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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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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
Oct062015

In Which We Have Heard Enough About Your Border War

Take Me Back to Phoenix

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Sicario
dir. Denis Villeneuve
121 minutes

In his previous film Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve proved capable of making an entire film without a single joke in it. Prisoners could make a convincing argument for being the most humorless movie ever made, and in Sicario the director nearly accomplishes this feat again. Sicario is a numb, boring mess, the kind of effort only interesting to people who never go to the movies or watch television, where the "thrills" of the U.S./Mexico border war have been uncovered in more empathic and gripping fashion by dramas that actually have something to say.

Benicio Del Toro plays Alejandro as a poor man's Javier Bardem, attempting a portrayal of masterful subtlety that never comes together in the least. Alejandro is a corrupt government operative who plans to eliminate one cartel and put another in its place. His master plan is about as complicated as eggs on toast. Usually Del Toro is at least fun to watch, but here he seems like a parody of himself, too familiar to us from his previous roles and self-consciously hogging the camera at every opportunity. His performance is far short of a disaster, but it mainly sits there like a lump.

Most of Sicario is Emily Blunt whining to Josh Brolin about how she is upset about where he is taking her. He says they are going to El Paso to look for information about a mass grave in a booby-trapped house, but they are actually on the way to Juarez where they plan to shake down a guy for reasons. Blunt has improved her craft immensely in recent years, but she does not really have the charisma to carry the underwritten role of a flustered and naive cop. Brolin looks like her dumpy father rather than a peer.

In between extremely dull sequences of violence, Villeneuve places extensive aerial shots of crowded border crossing. It is a sight familiar to everyone familiar with this turgid topic. Blunt just wants to do the right thing, but it soon becomes apparent she has no actual idea what that is. "You're doing nothing in Phoenix," Brolin says. "Do you want to find the guys who did this?" She nods furiously.

When she is not complaining about the hidden motives of her superiors, Blunt meets a local officer (Jon Bernthal) in a bar and rides him at length. During their liasion, she spots a telltale band that the cartel uses to wrap drug money. She immediately goes for her gun. He renders her helpless, to be saved by the unlikely intervention of Del Toro. It was kind of difficult to hear what Del Toro said after that because he was muttering, but I doubt it was that important.

Why did Sicario receive such glowing reviews when it is basically the equivalent of dumping a cliched bag of shit onto a movie screen? I'm not really sure. Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy made a hilarious, insightful trainwreck of a film on the same subject in 2013 called The Counselor and everyone hated it. I would say it comes down to Blunt herself, whose angular, ghostly face is expert in taking on an identity nothing like her own.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Thursday
Sep242015

In Which Margaret Atwood Deserves Equal Recognition

Known For Being A Person

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Heart Goes Last
by Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese, 320 pp.

"Sometimes you miss the newspaper," mumbles one character in The Heart Goes Last, the new novel from Margaret Atwood. Life in the twin towns of Consilience and Positron consists of one month as a civilian, and one month as a prisoner in a penitentiary. Atwood heard in her own newspaper about the vagaries of for-profit prisons, and decided they were some kind of hostile omen for the future of mankind.

Atwood has looked at the United States in the past with a viewpoint that alternates between condescending paternalism and utter forgiveness. The United States is a mess, she explains, full of different impersonations and desires that cannot help but fall into irretrievably broken pieces. Her protagonist Charmaine is a housewife turned bartender with no parents. After economic collapse forces her to reside in a car, she enrolls in the Positron Project.

Nothing really sounds all that bad about this dystopia. Charmaine and her husband Stan quickly grow apart, with him informing her that the shampoo on offer makes her smell like paint remover. There are evil workings behind the scenes, however, and Charmaine has just the right levels of cruelty and empathy to carry out Positron's executions with a smile on her face.

The entire story of Charmaine's struggle in dystopia is more window dressing than anything else. Atwood's real skill is on offer when she describes how human beings make decisions in the face of all the aspects of their lives. No other writer can as entertainingly explain how complicated and multilayered human motivations are. Even though Charmaine and her scooter mechanic husband Stan are flimsy archetypes when The Heart Goes Last begins, Atwood can't help but humanize them from their stale beginnings as she goes along.

Stan discovers that the scientists at Positron have discovered a way for human beings to imprint on each other "like ducklings." Stan meets a woman he knew outside of Positron who has accidentally imprinted on a blue teddy bear. Observing her love for the inanimate object becomes a turn-on for him as well. It is the most stirring emotion he has in the entire manuscript of The Heart Goes Last. "A person is a person no matter how creepy they are," observes Atwood.

We get the sense that Ms. Atwood may not really believe that statement. Charmaine's attentions wander from her husband to the man, Max, who lives in her house while she is doing her mandatory month of hard time. Atwood details their adultery in a relatively safe way, but the fashion in which she gets inside Charmaine's head, deciding how completely she gives herself over to the man who is not her husband, is chilling. In a broad satirical piece she has effortlessly unraveled a deeper psychological profile.

Stan finds out about the affair from the wife of the fellow Charmaine is boinking. (The sex of the married pair consists mostly of abbreviated intercouse with Stan occasionally begging Charmaine to "let go!"). Max's wife begins to force him to have sex with her on a regular basis. It is the darkest part of The Heart Goes Last, and the subtext is that there can be no compulsion between a man and a woman in this area. Men are helpless and inadequate when they cannot fill their roles as gainful providers, Atwood explains, but they are still men.

Most satires burn out of steam by the third act, but Atwood is supernatural at teasing out mysteries where there really aren't any. Near the end Stan takes up work in a sex robot factory, where he has some harsh words for people who desire such imitations of life. This joke seems relatively old, given that lifelike sex toys have been on the market for over a century. Atwood uses this discussion as an argument against relativism, as a way of explaining that not every human sexual desire deserves equal recognition.

Atwood's most recent novels in the Oryx and Crake universe were not for everyone. They were highly realized science fiction containing the interplay of genius level characters on a massive, world-breaking canvas. Despite their scope, Atwood is absolutely expert at never losing a grasp of the personal even within a large story. There is a conscious effort in The Heart Goes Last to slow things down. She has written a book that can have its impact on anyone, that addresses its lessons to a broader audience, with a firmer hand. It would be a bit overbearing if we didn't feel like this inspirational pamphlet was actually good for us.

Though much sought after, control is impossible in The Heart Goes Last. Even the ownership of time is brokered over — are the moments Charmaine spends fucking her boyfriend in an abandoned house those to do with as she pleases, or do they essentially belong to her husband? The fight against being taken over by events outside ourselves does nothing to change the fact that there is something intrinsic inside us that wants to be told what to do. In The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood wonders, at length, what exactly that thing is.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Wedding Ring" - Glen Hansard (mp3)

Monday
Sep142015

In Which The Complexion Of Jesse Eisenberg Renders All Else Dark

Missing Out

by ALEX CARNEVALE

American Ultra
dir. Nima Nourizadeh
96 minutes

Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) has a more pallid complexion than usual. He only goes outside at night, when the rays of the sun aren't present to make his skin burn or discolor. He has tricked a woman named Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) into embodying this drastic way of life as well. There is a great question here waiting to be answered about why such people live as they do. Stewart had a nicer tan when she was a vampire.

American Ultra, the second film written by John Landis' son Max, is a not very funny romp through West Virginia, since the town itself is devoid of any Americans other than Rose (John Leguizamo). We quite literally never see another person, which is funny because John Landis was quite interested in how Americans spoke and acted, and the zany half-comic romps he specialized in thrived on jokes about how the individual took his place in a greater whole.

American Ultra is devoid of any specific comic relief. Eisenberg is depressed and upset he can never live his West Virginia birthplace. This is because he is secretly a government project designed as a drone of sorts. Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) sends out the other members of his program to hunt him down for no discernible reason, since he is just working at a Cash N Carry and having very infrequent sex with his CIA handler/girlfriend.

Stewart proved herself a talented performer capable of a superstar-like role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria last year, but she is not really suited for open aggression — just subtle tear downs and sideways looks. American Ultra basically pretends she doesn't exist, focusing mostly on the self-defense Eisenberg offers against those trying to murder him.

Eisenberg has established his credentials in a variety of quick-talking roles. He is still doing the same basic schtick, but he has a novel way of putting a twist on what is essentially a variety of similarly narcissistic characters. There is a hint of something more vulnerable in the character of Mike Howell, but the clueless direction of American Ultra never touches it.

It is supposed to be comic that a stoner is killing all these people without really meaning to, but director Nima Nourizadeh does not really give a humorous flair to the action. The only depth given to any of the characters is a man from Howell's program named Laugher (Walton Goggins) who offers Howell empathy after failing to murder him. He is the only one to receive it: otherwise, Howell is a savage killer, dismembering and cutting up his victims in fast and explosive ways. Watching it is vaguely like witnessing Hannibal Lecter eat.

Beneath the clueless and rote direction, there is another script here. Hollywood has a rich history of writer-director collaborations that barely even spoke to one another. Famously Lee Tamahori never understood that David Mamet's 1997 script for The Edge was a satire. There was nothing special about anything in the script of Casablanca, but it accidentally became a kind of phenomenon. A more recent example of such discord might be the recent Fantastic Four, which looks like someone spliced five different scripts together and called it a day.

American Ultra contains nothing that bad. It is just so devoid of any kind of character development that we forget there used to be movies like this, narratives which contained no content, and which in some level are designed to be appreciated by children or pets. Fortunately or unfortunately, we expect more now.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Tilted" - Christine & the Queens (mp3)

"Narcissus is Back" - Christine & the Queens (mp3)

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