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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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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 (192)

Tuesday
Nov102015

In Which We Were A Credit To The Human Race

Praise Him

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Master of None is Aziz Ansari's new Netflix series about his life in New York City. The big takeaways from his life as an actor and comedian are the following:

There is a lot of racism directed at Southeast Asian people.

Aziz Ansari is one hell of a guy. 

Women aren't always nice to him. 

He spends a lot of time texting, perhaps more than is healthy. 

Isn't he wonderful?

There is hagiography, which is what they did to Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was the most implausible movie in recent memory, and could not even be salvaged by Michael Fassbender's penis, which never made so much as a floppy appearance. Steve Jobs made an asshole seem not so bad, but Master of None makes a normal guy into the world's biggest martyr. 

Ansari ostensibly plays up-and-coming actor Dev on Master of None, but it is basically himself, except he never says so much as one word wrong. Dev is generous to his friends and kind to his family. He even sets up his dad's iPad, and is so sweet to his co-stars on a movie called The Sickening. We have moved beyond hagiography into simple worship of Mr. Ansari. 

Women are the only creatures placed on a higher pedestal. Dev worships them, in turn, like princesses. He wants to know all about their jobs and lives, in hopes of generating some kind of magic that will lead him into the type of relationship his parents enjoyed. When he rediscovers the pleasures of a Jewish girl with whom he had sloppy sex a few months back, he's elated until she confirms she is trying to work things out with an ex-boyfriend. Even though he did not call her after the sex, he is crushed by her rejection. 

Dev's friend Denise (Dear White People's Lena Waithe) is a lesbian who hangs out with Dev and his male friends. They have many similar interests, including their passion for sharing strategies about getting laid. Dev's other buddies are Brian (Kelvin Yu), a handsome Taiwanese-American, and Arnold (Eric Wareheim dressed as a post-prison Jared Fogle). He talks to them about what he should do to make these women like and respect him. While his friends genuinely care for him, Ansari's paramours seem about as concerned with him as a chef is with the feelings of an egg. 

His hopeless travails finding love represent the only flaw Aziz has. Ansari dedicates one whole episode to letting us know how much he appreciates everything his parents did for him. A lengthy flashback reviews the struggles his parents endured to make a better life for him in the United States. He is enriched by their sacrifice. 

In another episode, Ansari takes a waitress named Alice to a secret Father John Misty concert. She ends up stealing someone's jacket and getting kicked out of the venue. This is what he gets for doing something nice, and he is enriched by her sacrifice. 

It is a credit to Aziz that he never accuses women of harboring any racism towards him. Amazingly this never comes up in his massive, wikipedia-level book about love, Modern Romance. As much as the book was a terrible chore interspersed with the funniest parts of his stand-up act, Master of None is completely charming. 

The reason for the disparity in quality is that Ansari is not much of a prose writer; instead he is a captivating performer. The rest of the cast seems carefully selected not to show him up in any way, and their lessening works — Ansari's charisma makes every scene compelling, no matter how slight. He revisits the boredom and humor of a career in acting in a much more entertaining way than was found during the entire run of Ricky Gervais' Extras

Perhaps most refreshing is that Ansari never relies on sight gags, one-liners, profanity or gross-outs to create his comedy, even though some of those things were obviously a part of the fun in his stand-up act. Every single laugh here is because of an extensed investment in who Dev is, a magnificent creature who should be celebrated by humanity, possibly with a statue?

Ansari's adopted hometown of New York does not come across nearly as well. (The comedian was born and raised in South Carolina.) In the most accurate depiction of the place to date, New York is a city in decline. Indoor scenes are depressing and dark, the daytime jaunts are overexposed and painfully bright. Not one single place is suitable for hiding. There is no counter-culture left in the entirety of New York City, a situation analogous to Rome before the fall. There is only a bourgeois way of living that Aziz correctly analyzes as neither masculine or feminine, progressive or regressive. It is just slow-motion.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Writing's On The Wall" - Sam Smith (mp3)

 


Monday
Nov022015

In Which Jessica Chastain Remains A Hell Of A Drug

Protective Coloration

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Crimson Peak
dir. Guillermo Del Toro
119 minutes

Del Toro cast Mia Wasikowska as a girl whose mother dies and reappears to her as a ghost, a trauma that causes her to do the voiceover for Crimson Peak. I know he has not seen any of Mia's other movies, since directors are obsessed with having her do the voiceover for her characters; here she intones in complete seriousness, "Ghosts are very real." Del Toro uses her hair as a lethal weapon, so blonde it is almost white. By the end of the lengthy trudge that is Crimson Peak we can barely tell whether she is a ghost or angel. Sadly, it probably does not matter.

Wasikowska's character is an aspiring author, and Del Toro even names her Edith. She has written an entire manuscript by hand, and her rich father uses his influence to get her ghost story read by a potential publisher. That man does not really think her concept is marketable, and so when she meets Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) a mining entrepreneur, she puts her writing aside for love. Her father (Jim Beaver) disapproves and hires a private investigator to dig into the background of his daughter's boyfriend.

Guillermo Del Toro is great at tons of things that don't actually involve making a compelling story. He is a genius at art direction, at style, at composition and framing. He is pretty bad to mediocre at surprising anyone. There is nothing the least bit scary about Crimson Peak, outside of the early scene where Mia's mom appears, her black ghost fingers wrapping around her child, to say, "Beware Crimson Peak." It was all downhill after that.

Casting is not one of Guillermo's fortes either. Perhaps his first choice for the role of this drama's Heathcliff, Benedict Cumberbatch, could have convincingly portrayed a man who after three murders, is suddenly unsure whether he still wants to fuck his sister (a brunette Jessica Chastain) and take the money of his soon-to-be-deceased wives. Hiddleston is so dull he resembles a brooch.

It would have made the film vastly more interesting if they had just swapped the female casting, allowing Chastain to play a fledgling author and Mia an incestuous blonde.

Del Toro offered Universal the pick of two projects; the other being a Lovecraft adaptation. Given the amount of patience it takes to sit through the one note plot of Crimson Peak, they made the wrong choice. Chastain tries to save the entire thing, but her perverse glee in her circumstances is kind of inappropriate given she is a poor woman whose only romantic option is her brother.

At the end she is playing the piano and despite yourself you feel even more sorry for her than you do for Mia. Wasikowska chose to become part of this family; Chastain was born into madness.

Crimson Peak would have been a lot better with even the slightest bit of humor, since there is nothing particularly entertaining in watching Wasikowska fall ill from the poisons her husband's sister/fuck-buddy places in her porridge. She is maybe saved by a doctor who admired that mane-like hair before her marriage to Thomas. The doctor is played by Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and his wretched accent is a highlight of the film's ending sequence. (His acting is not.)

Crimson Peak has the name because red clay seeps up through the snow in Jessica Chastain's decrepit manor. Del Toro turns the one set he does he have into a magnificent showpiece, but it seems clear he is working on a budget after the visual splendor of his recent films. Pacific Rim had a lot worse of a script, but at least you knew that Guillermo was having a good time. If you want to remake Rebecca, just remake Rebecca.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Do You Like That" - Lena Fayre (mp3)

Friday
Oct302015

In Which We Reclone Ourselves As Conrad Coldbrook

A Great Honor and A Real Pleasure

by ALEX CARNEVALE

A Borrowed Man
by Gene Wolfe
304 pp. Tor Books

Colette Coldbrook is the only living member of her family. Her mother died several years back; it is suggested that she may have committed suicide. Her father died of a heart attack. Her only sibling, her brother Conrad, was strangled to death in her home. Solving this mystery, and a host of others, is the job of the reader of A Borrowed Man.

Before his death, Colette Coldbrook's brother gave her the contents of their father's safe — a book by one Ern Smithe titled Murder on Mars. What little we know of the book is gorgeous, but it is not the sublime contents of the book that matter: it is what makes the book important enough to be locked in a safe.

Part of A Borrowed Man is a elegy for what the printed word offers us, not for the limited physical fetishism that is so often argued by well-meaning simpletons, but what it means to have different collections of human knowledge in different locations and sizes. "If one guy could control all those scans, he'd have a lock," muses one character.

In the near future of A Borrowed Man, Wolfe is attempting to describe an entirely weird kind of nostalgia. So many science fiction writers devise thinly veiled critiques of what they perceive as the world's major problems: late capitalism, dull nationalism, a disturbing reliance on technology. None of these things are particularly a concern for Mr. Wolfe outside of economic inequality. He is prematurely nostalgic for what is great about the world now, what we do not realize is better than it ever was.

Colette's father Conrad is the Rashomon of A Borrowed Man. A polymath scientist/financial advisor, he was never a kind man. His identity revolved around his intelligence and avarice, which makes him a quintessential homo sapien of our time. On the fourth floor of his house was the laboratory he kept locked, secret from his wife and children. About halfway through A Borrowed Man, we find out what he keeps in one of the rooms, and it stuns us. In the other rooms are things far stranger.

Colette can't make heads or tails of the book her father clearly valued so highly. She does what seems obvious: finds a reclone of the now deceased writer of Murder on Mars in a library. She checks him out for a small deposit. This Ern Smithe is the narrator of A Borrowed Man, and there is a lot he does not know about the future into which he is thrust.

Colette explains her problem to the reclone, speaking to him in a private place because she believes she is being bugged. She lies to him about many aspects of her story in order to elicit his help, and he senses this, but it is still his fundamental duty to help his patron. Shortly into his acquaintance, Colette appears to be abducted and A Borrowed Man largely consists of Ern's efforts to locate her and find out the purpose of the book her father kept in the safe.

Like most of Wolfe's books, A Borrowed Man actually hinges on very little. Late in the story, like a proper detective, Ern makes an extensive explanation of what has actually been going on here. It is easy to be satisfied with how he wraps up the many mysteries of the novel, but there are several inconsistencies in the denouement that seem to contradict each other.

This is the hint Wolfe offers us to look back at what we have read with a more critical eye. The concept of the unreliable narrator, initially developed by Chaucer, has never found so intelligent a proponent. The concept of intelligence itself is a major theme here; Wolfe gets in a line about how it is generally confused with verbal felicity.

Ern Smithe opens one of Conrad Coldbrook's locked doors with his copy of Murder on Mars. The book seems itself a key — or is Ern the key? It is hard to believe Colette and her brother never tried the book on the door. Difficult as it is to admit when we are being lied to, it is too much fun to read Wolfe doubting every assertion, so you can make all the decisions about the real story yourself. That is the mark of the master, and why Gene Wolfe is the best American writer working today.

When Ern Smithe meets reclones out in what is called New America, he never identifies them in order to protect the innocent. We know that people can reclone their deceased love ones. The clones will have the memories of the people they were, but still be their own individual. That this is a characteristic of people, nations and families is the main idea in A Borrowed Man. I am tired, as Wolfe is, of being told this world is flawed and getting worse. Without the memory of who we all were, and how awful humanity was to itself before now, can we ever be happy?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Too Late For Lullabies" - James Morrison (mp3)

"Something Right" - James Morrison (mp3)