowe has no chemistry with Gosling for some reason, which is how The Nice Guys falls apart. The two men have very little in common besides their occupation and their status as bachelors. Despite the insanely long running time of The Nice Guys, neither ever even meets or approaches a woman in a sexual way. It is as if Black believes that treating a woman as a romantic equal is ultimately too much like objectifying her as a sexual object. Except for very young girls who might be their daughters, Gosling and Crowe's characters are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of adult women.

One scene near the end of the film is particularly disturbing in that regard. Gosling and Crowe wait in the lobby of a courthouse after testifying in front of a grand jury about the machinations of Kim Basinger's corrupt lawyer. She goes over to sit by them and explain her actions and sadness at her daughter Amelia's death. Strangely, the two men cannot even bring themselves to look at her face, that of a grieving mother. Instead Gosling speaks in German, comparing this powerful fallen, woman to Adolf Hitler.

Whether or not there is an active misogyny behind this filmmaking, I don't really know or care. It used to be that Hollywood was where society took steps forward; now film is purely a reactionary medium. Even contrived, white savior stories like Mississippi Burning and Schindler's List did the important work of showing why human beings deserved to be treated as equals. The Nice Guys barely believes that women exist as anything other than children. This horrendous state of affairs really stands out when a B-tier remake of a soulless franchise that was never really much to begin with, directed by a man, becomes a rallying cry. Women actually do make films — it's not just the nice guys.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.