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Alex Carnevale

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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 ben arfmann (3)


In Which Keanu Reeves Breaks Our Head Open Like A Melon

Once ... Twice … Three Times Keanu


Preface: I love Keanu Reeves. His cool professionalism, and his compulsive drive to always work (often four films a year) are incredibly easy to admire; the man projects the barest of egos. The two films that made his name, Speed and The Matrix, give him a bad rap. They were the two most providential accidents of casting of the 1990s. In both cases, the filmmakers ended up getting not who they wanted (not by a long shot) but who they needed. Keanu Reeves made both films (amazing concepts, catchy scripts, potential bombs) work.

But he didn’t do it by acting – you can’t call the robotic professionalism of either film acting - he did it by getting out of the way of the material, nailing the required acrobatics, and allowing the film to speak while he was silent.

Keanu Reeves made those movies great, just by getting the work done and keeping his head down. Let’s acknowledge his achievements in those two films without labeling them something they’re not. But even granting him those two mulligans, Keanu Reeves is still a good actor. One of the greats. Let’s talk about three films that prove it. Three characters that he himself dredged up from the creative deep and made into walking, talking pleasures for movie maniacs everywhere. Three times Keanu. Marlon in I Love You to Death.

The funniest fifteen minutes of Keanu’s career. In Bill & Ted, Ted was funny because of the material – the slacker joker persona was buoyed up by a kitchen-sink concept – but Marlon is funny (really funny) just by his nature, which is all Keanu. Paired with the reliably creepy-suave William Hurt, Keanu digs into his chronic lack of expression (the muscle-relaxant face; the line readings telegraphed from Neptune) and makes it work by turning impassivity into a shtick and not a crutch. He was young as hell when he shot this, which probably helped (he was still ashamed of his workaholic tendencies, trying to mask them with a “dude’s dude” persona), as did the presence of River Phoenix on set (all of Keanu’s later day mysticism seems channeled from Phoenix’s effortless embodiment of Youth-and-Good-Times) 

He’s light and flow-y, hitting every beat required by the movie (proving his actor’s awareness) while presenting a fully cogent front of molasses-minded idiocy. The film, as a whole, is cute and keeps your mind from wandering (especially when Phoenix is on screen), but when Keanu and Hurt are in Kevin Kline’s bedroom, admiring a Reggie Jackson bat instead of completing the hit they have been hired for, it’s captivating – you hold your breath so you don’t obscure the jokes with guffaws. The next time you hear someone making a “Whoa. I know Kung Fu” crack, cut them off mid-meme and tell them about this movie.

Donnie Barksdale in The Gift. Sam Raimi is a cinema savant. That’s not what I think, it’s what I know. If you disagree, so-be-it, but at least now you know where this Keanu Recommendation is coming from. He plays a backwater wifebeater in this one, married to Hillary Swank, and threatens the lives of Cate Blanchett and her kids. One caveat with this performance is the unavoidable nature of the whodunit genre: the first time you see it, Keanu will be scary as hell. The second time it’ll be Keanu Reeves with long hair and a little extra turkey waddle under his guff. That said, this is the best trick casting of 2000 (a testament, once again, to Mr. Raimi’s enduring genius). Keanu channels both Gary Oldman’s Lee Harvey Oswald and Rodney Dangerfield’s Ed Wilson (in Natural Born Killers) in this one, creating a character who is sickening exactly because his violence towards women is so mundane. Keanu leers and staggers not with the traditional red-herring menace of the crime drama genre (as though evil were a pleasure he consumed with his morning coffee), but with a very recognizable, very common masculine entitlement complex run amuck. He might remind you of a few fathers and co-workers you know, the ones who reveal, when drunk enough, that they believe all women should have signs reading “whore” in large red typeface dangling from around their shoulders. He’s chilling in this one, and you’ll welcome any punishment that comes his way.

Dr. Perry Lyman in Thumbsucker. This film is dense and attentive, which are usually strong qualities in small pictures, but it’s also a little too proud of its own wisdom for tolerance. Most scenes have some kind of “point” happening just behind the curtain, and didacticism that strong just begs to have the creators’ game turned back on them: “what, exactly, is up with your obsession with sermonizing, director Mike Mills?” But perhaps because the movie is both dense and less-than-amazing, Keanu shakes off the dead scales and dust from around his shoulders and turns out his most relaxed, least mannered performance in years. Low pressure situations do wonders for some people. I haven’t seen him this willing to be slovenly, unfocused and charming since Bogus Journey (his greatest fear, he once said, was that his tombstone would read “he played Ted”; sort of explains all his uptight Christ figure roles). Here he’s a dentist who tries to dispense psychiatric advice along with fillings. The advice is so misguided and his own emotional health so questionable that his role as mentor and spirit guide is impossible to take seriously. Keanu circles around the edges of the set, daring the director and the cameraman to call him back into frame, all while slumping, leaning, and hunching like most 41-year-old men – worn and demoralized by the length and torpor of their lives – do.

He’s a pathetic figure in this one, but he knows it, and he’s trying to change; Reeves takes his own professional drive (always working always working) and transmutes it into his character’s desire to just “get a little more sane, just a little more.” The modest ambition is immensely likable. You want to give him a hug, and when he finally smiles with genuine concern at the film’s protagonist, it produces the single most cathartic and authentic display of affection in an otherwise chilly film. Those are, to my apologist’s eyes, three of the best film performances since the start of Blockbuster Era Hollywood.

Scott in My Own Private Idaho: River makes the movie great, but only because Keanu is able to convincingly break his heart. The final scene is a good bet, but real money plays on the farm house sequence: Keanu perfectly pulls off the deluded love monkey look of a guy stuck in the middle of a sex triangle and loving it.

Johnny Utah in Point Break: The crazy, vigorous prototype for “Jack” in Speed. Director Kathryn Bigelow scooped Reeves up a couple years shy of his thirtieth birthday and managed to get one truly sexy performance out of the young stoner actor before it was too late, and the buddy buddy scenes with Gary Busey should make every comedy cop pair put on screen since 1991 hang their bifurcated head with shame.

Ben Arfmann is a contributor to This Recording. He tumbls hard for your pleasure here.

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"When Logics Die" - Soulwax (mp3)

"Funny" - Soulwax (mp3) highly recommended

"Scream" - Soulwax (mp3)


In Which We Are Wise Beyond Our Years

Those Radio Days


Does anyone else get annoyed when the 45-and-older crowd talks about their prepubescent days? I do. Sometimes you get lucky and meet a crazy old guy with stories about the time he set fire to the Elks’ Lodge, but mostly you get generic Our Gang re-runs: "I threw firecrackers at the neighbor’s dog, Fluffy." "I stole biscuits from Mrs. Joseph’s window." "I blah blah blah cutesy story blah blah." Come on. Really? Whenever I hear one of these, I want to grab the middle-aged storyteller by the shoulders and yell: “No! I do not accept these anecdotes! Your childhood does not accept them!”

No one’s childhood was actually Leave It To Beaver. I’m already twenty-five, but somehow I can still remember, un-prompted, that years 5 through 10 of my life were spent variously in extreme states of fear, confusion and stupidity.

A lot of the time, it was intolerable to be around me. I was a jerk-ish, weird little kid with jerk-ish, weird little concerns. I did stupid things, and a lot of them weren’t very nice. Once I filled up a water gun with my own urine and sprayed the neighbor girls while they sunbathed. Another time I called my best friend Jesse a “stupid Jew” until he cried and hid in my closet. I was kind of a shit as a kid, and from what I remember, most other kids were shits too.

That’s what childhood was like: we were all jerks. And pretty damn cruel, too. That’s what made childhood interesting. And funny. But the movies, produced out in la-la-land like they are, don’t seem to get that. Most movies about kids are either neon-colored schlock or god awful i-wanna-die-I’m-so-depressed awards festival groupies. Examples of the first — Hotel for Dogs and The Sandlot — conform to your un-married uncle’s ideas about childhood: "Oh those little ragamuffins, just out for trouble, aren’t they?" They impose logic and rational motivations on top of generic, sugarplum characterizations. On the other end you’ve got all the true-life, scared-straight artfilm pictures — George Washington, Ratcatcher — which are, at best, poignant and “true;” which means they’re nostalgia trips for people "too smart" for nostalgia. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone made a picture about kids that was honest? A film that enjoyed watching kids not in a creepy way, or in a stupid, corporate way, but in a simple "little kids are strange and bizarre and fucking awesome" way?

Make a list of the directors you might hire for that job. Maybe Jean Renoir directing a Tom Green script? Alex Cox filming Roald Dahl? Good choices, all. I would submit also (maybe, just maybe): Woody Allen circa 1973. If the guy who directed Bananas and Sleeper were to pull a Tiger Lily on Stand By Me, that might actually be something. Woody used to be Hollywood’s vulgar, vital court jester.

I came at the film hoping for a manic, ruthless comedy about the real stuff — the cruel, terrible, clinically insane stuff - of childhood. A “classic.” That hope was irresponsible. This movie was released in 1987 — well into Woody’s “no really, I’m a WASP” phase. It received a four star review from both Roger Ebert and from my Gram. I love Roger (I love my Gram more) but the man has got a pudding-pop heart and a badly misguided memory. Playground trauma must have struck Roger early and struck him hard; looking like he does today, I can only imagine what sort of Goof Troop reject seven-year-old Ebert was back then. Maybe he blocked out all those painful memories of childhood torment, and now honestly thinks grade school was all about rosy cheeks and prime-time mischief. Well, fine.

Radio Days is not morally offensive, but it is safe and cute and lacking in nutsack. Bananas-era Woody would have cried. Radio Days is a limping collection of childhood anecdotes (set during the Second World War), loosely structured around the idea that "radio, man, that was a real mass medium." These are the venture-nothing-gain-nothing stories that your parents might break out at a co-worker’s anniversary celebration, or while carpooling with a tennis buddy.

Example: Woody’s parents, when introduced in the movie, enter the narrative while bickering fiercely. "I had never met a couple that argued as much as they did,” claims disembodied Woody. What did they argue about? Which ocean is better: the Atlantic or the Pacific. There’s some other stuff in the movie — some limp-wristed jokes about how “radio voices never match the face!” and Mia Farrow doing a dialect bit — but most of it is lamed and embarrassing. This was the movie that Allen shot between two more serious attempts at the plate — Hannah and September — and everything about it screams “bunt.” His voice over, which blankets the film, is flat minded; the sets get more attention than the dialog; and when Larry David shows up for two lines in the second act, Allen doesn’t even have sense enough to play his mug for the close-up comedy it’s capable of. For shame, Alvy, For Shame.

Behind my reaction to Radio Days is pouty little-boy disappointment. I wanted it to be a vulgar trip through America’s shared small times. But it’s not. It’s inert and grinning, the product of an artist who found out too soon that “people really like me!” and decided that was all he really wanted, anyways.

Ben Arfmann is a contributor to This Recording. He tumbls here.

"I Don't Have Any More Love Songs" - Merle Haggard (mp3)

"Our Paths May Never Cross" - Merle Haggard (mp3)

"Can't Break the Habit" - Merle Haggard (mp3)

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In Which There Is Probably A Terminator In This Movie

Poorly Named Auteur


Joseph McGinty Nichol directed this picture. He signed it “McG.” It makes me cringe to say it but: McG is getting interesting. It’s fashionable to hate the guy and maybe that fashion is on point, but there’s something in him that could be, might be, should be great. This film is not it. But the poorly named auteur has potential. High school track coaches search for it every season and upper level management goons comb the proles for it when promotion time rolls around, but few, very few souls in any field of human endeavor really have it. McG has it. Potential. Quote me.


How many directors can honestly marshal together all the pieces required to make a film like Terminator: Waste of Time (oops sorry: Salvation) see the light of day? The man had to: detonate a post-industrial Texaco; restrain Christian Bale’s self-importance; and convince the Governator to lend his likeness to a project that could only be called “a political liability.”

Doing these things is harder than you may think. McG has pulled together a huge, complex, and awe-inspiring-on-paper piece of movie. I really think the guy has something going for him; only maybe a half dozen other directors could have pulled off something this freaking big. It’s a damn shame the film is no good. But I suppose some people always knew that would be the case.

At the end of the film’s production, McG and the studio sent Arnold the Guv a showreel of Salvation’s juiciest parts. The man-him-self responded with doubt: “I do not know who the terminator is in this film. I do not know if there is a terminator.” Not the response McG et al were hoping for, certainly, but they should have listened.

When the truth arrives it doesn’t bring flowers; sometimes it speaks Austrian. Yes: this film lacks a terminator. “But wait. Ben. I’ve seen the trailers. There are tons of terminators. Bike terminators. Eel terminators. Huge Wild Wild West diesel powered terminators...” Right. Sure. But what Arnie and I mean is: there’s no unstoppable boo-machine in this film. The previous Terminators were sci-fi in their conceits – time travel let Cameron play fast and loose with set pieces - but their genre was always plain old Campfire Tale. Arnold in the first and Robert Patrick in the second were really just variations on The Guy With A Hook For A Hand – menacing, slow walking, deathless forces that would see our heroes terminated come hell or industrial machining accidents. Salvation has no perfect killing machine. It has no unstoppable manifestation of man’s techy hubris; just a bunch of disposable off-brand terminator knock-offs. No terminator means that it also, sadly, has no movie. (It is a movie, but it has no movie. “There’s no movie in your movie.” It makes sense. Trust me).

What does the film have instead? A long, well-rendered reference volume of terminator mythology. I suspect McG and the producers hired a 14-year-old fanboy as a script consultant – the film plays like an extended answer to every sideline question you or I might have had after seeing the first three films.

“How did John Connor gets his scar?” Oh yeah, he was cut by molten steel terminator claws. “Is there vegetation in future world?” Yep. Of the blood-red, ground clinging variety (exactly like in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds).

Do people still bother getting pregnant in the future, now that being alive basically sucks?” Um...yeah?

Bryce Dallas Howard both proves that people bang sans future-rubbers in 2018 and squanders my respect for her by flying into a detonating, war-ravaged Roboto HQ while cradling her way-preggers belly at the film’s disjointed climax. What kind of parent does that? More important: who signs up for a movie knowing her character will do that? The film is subtitled Salvation (as A. O. Scott, sage of the age, wisely put it: Salvation? really?) but it may as well have been Terminator: Appendix. There’s no rapture in this film, no religious eruption of redemption, just a lot of off-hand answers to lingering questions from the previous movies.

But damnit, they didn’t answer any of my questions. Like: do people still go to the theater in the future? Do people still laugh? I sat through the whole film and have no idea. There is absolutely zero wit in this film, and I don’t think I heard a single chuckle in the theater except for when CGI Arnold arrived rude and nude late third act.

If two good things come out of this film, they will be these: Christian Bale will only find work with feminist directors looking to study the fragility of male ego, and one of the hip New York mumblercore auteurs will get inspired by Salvation’s poster to make a post-apocalyptic My Dinner With Andre. It just tickles me to think of Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory sitting down to dine in an after-the-bombs downtown Manhattan eatery, catching up on how their respective theater careers have changed now that Übermensch Skynet has taken over Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway. I really think a film like that could be great.

The mumblecore style is so resolutely dedicated to slacker production aesthetics – shitty lighting, shitty framing, shitty set design – an ambitious concept (machines run the world; men live like rats) might actually become interesting and fresh in the hands of a Joe Swanberg or a Jay Duplass, instead of just rote and un-arousing, as it has so consistently been in every $200 million + Hollywood picture that’s come down the logjam since Thunderdome plopped.

No. No you should not see Terminator Salvation. It will bore you and you will feel a little bit bad afterwards for encouraging Christian Bale. McG is an interesting, promising director. He has “the potential.” But he clearly doesn’t need your encouragement to continue making films. Neither Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle nor We Are Marshall discouraged his professional ambitions.

Your dollars poured into the abyss of Terminator Salvation will have no effect on his future plans. Let’s all just let this loud, monochromatic fanboy festival pass through theaters, like a T-Rex in the night, and hope that someone – maybe McG’s niece, or his barber – starts choosing scripts for him. Joseph McGinty Nichol, if you’re reading this: a good script can make you great. Wait for your pitch, and then swing just like you’ve been swinging. You’ve got the old-school directing muscle, and when the right project comes at you, you’ll knock it clear to Mexico. But you can’t keep swinging at the trash. Trust me. I know what puts the movie into movies.

Ben Arfmann is a contributor to This Recording. This is his first appearance in these pages. He tumbls it all here.

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"Left in Fragments" - Chris Tignor (mp3)

"Last Nights on Eagle Street" - Chris Tignor (mp3)

"Core Memory Unwound" - Chris Tignor (mp3)