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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
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Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

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 (249)

Tuesday
Aug012017

In Which Nothing Blows Up To Our Considerable Chagrin

A Colder War Than Usual

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Atomic Blonde
dir. David Leitch
115 minutes

Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is fond of ice baths, brunettes, and cigarettes. She smokes seventeen of them in Atomic Blonde, which is quite the feat considering she never buys them and none of the other characters arranged in Berlin in 1989 ever offer her one. When two people enjoy smoking in the way that Lorraine and Percival (James McAvoy) do, you would think they would have a lot in common. At first, Percival believes they will.

By the end of Atomic Blonde, McAvoy and Theron have only had about three conversations with each other. Even though I appreciate the idea that they were simply not romantically inclined towards each other, Atomic Blonde runs so far away from this possibility that you wonder if the two actors ever saw each other on set. They don't touch at all during the movie's running time, at least not on the skin. Once, Percival takes her jacket.

McAvoy is a deft and exciting performer, and his supercharged supporting role as an English spy gone rogue is essential to this moody nothing-piece, because without him the only bomb going off would be the alarm at the conclusion of this feature-length nap.

Ms. Theron looks dramatically better as a brunette, or even bald. Blonde hair makes her look a bit goofy, really, but director David Leitch is keen to distract us from this fact by placing Lorraine in her undergarments as often as possible. She is nude in no less than five scenes, which has to be some kind of record. Despite this titillation, Atomic Blonde is rather dull, although that is not to say it does no attempt to make things interesting.

The film's central sequence is a set piece where Lorraine and Percival attempt to transport an East German man (Eddie Marsan) and his family to the West. Unfortunately, Leitch's budget did not really accomodate a crowd scene larger than 100 people. The action gets more chaotic in an apartment building nearby, where Lorraine fights for her life against members of the KGB. This is the closest we ever get to believing she is in serious trouble on her mission, but the drama is rather toned down because of the fact a frame story makes it quite clear she's alive and well except for a black eye.

For a spy thriller, absolutely everything is what it seems in Atomic Blonde. The four other contacts Lorraine makes in Berlin are a KGB agent, a British agent, a French agent named Delphine (Sofia Boutella) and a Swede named Merkel (Bill Skarsgård). None of them, including McAvoy are anything different from what they appear to be. This has the consequential effect of meaning that Lorraine never has a moment where she is taken by surprise, and as an audience neither do we.

More troubling is the absolute lack of a feast for the senses present in Atomic Blonde. Sure, the movie is pretty to look at, which is a major and important concern. But none of the characters ever smell, taste, touch or hear anything in each other's voices outside of a moment where Lorraine is critiqued for her poor German. How could anybody tell? She only speaks one line in the language.

The music of Atomic Blonde is an endless churn of 80s pop. Except for when Lorraine is fighting, she constantly has this lame soundtrack purring around her, with the resonance of the lyrics striking the rare thematic aspects present in the story: e.g. "Voices Carry" and "Father Figure." The songs are all way too familiar to be dropped into these mien, a fact that Leitch amusingly confesses to when he has Lorraine watch an MTV clip of Kurt Loder investigating the phenomenon of sampling.

Kurt Loder seemed absolutely ancient to me when he was on television, and Atomic Blonde does a good job of turning Berlin's atmosphere into something that can be called modern when viewed through this future lens. In a few fleeting moments, we get a sense of Lorraine as a kind of disturbed alien temporarily visiting on a planet of beings that might as well be ants to her: she is that far above them. This is possibly true.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Monday
Jul242017

In Which We Really Want To Return To England

War of the Ancients

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Dunkirk
dir. Christopher Nolan
106 minutes

Bane (Tom Hardy) is an English fighter pilot during World War II. After a sound thrashing, British and French troops decide to flee back to England instead of mounting a final stand. In contemporary British military history, this is the biggest win Christopher Nolan (The Prestige) has on hand to glorify. Just wait until he finds out about Admiral Nelson.

Nolan's last decent movie was 2010's Inception, although watching it back is something of a chore, especially the last hour. Nolan took Batman very seriously, perhaps even more seriously than Bruce Wayne himself did, but those movies are tough to watch now, too. 2014's Interstellar was an amusing mess, but it posed more questions than it answered. For example, what sort of actor does Nolan work well with other than Tom Hardy? Is it really necessary for Mr. Nolan to keep making movies that barely have women in them? And why does Tom Hardy do the Bane voice in the loud torrent of moviegoing experience that is Dunkirk?

Dunkirk is supposed to be thrilling, if a bit exhausting to experience. Sitting through it feels substantially longer than the stated running time. The first thing it made me think of is the bravura sequence that opens Alejandro Iñárritu's The Revenant, where we are thrust in the naturalistic midst of a battle. At times, when Nolan gives Dunkirk over to some of that inspired chaos, we feel that same sense of immersion. War seems a terrible, random tragedy.

This is a fleeting sensation, however, since Nolan is compelled to give us some semblance of a glimpse, but only that, into the mindset of these men. Their main driving emotion, across the board, is complete and utter fear. The only really determined member of the cast is Dawson (a particularly intolerable and affected Mark Rylance), a civilian slowly traipsing over to France in order to ferry soldiers back to the only island they know.

Substantially more charismatic is a British private played by newcomer Fionn Whitehead, who is only intent on getting off the dangerous beach, where 400,000 could have been crushed by Adolf Hitler's slightest impulse. Meanwhile Bane flies a plane intent on providing cover for the evacuation. Tom Hardy does more acting with his eyes during these gorgeous sequences of flight than others do with their entire body.

Nolan's trademark has always been total control of the action and cinematography of his projects, but he works against that tendency in Dunkirk. The issue is that if he turned something necessarily chaotic and random into a smooth interplay of unlike elements, he would be sacrificing the integrity of this recreation. As a result, Dunkirk only intermittedly coheres into moments of pure beauty.

This is not to say that Dunkirk is completely naturalistic. Violence is naturally condemned by not identifying the perpetrators or their motives, since it denies us the chance to empathize with the opposing force. Near the end of Dunkirk, we view a few Nazis for a only moment – just as quickly they are gone. I am not completely sure whether their exclusion is a weird sort of pardon, since the reason Hitler did not slaughter the English at Dunkirk was probably because his closest female friend was from that great country.

The best part of Dunkirk is the time dilation that Nolan thankfully does not overly explain. It means that the narrative jumps around in its chronology, and since there is not a whole lot of caring about the actual characters involved in this escape or a focus on the significance of their deaths, the only thing to do as a viewer is figure out why exactly Nolan opted for this approach. Given time, I couldn't think of a reason other than to make war more compelling through inception.

I saw Dunkirk in 70mm IMAX. The sound was completely overdone — there is such thing as overwhelming the senses, and another thing where you completely decimate the long-term hearing of your audience. Visually, if you compare it to films of ten years ago, Dunkirk looks substantially more lavish than all of them in its loud and oversized playpen. But if you compare it to, say, the preview of Justice League, it appears rather restrained and muted. Christopher Nolan continues to awkwardly straddle the line between action blockbuster and art film. I wish to God he would simply pick one of the two.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Monday
Jul172017

In Which We Refuse To Fight For The Planet

The Ape Hunter

by ALEX CARNEVALE

War for the Planet of the Apes
dir. Matt Reeves
140 minutes

Bad things keep happening to apes. Even though only two living apes in War for the Planet of the Apes are actually able to speak English, the species still lives in deep nature, and their lifestyle is not in any way altered from when they were beasts, we are supposed to believe that these creatures have transcended some invisible line of sentience. The life of an ape is by far the most important thing in War for the Planet of the Apes, even though the apes seem to be killing just as many humans, if not more.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) gets very, very upset when Woody Harrelson assassinates his family, so he decides to strike out with a few of his ape buddies to murder him out of revenge. The circumstances of Woody's slaughter are kind of unclear: we never actually see him end Caesar's family and the patriarch is conveniently elsewhere when the violence happens. This is just the first dumb shit thing Caesar does, but it is far from the last.

If Caesar were a human being, he would be an unsympathetic failure. But since world-class CGI gives him the saddest and fiercest looking face, reminding everyone of a puppy, we decide we can forgive him everything. The only thing Caesar eats during War for the Planet of the Apes is a light brown substance that looks like birdseed, since if he bit the head off of a bunny rabbit, we might realize he's not perfect. 

Bothering me even more than Caesar's diet is his lack of fungible genitalia. None of the apes have penises, despite walking around in the nude presumably among friends. These apes abhor sex, and never show the slightest romantic interest in other apes. There is one woman ape, who is most notable for being the nanny to Caesar's son. She has no other function or utility. There are a few human women who we see briefly as soldiers later on, but the only other woman in War for the Planet of the Apes is Nova (Amiah Miller), a nine year old who is unable to speak because of a virus that has spread all over North Carolina.

 

In a weird editing accident, director Matt Reeves did not notice that he placed a scene where a gorilla named Red places a flower in Nova's hair right next to a scene where she does the same to him. It is actually the only emotional misstep in the entire movie, which does a fantastic job balancing a goofy humor and the unending, merciless onslaught of tragedy. Reeves for the most part goes to great trouble in order to differentiate the apes, and the remarkable special effects at work here by Weta Digital capably transmit a very basic emotional journey between these limited characters.

Undoubtedly the worst part of War for the Planet of the Apes is an interminable sequence where Woody Harrelson completely explains his motivations and history as a person. After many years of watching the man, it might be time to admit that Woody is a variously passable comic actor and an intensely inadequate dramatic actor. He is completely unsuitable to this role as a grim, uncomplicated villain, and he gives us very little insight into how humanity in general is adapting to their new position in the world. 

The last half of the film occurs at a single location: a military base and prison camp underneath a small mountain. The battle that ensues there is relatively limited in scope, and it is very hard to account for the $150 million that was spent on this project. There is no actual war between humans and apes in the film, which is something of a disappointing development given all the promotional media and trailers promised actual conflict between the species. Like the historical figure he is meant to represent, Moses, Caesar's only purpose is to flee conflict and establish a sanctuary for his race. Everyone else in War for the Planet of the Apes waits patiently and silently for this to happen. 

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

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