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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
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Features Editor
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 (176)

Friday
Jun122015

In Which Paul Feig Lost Us Completely This Time

Stunt Woman

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Spy
dir. Paul Feig
120 minutes

I am trying to think of the exact point that Paul Feig's Spy becomes just plain mean-spirited. It is probably about the forty-first or forty-second time someone comments on Melissa McCarthy's appearance in a negative way. The sentence most often uttered in Spy is, "You look like..." with the ending of the statement finishing with a derogatory comment such as "a hairless squirrel" or "a diseased cauliflower." This is a form of comedy so lazy it was mocked in a forum as discerning as Hot Tub Machine 2.

McCarthy is an office drone in the Central Intelligence Agency, working behind the scenes in order to navigate agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through what appears to be a Los Angeles pool party with terrible production values. I understand Spy is a spoof, but all the agents, including a barely understandable Jason Statham, are British with accents intact, making the entire setup impossible to take seriously, even in a fun way.

In addition, the only real spoofing going on is one scene where Michael McDonald plays a parody of Q who rigs up various bathroom products — stool softener, hemorrhoid cream, rape whistle — for McCarthy to sue as weapons. The rest of the time Spy is basically just a fish-out-of-water comedy. It's like Paul Feig ran out of things that would even be entertaining to spoof and just decided to throw in some explosions and one-liners about how anyone even slightly overweight should be alone with cats.

Now that Melissa is a star, every role she takes has to be focused on her apparent lack of beauty. This is entirely ridiculous to anyone who has eyes, and insulting to the vast majority of human beings who don't look nearly as good. Spy has her weirdly drooling all over Jude Law, and movie is barely minutes old before McCarthy is dropping puns about sucking his penis. Law is several decades past his prime, has a hairline that resembles the tines of a comb, and what amounts to his gross, sexist banter consists of asking her to pick up his laundry, a task many people, male and female, perform without humiliation.

It turns out that McCarthy's charazcter is an exceptionally talented agent, and the best parts of Spy consists of seeing her perform various stunts and fights. In 2013's The Heat, the disastrous script Feig directed had one virtue: it made her the living center of an Irish family that both loved and detested what she was. Here Melissa is presented as a lonely woman of 40 with no romantic prospects or social life. Even as a caricature, it is a depressing and sexist one.

What happened to Paul Feig? He used to actually be interested in material with emotional and comedic weight. Spy is the kind of tonal disaster that should make you evaluate your deepest life priorities : the biggest laugh the movie got in my theater was when a bunch of agents accidentally viewed photos of a man's penis. Formerly talented writer-directors like Joss Whedon, Brad Bird and now Feig working on these humorless summer vehicles is a tremendous loss for us all. At least people went to see the absolute stinker (an army of robots?) that was The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

This year's other James Bond parody as least knew its source material. Kingsman: The Secret Service was pretty much a mess as well, but it was so obviously having a good time: Colin Firth and Michael Caine practically held the movie up by sheer force of will and finely tailored suits. Spy looks like it was filmed with a third of the budget. Samuel L. Jackson may have been a bit much in Kingsman, but at least he was somebody: Spy's main baddies are Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale.

Even more puzzling were Spy's pathetically pandering reviews. Apparently when comedy based mostly around inserting various words for human genitalia in unlikely places in verbal speech originates from men, it's demeaning. (This much we know is true.) When a woman utters the same lame bullying verbal invective, Paul Feig emits a chuckle and tells other people it's okay to laugh. I hope everyone involved in this pandering dreck never works again.

Spy runs out of Steam about halfway through after McCarthy's husband's wretched cameo. The rest of the film turns into a bunch of people standing in a circle threatening to kill each other. Listening to their fake, quasi-humorous banter made me want to take one of their firearms and turn it on myself.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Friday
Jun052015

In Which We Look Down On The Earth Below With A Fair Amount of Skepticism

The Scripture

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Seveneves
by Neal Stephenson
880 pp


Neal Stephenson's new novel begins when the moon breaks up into a number of pieces for no reason anyone can discern at the time. It is suggested that God is the instrument of the moon's destruction at one point late in the novel. "But without the theology, the scripture or the certainty," Stephenson has one of his finest characters, a man named Ty, say. This is typical Stephenson hemming and hawing, for in his heavily-researched novel writing, he is always seeking a slightly different approach than the first that comes to mind, without resting firmly on any one choice.

One of Stephenson's protagonists in Seveneves is heavily based on Neil deGrasse Tyson. It is he, the somewhat racistly named Doc Dubois, who theorizes that the explosion of the moon will also mean devastation on the Earth's surface in a planet-decimating event he terms the Hard Rain. Other scientists confirm the Doc's diagnosis, and Earth's population begins to cope psychologically with its death sentence. "Why were the doomed people of Earth's surface not going completely berserk?" Doc finds himself thinking.

The answer is in renaming death to something better. Naming things is Stephenson's obsession, a literary cliché that he explodes by overwhelming his readers with an encyclopedia of terminology culled from social media and hard science. When properly assembled, the resulting ménage forms what amounts to a new language of acronyms, abbreviations and catchy nicknames. It would be completely ridiculous if you did not sense Stephenson had invested a vast amount of his personal ingenuity in creating these handles.

These lengthy passages of narration and description can become a bit overwhelming at times, but Stephenson prevents them from becoming overly technical. At times the characters seem lost in the sea of terminology, but Stephenson alleviates that sensation by having some of the very best described versions of people as well as machines. His main heroine is a robot specialist named Dinah working on the ISS, and her scientific pursuits and raging sex life get most of Neal's time.

Stephenson prides himself on never ignoring what is happening in the world around him, now, today. As such his novel concerns the last survivors of the human race, and they are mostly women. Dinah is not a woman of a century ago, she is a woman of the century to come. Distinctively there is something effortlessly female about each of the Eves who seek to rescue humanity from the destruction of the Hard Rain. You sense that Stephenson has spent about as much time researching writing women well as he has delving into how asteroid mining might realistically fuel successful human habitats.

The action of Seveneves takes place on the International Space Station. The president, a Berkeley educated woman named Julia Bliss Flaherty, develops a program to send Earth's scientists to the ISS with their expertise and a genetic archive. Along with this crew of technicians, she also plans for representatives of most Earth nations to be shepherded into space in arklets: small habitats revolving around each other in Earth orbit.

It is a bit of surprise when the residents of the ISS realize that the president herself, in violation of an accord which forbade world leaders from joining the expedition, has hijacked her way up to the structure. Quickly Julia, or J.B.F. as Stephenson needlessly refers to her almost as a tic, realizes that she has no authority or particular skills. President Flaherty goes to work consolidating her own power, and her paranoia threatens to undermine the mission to establish the ISS inside of large asteroid. This struggle is by far the best part of the novel.

Neal's grasp of the science involved is absurdly meticulous, and the text of Seveneves tells is everything we want to know about how such a mission might operate and thrive should God decide to eliminate the moon. In his finest novel, Anathem, he displayed promising, B.F. Skinner-esque insight onto how such collections of humanity might operate under divine pressure. The one place he never thinks about going is actual theology, which is because this novel is itself presented as a pseudo-religious text intended to replace the Bible that we have.

The war that develops between the different factions on the Ark unfolds a bit awkwardly, because Stephenson runs out of interest in his main characters. About 2/3 of the way through Seveneves, we flash forward 5,000 years into the future. Stephenson spends thousnds of words painstakingly detailing the ring network hovering above the earth, and explaining how it houses the millions of citizens produced from the genetic stock of the remaining Eves.

War is still going on, of course, and the survivors of the Hard Rain meet the survivors of the ISS with both intensely surprised by the other. There is a newness inherent in every conflict Seveneves so painstakingly describes, as if it were the first time such events had ever been committed to print. Even though Neal's books are at times impossibly long, it always feels to me like he is just getting started.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


"Obvs" - Jamie xx (mp3

"Just Saying" - Jamie xx (mp3)

Tuesday
Jun022015

In Which We Cement Our Pious Martyrdom

Thomas Cromwell's Sphincter

by ALEX CARNEVALE

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)


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