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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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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 (246)

Tuesday
Jul042017

In Which We Avoid Conflict Whenever Possible

Very Firm

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Fearless
creator Patrick Harbinson
ITV

When Fearless begins, attorney Emma Banville is living with three other people in her house in Suffolk. The first is an ISIS operative named Miriam (Karima McAdams), who has a baby son. The final resident is her boyfriend Steve (John Bishop), her alcoholic photographer boyfriend. Her idea for the present and future is this: how can I bring a child into this life? Since she cannot conceive naturally because of an operation, Emma plans to adopt. When she presents her credentials to the agency involved, they are like, thanks but no thanks.

As her makeshift jury, we feel no more sympathy for Emma than her self-selected judge. A criminal defense solicitor, she is convinced she is not complicit in the crimes of her clients, and she proves it by housing a terrorist and defending a local man falsely accused of killing a fifteen year old girl in 2002. Fearless suggests there is basically no distinction between these two sorts of people; it is roughly the dramatic equivalent to those who cold-bloodedly explain that terrorist attacks are actually quite rare. Treason is a far worse crime than murder, and there was a point in history where this was manifestly obvious to everyone.

Fortunately Ms. Banville does not live in a world of greys. She has an adversary who obfuscates the moral instability of her world: Heather Myles (Robin Weigert), an American NSA operative who is responsible for every single bad thing that happens in Fearless. Evil is obvious, the opening title sequence of Fearless suggests as a young girl meant to represent Ms. Banville leaps over a wall tattooed by the words truth and justice. Various clips suggest the historical subtext to Fearless – that England was somehow duped into the Iraq War and that Tony Blair was some kind of fool for believing in the U.S. as allies. What this has to do with Donald Trump I'm not quite sure, but he also puts in an appearance during the awful prologue.

Thankfully, the rest of the series itself is quite a bit better. Helen McCrory – Damian Lewis' wife in real life and Narcissa Malfoy in the fake one – is one of those actresses who suddenly became stunning as she crested her 40s. Even though scripter and Homeland veteran Patrick Harbinson has her smoking a cigarette in every scene of Fearless, this can do nothing to obscure her inner beauty. McCrory is a performer of devastating, uncompromising range who takes scenes that would be outright dull for anyone else and turns them into a rollercoaster of human pathos. She does more on the end of a simple telephone call than Helen Hunt has done in her lifetime.

The rest of the cast seems largely selected by virtue of it being impossible for McCrory to dominate them onscreen. Most are placid shields that absorb her measured tenacity. Her colleague Dominic, played by the amusing and subtle actor Jonathan Forbes, is the perfect rejoinder to McCrory's ups and downs. As the detective who originally made the case against her client, Wunmi Musaku is a little too cold-blooded to be believable, but it is great fun watching the rest of the cast smash up against the impenetrable wall she represents.

The legal aspects of Fearless, including the twists and turns in the case, are relatively contrived and serve largely as background noise behind McCrory's eloquence. That she is not able to try her own case in front of the court as a barrister is an aspect of the British justice system clearly unsuited for the small screen.

It is fun to see America positioned as a great evil in the world. Recently, their intelligence services have really made a mess of things in British film and television. Perhaps it is useful for England to think of its international reach as a subtle counterpoint to America's cynical warfare, only the field of international security is not quite as morally definite as Fearless suggests. When MI5 comes to Emma's flat in order to arrest her lodger, the woman slips her a SIM card valuable to the other men in her ISIS cell. Even though the British authorities have apparently been listening in, they do not arrest Emma.

Emma is implicated, but she does not trust her government. Instead of going to the authorities immediately, as every aspect of her should be screaming, she prevaricates and decides to leak nude photos of the murder victim to the press. Sadly, this accomplishes nothing and even makes Emma look like more of a sleazeball in the eyes of everyone she knows – including her husband, who accepts a photography assignment for three weeks in Sweden just when things are at their most delicate. In response, Emma smokes another cigarette and visits the hospital where her father is on the brink of death. No matter how many unpleasant things she does, she knows how to have fun.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Thursday
Jun292017

In Which We Were The Worst Of An Awful Lot

Comfort Food

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Bad Batch
dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
115 minutes

The Bad Batch, the dynamite second feature of Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour, begins when Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is dumped into a cannibal desert wasteland. Everything is going against the film at that point: an overly glamorous model lead, music from Die Antwoord that impinges on every aspect of our senses, the constantly reused desert setting selected for its lack of cost to the production. Ten minutes later, Waterhouse is missing her right arm and her right leg, and Amirpour has written over every cliché you thought she was settling into so obscenely.

We first meet Miami Man (the consistently excellent Jason Momoa) in his trailer, where he is painting a portrait of his daughter. It is such an eye-raising way to discover a character, especially a cannibal. A few minutes later, Momoa is snapping the neck of a captured woman begging for her life. Amirpour offers these moments in a meaningful way; she chooses neither to overlay them with music or glorify the violence. She is fully in control at all times, and by the end of The Bad Batch, you realize what a miracle it must have been to shoot this on a budget of only $6 million.

Instead of sweeping, dull shoots of this wasteland environment, Amirpour has a deft eye for people — how they speak and relate to each other in ways that are unmistakably human. Scenes with Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves and Giovanni Ribisi might have come across as stunt casting in another context. Each performer takes these smaller roles with a diverting seriousness that never takes away from the affecting moments of The Bad Batch. Even the tiniest scene, like a drifter asking Miami Man to sketch his portrait, is full of life.

After her violent amputation, Arlen escapes her confinement by smearing her body with feces and escaping when her captors try to clean her. She pushes her way across the landscape on skateboard, presumably unable to find a stick of any kind. Amirpour makes a point of not keeping Arlen in anguish or pain throughout. We might have emphasized more with the character if we were filled in on her struggles, but there is a deliberate effort here not to focus on a theme of suffering. This is just the way the world is, and Arlen knows it.

Waterhouse herself has some struggles. She is still growing as a performer, and her dark eyebrows barely move throughout The Bad Batch: she seems incapable of emitting measured, smaller responses to events. Her face remains vaguely placid no matter the situation, and her body does not really shake or move either. Sexuality is the last meaningful thing in her life. The first images we see of her smooth legs parody a cinema of exploitation until one of those limbs is quickly shorn off. In various ways Waterhouse would resemble an anime heroine if Amirpour had not put in evidence enough remarkable moments to make her real.

Because she is hateful of cannibals, when Arlen finds Miami Man's wife and daughter in a local dump, she shoots and kills the mother to save the girl from a fate of eating human flesh. Instead of explaining the motivation of every act in The Bad Batch, Amirpour's script is delightfully minimal, allowing us to puzzle out the various moralities and motivations ourselves. In this way, the metropolis of Comfort seems most like a living, breathing whorl. When Arlen finally meets Miami Man as he searches for his daughter, the coming together of these two disturbing figures is more than the sum of their parts.

Music by Jordan Lieb under the name Black Light Smoke preserves the dystopia in its latter stages. Arlen finds the young girl in custody of the Dream (Keanu Reeves), who lords over Comfort with a harem, in the film's least original aspect. Reeves' dialogue is so perfect it doesn't matter to us. The Bad Batch enters us into its hypnotic fugue, its rapid day and night cycles establishing a continuity independent of our own time. This exciting sophomore effort — from such an assured voice — heralds the coming of a new master.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Monday
Jun052017

In Which We Enter The Theater Of All Our Operations

The Only One

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Wonder Woman
dir. Patty Jenkins
141 minutes

When Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) sails into London in 1918, all she can think of is how ugly the city is. Long before landfall, Diana's mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) was fearful of how she might react to the idea that she is a mutant. Hippolyta create an elaborate mythology to explain why she has no living father and lives in a cloistered society of immortal women without men or children. As explanations from single mothers go, I have heard far worse. Herodotus placed this Diana's tribe of women on the coast of Northern Turkey – in Wonder Woman, this paradise has become a safe haven from the civilized world. When Diana goes to leave Turkey, her mother says, "You may not return."

I was very confused by this milquetoast comment: did Hippolyta mean there was a chance she might not make it back, or that she was not allowed back? Maybe I missed something. In any case, the disappearance of Diana's mother and aunt from the narrative of Wonder Woman is a massive loss, because in the rest of the movie she never has a significant conversation with another woman.

This turns Wonder Woman into quite a boring slog of male faces. It is Diana's mindless desire to reach the war's battles, because she has various abilities which could aid the Allies. Her assistant Steven (Chris Pine) is absolutely tiny, and in his fake German uniform that he uses to spy for the United States, he looks something close to Humpty Dumpty. Steven has no loved ones, or anyone in his life that he cares about, so when he meets Diana, he cannot wait to make her his entire life.

Other men react to Gadot's presence in a similarly typical way. In a meeting of various politicians, they all loudly object to the appearance of a woman. Steven's three associates are a Sunni Muslim, an American Indian and a Scotsman. They relate to Diana only as an object, but after they see her deflect bullets with the plates on her arms, they are devoted to her because of the protection from harm she offers during the war. Wonder Woman manages to make a film about global violence which barely ever shows death at all.

Gadot plays Diana Prince as a straightforward innocent. She does not really appreciate any of the subtleties of espionage, which is meant to be a credit to a direct approach in times of trouble. Wonder Woman goes to great lengths to excoriate generals who wish to pursue an armistice with the Central Powers, but by the end of the film Diana is giving everyone soft hugs, even the Germans who gassed a Belgian town.

Gadot herself unsurprisingly offers little as an actress. Both Robin Wright Penn as her mentor and Nielsen are fantastic in Wonder Woman; they look a lot more like warriors than Gadot does, and generally highlight the Israeli model's struggles to portray basic emotions in this role. When she becomes angry, her Diana Prince is frantic and hotheaded, but there is no acceleration between the two mental states. The saving grace is that her chemistry with Pine is very good, and it is a disappointment that the film leans so little on their romance.

It is unclear how such a person could become a hero to her gender, since we never see Diana's conduct appraised by any actual women in Wonder Woman, just men who are so overwhelmed with her physical prowess that they assume a greater wisdom behind it. Unfortunately this reductive attitude, while useful in identifying warriors, is mostly reinforcement of the patriarchy. All the best moments in Wonder Woman happen before she ever enters the male-dominated world.

After she thinks back on the events of her life, Wonder Woman evinces Diana Prince in an office inside of the Louvre. She is tapping away on a tablet and has become something of a typical bourgeois drone. It is quite sad to see her reduced to a normal existence, but I suppose if she was doing something important, she would have no time to team up with a bunch of yet another bunch of men for 2018's Justice League. Who knows? One day, in the far future, she may deign to speak to another woman again.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.