Quantcast

Video of the Day

Masthead

Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

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

Live and Active Affiliates
This area does not yet contain any content.

Entries in alex carnevale (228)

Friday
Sep162016

In Which We Have Always Been An Extremely Wealthy Orphan

How Did You Survive?

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Handmaiden
dir. Chan-wook Park
144 minutes

Things start to become complicated for Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-Ri) when she is giving the mistress, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) she serves as a maid a bath. In order to pacify her patron during the slow process of cleaning her body, she offers Lady Hideko a lollipop. Hideko complains of a tooth in her mouth, and in the minutes-long scene that follows, Sook-Hee inserts her thumb in and out of Hideko's jaw to smooth the sharp tooth with a scraper.

Legendary South Korean director Chan-wook Park is known for moments like these — those which could be played for laughs, but instead fall into a grey area where they become absorbing as actual moments. In his masterpiece Oldboy there is a scene where the protagonist eats a live octopus that is similarly wild without becoming amusing. There are many humorous moments in his adaptation of Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith, but the core relationship between a woman and her servant is never treated with anything but the utmost seriousness.

Chan-wook Park decided to make a Hollywood film with 2013's Stoker. Written by Wentworth Miller, the resulting picture was about as silly as his South Korean noirs, and watching international actors in his familiar style was great fun. Sadly the movie, which starred Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska among others, never achieved nearly the audience it should have. 

The Handmaiden gives Park a more heady eroticism to work around. He is the master of how audio cues alarm and excite us, and watching two pert Korean women share a bed becomes a cacophony of swells, sucking, and other substantial sounds. Sook-Hee's job to is convince Lady Hideko to marry a fellow con-artist so that he can commit her to an insane asylum and the two can make off with all their money.

Naturally, Sook-Hee and Hideko fall in love. The art direction by frequent collaborator Ryu Seong-hie frames every scene of The Handmaiden perfectly. Despite being shot mainly on one Japanese estate like Stoker, even interiors retain their complicated composition without becoming overly busy. Sook-Hee meets with her collaborator under spare branches that frame an endless walking path. As in most of Park's work, the aesthetic composition of someone's surroundings tends to reflect whatever inner struggle dogs them.

The two con-artists and their mark spend the summer in a Japanese bungalow far above a lush jungle. As Count Fujiwara, Jung-Woo Ha is the Korean Peter Sellers — completely serious in one moment and mugging for Sook-Hee the next. Park turns even the slow pace of a novel meant to ape a Victorian one into a plot that spins forward so quickly we feel like the mark ourselves.

Oldboy was a Korean film based on a popular Japanese manga about a drunk who is imprisoned for fifteen years in a private prison without knowing why. Spike Lee remade the film with Josh Brolin for some reason and it was a tremendous bomb. Lee's remake was stylistically very fun, but perhaps too dedicated to Park's original to truly feel like its own story. In both versions of the tale, the best part occurs during the main character's imprisonment, when he feels hatred as well as an absurd wonder for his own unexpected plight.

There is a long sequence in The Handmaiden explaining the elaborate backstory of Lady Hideko that feels much like this. As a young girl, Hideko is made to serve her uncle, who is a character sort of akin to Count Rugen in The Princess Bride. Hideko's aunt and carer hangs herself from a cherry blossom tree, and even in a lavish house, Hideko feels much like Oh Dae-Su in Oldboy. Park cycles through a litany of familiar Japanese imagery to identify the various sexual proclivities which comprise a corrupting element. This culminates in an unforgettable scene where Hideko is entangled with a wooden dummy while suspended in the air. She is the focus of a general, universal desire. "I could perish happily knowing that I tasted you," Sook-hee admits to her at one point before scissoring.

The Handmaiden is, however, missing the discursiveness that Oldboy embraced at times: the sense that one subject might relate to each other more by association than it ever could directly. Instead it is tightly wrapped around itself, repeating scenes and moments from different perspectives until we understand them in a completely new way each time. This approach gives The Handmaiden the deepening qualities of the best fiction, and gives the story a texture it never achieved in any other form. The truth comes undone like a tightly woven braid.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Friday
Sep092016

In Which Queen Sugar Delights And Amazes Us All

Dandelion Wine

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Queen Sugar
creator Ava DuVernay
OWN

The two sisters at the heart of Ava DuVernay's first original series are always waking up in a man's house, a place not quite their own.

Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) rises in a bedroom that looks through prismatic glass windows down on Los Angeles. The entire domicile is transparent, which affords very little privacy when her husband is charged with participating in a group rape with other members of his professional basketball team. She is so disgusted when she finds this out during one of his games that she charges onto the court and begins screaming at him. Strangely, they haul her off instead of him.

Nova (Rutina Wesley) is dating a white guy and practicing some serious herbal medicine in her and her half-sister's hometown in rural Louisiana. She wakes up in this man's arms, but for some reason she feels she cannot introduce him to her family and friends. Actually, we know the reason: it is because everyone else on this show, with the except of a land developer who wants to buy her father's farm, is black.

Charley soon returns home to Louisiana, where her siblings and her aunt are generally uncomfortable with how bourgeois she has become. The rest of Charley's family seem to be struggling financially even though their father Ernest (the enigmatic and charismatic Glynn Turman) dies in the first episode of Queen Sugar, leaving behind a massive tract of farmland.

Charley's husband Davis West (Timon Kyle Durrett), who plays power forward, checks their residences in Aspen and Palm Springs and eventually discovers her whereabouts in time to attend the funeral. He claims he is innocent of raping anyone, suggesting that he merely brought the victim into the room where the alleged crime took place before excusing himself to play Candy Crush. West is a fantastic character — because DuVernay is invested with giving all her creations an elemental human dignity, he is not just brushed off as a sociopath.

I remember reading Magic Johnson's autobiography when I was eleven. Boy was that an eye-opener; I can't believe they had this thing at the local library. He had sex with a different woman in every American city. The real mystery is how he didn't contract AIDS more quickly. NBA players do some unfaithful things to their wives; it is unclear as of now how much of this Charley expected or could be willing to forgive.

Her immediate response after confronting her husband is to retreat to bed. She takes a serious amount of pills to dull the pain of being who she is, but not so much that she is unable to hear when her son comes into her room to tell her that her father is on the verge of dying.

The concept that we know what kind of people with which we are involved is an important theme in Queen Sugar, the best American serial to premiere in many years. DuVernay has the most important writing talent there is — she is able to make us feel distinctly for people when we are already predisposed to see a situation or circumstance as manipulating our feelings, without then also feeling controlled.

The incredible cast she has assembled for Queen Sugar begins with the tremulous intensity of True Blood's Rutina Wesley, but Wesley requires strong presences to play off in order to be at her best. As Charley and Nova's brother Ralph Angel, the Ghanian actor Kofi Siriboe portrays a man fresh out of prison. He struggles to take care of his young son financially and resorts to intermittent crime to meet his financial obligations. The boy's young mother is a drug addict who has abandoned the child in the past.

Ralph Angel is reluctant to make a connection with his son's teacher, Reyna (Marycarmen Lopez). The low-key sexual energy projected by Lopez gives Queen Sugar the shot in the arm it requires at various intervals. DuVernay's long experience in the industry has allowed her to make quite a few stars in such a short time, and she really reveals how terrible most black roles are in Hollywood just by proving these new performers are capable of star-making performances.

All the main sets in Queen Sugar are absolutely gorgeous, and Louisiana is perfect as a place that can switch between paradise, limbo and hell within the space of a few blocks. The only disappointing scene takes place when Davis West comes to visit Charley in Louisiana in order to tell his side of the story to his teenage son Micah (Nicholas Ashe). Instead of probing the area for a landscape that would show Davis to be sufficiently out of place in Louisiana, DuVernay shoots the moment in the gym of the local high school.

DuVernay herself is from Los Angeles, although she spent summers in Alabama where her father grew up on a family farm. The Bordelon patriarch's house borders land which he stopped maintaining in his last years, forcing him to take a job as a janitor. What DuVernay is consistently successful at as a writer is allowing us to see particular situations through her character's eyes. She recognizes what should be obvious to anyone alive: that we are more shaped by what we observe in others than anything else in our world.

She extends her empathy, which is more serious than anyone working her medium, to the lives of children, which are so often ignored or simplified in drama. Queen Sugar is rife with the possibilities of different intersections that a family drama affords; individuals in the Bordelon House relates to each other person in a specific way, changing them, altering their presence in our own lives. This gives Queen Sugar a feeling of versimilitude that has been missing from television since The Sopranos.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Thursday
Sep012016

In Which The Neon Demon Locks Herself Away

Ryan? Ryan?

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Neon Demon
dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
117 minutes

It is difficult, so difficult to find something nice to say about The Neon Demon. There is one scene where a cougar tears up the hotel room of Jesse (Elle Fanning) and it's obvious the two have the same eyebrows. Jesse looks nothing like a model, and it is honestly hard to believe that she is one. Everyone asks her how old she is in Los Angeles. When Robert (Alessandro Nivola) sees her for the first time, he looks like he is having a spiritual experience. 

None of Winding Refn's previous films were enjoyable on a story level either, but Ryan Gosling is so compulsively watchable that he was able to salvage a lot of what made them sort of actually dull. Here there is no Gosling to be found, which is kind of sad since he would be fantastic in pretty much every male role currently occupied by a vague Gosling lookalikes:

Alessandro Nivola is old, married Gosling

Desmond Harrington is a divorced Gosling

Karl Glusman is a Jewish Gosling

Keanu Reeves is a decrepit Gosling

As a photographer's assistant Jena Malone is by far the most entertaining part of The Neon Demon — she appears to become what Jesse might become, and her dry humping was on point. Malone has been an impressively subtle film actress since she drove Julia Roberts crazy as a preteen in Stepmom, and The Neon Demon is only worth watching when she occupies the screen.

Malone is the cipher for the more violent aspects of The Neon Demon, which don't really come into play until the film's third act. Everyone in Jesse's world becomes more and more envious of her, and the sensation that she is going to meet a grisly fate becomes relatively overpowering. "My mother said I was dangerous," she explains to Malone, who cannot even believe that the thing she most desires is talking.

Viewing The Neon Demon made me want to watch Stepmom just so I could believe human beings had a soul again. There is this scene where Ed Harris tells his wife that he is getting married again, and she asks him, "What makes you think it is going to work this time?" and he just sits there and doesn't make a sound. 

Perhaps knowing how boring this movie is, Refn moves things along at a fairly rapid pace. Jesse nabs some various roles and the men and women that surround her become very jealous. One of them basically asks her what it's like to be the sun, and she says, "It's everything."

At one point it actually seems like Refn might have some fun, and Jesse closes out a fashion show as electronic music more positively. Things go downhill quickly from there, since there seems to be an underlying point that modeling is akin to human trafficking.

As always, Refn's lightning is the strongest aspect of his composition. He is never focused on making Jesse beautiful, which would be impossible, and instead strips her of everything: gender, identity, personality. It's almost a surprise that her hair never gets cut off in The Neon Demon. Instead she is merely transformed into a more exaggerated version of herself that cannot help but be more appealing to those around her.

The Neon Demon probably would have been a lot more enjoyable as a silent film, and it disappointing that Refn backed off this approach after seeing how unfriendly it was to audiences in his last project, Only God Forgives. "True beauty is the highest currency we have," espouses Nivola at one point, and this is about the general emotional depth of this project, which probably would have been on the cutting edge in the late 1930s. 

Maybe The Neon Demon is intentionally bad, like an act of self sabotage? At that point the tremulously poor dialogue would start to make the slightest bit of sense. Keanu Reeves plays the manager of the motel that Jesse lives at, and his mock-threatening attitude towards women and young people is the only evidence of self-awareness in this turgid shitshow. He puts a knife down Jesse's throat, and we are kind of sad this is only someone else's dream.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Page 1 ... 2 3 4 5 6 ... 76 Next 3 Recordings »