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Felicity's disguise

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Entries in brie larson (3)


In Which Brie Larson Triumphs On The Merits

Tom H. Kong


Kong: Skull Island
dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts
118 minutes

King Kong had a gentler side. He wanted to be with a woman in order to satisfy his emotional and sexual needs. This is deemed too reductive and animalistic. Now we need a new reason for Kong to protect a woman, in Kong: Skull Island a photographer named Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). This new reason is as follows: Kong respects her.

You see, one afternoon he comes upon Brie Larson, wearing the sort of top that is so crudely described, after the 1970s era events of Kong: Skull Island, as a wife beater. He sees this tiny woman attempting to lift the wing of a plane off of an oversized moose. She can't move it an inch, so he does it for her.

Later, his faith in this incredibly strong photographer is rewarded during his fight with a massive lizard. At a distance longer than a football field Ms. Weaver strikes the beast in the head with a flare gun. This magical shot indicates she has a future in the Olympics, and in fact the 1976 iteration of those events was held in Quebec. I hope Mason Weaver made it there.

Her other love interest is a human being named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). Hiddleston's upper torso is even more impressive than Larson's. The two project their chests outwards constantly in a subtle mockery of apes. At one point Hiddleston is patrolling an ape graveyard where the bones of Kong's family are scattered. It is not his custom to bury the dead. Hiddleston's chest area protrudes far out as he slices tiny pterodactyls out of the air.

Kong: Skull Island is kind of going for a Jurassic Park-type vibe, but the film struggles to be either scary or funny. A platoon of soldiers exiting South Vietnam is enlisted on a scientific mission. The film's most exciting sequence occurs very early on as Kong swats about ten helicopters out of the sky. Helos prove to be a very poor choice for the island, since Kong barely notices human beings when they are not in the air firing bullets at his face.

In the island's interior, we meet a fighter pilot (John C. Reilly) who crashed on Skull Island's beach during the last war. Coming across the comic aspect of this extremely serious film is a relief to everyone involved, although we quickly notice that Hiddleston has zero interest in any of the people around him. Some of the hot jokes Reilly is given include wondering if the Cubs have won the world series yet, and the names he has given to the local fauna and flora. He lives with an ancient, silent civilization who, along with Kong, have kept him from harm.

The depiction of these native people, suggesting that in one thousand years they haven't developed a spoken or written language of any kind, is distressing. Reilly aludes to the possibility that the group has a primitive form of telepathy, or maybe he is just saying that they can only understand each other through body language. This is even less advanced than dolphins.

Samuel L. Jackson is given the thankless, pseudo-satirical role of a commander who never wanted to leave Vietnam. He hates Kong and plots to destroy him, eventually managing to burn the monkey quite seriously with napalm. As Kong writhes from his wounds, it is hard to feel too bad for him, given that all he really does is mope around the island and kill foes. What kind of life is that, even?

Mr. Jackson is murdered by Kong's fist before he can achieve his goals. We never get to know anyone else half so well – I think Hiddleston has like six lines in the entire movie. Now that Kong is just a pathetically whiny beast, the entire theme of the original has been overwritten. The replacement for this allegory of man as beast is that Kong is only a man after all. It is almost impressive in a way that Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) is even able to construct a film this insubstantial, this devoid of plot or character. It is like eating a marshmallow the size of a human head.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


In Which Room Allows Us To Project Various Emotions



dir. Lenny Abrahamson
121 minutes

Room begins with the voiceover of a five year old, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). He is not really a five-year old, since they had to cast someone older than five. It is refreshing to see a child in a film about adults, because children are so often portrayed as simply extraneous baggage. By the end, Jack's mother Joy (Brie Larson) is telling him, "You saved me, twice," like he is some kind of luck charm, and all the goodwill engendered by the film has evaporated.

After being imprisoned in a storage shed for seven years, Joy connives a plan to get out of there. The first idea she thought of previous to the events of the film was hitting her captor over the head with the lid of the toilet tank. This fails, since she could not enter the combination in the keypad that opens the door to the shed. Her second idea works much better: she wraps up their son in a carpet, pretends he is dead, and tells the boy to look for help before he is six feet underground.

It works, but her dad (William H. Macy) is so grossed out that his grandson is a product of rape that he can't look at the kid. The therapist working with Jack has roughly the same haircut and facial hair as his abductor, so one-on-ones are kind of like getting attention from the father he never had. Men just don't understand.

The movie goes on for about another hour after they get out of the room, so settle in for more voiceovers from a five year old: "Mom says we have to try everything once," intones Jack, who seems to be doing rather well on the outside until his mom tries to kill herself after a television interview. Room follows its protagonists so far after their trauma it is a wonder we do not see Jack entering the college process.

Brie Larson is doing her best as Joy, but this is the definition of a thankless role. She screams at her mother for teaching her to be nice, which she claims is the reason she was abducted in the first place. On some level, she is far more upset that she was missing for years in the same city and no one ever came to look for me.

Larson oscillates between various emotions: anger, rage, disappointment. Unfortunately as soon as her mother enters the diegesis of Room, Joan Allen's acting is so much better in comparison it feels like we finally have something real to focus on. Her new husband, Joy's stepfather, inhabits the new male role in her life, telling Joy to "go easy" when she is mocking her mother.

Jacob Tremblay is effective as Jack, but like everything else in Room, his character is way too pat. Room feels like an afterschool special at some points, so complete in itself is the sadness and morality embedded in this ripped-from-the-headlines, drugstore empathy. There is nothing further to understand in Room that the protagonists don't spell out for us. Dramatic irony cannot exist in such tight spaces.

Because Room never allows us to make more of its small tale than might be present at first glance, it is hard to take the pathos as authentic. We never see what happens to the man who caged them in a shed, or insight into why the monster exists. Perhaps director Lenny Abrahamson felt this would be too distracting from the main story being told, but the absence is deeply felt. We want to know why, because it is a part of uncovering the reason his victims turned out the way they did.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"All in the Mystery" - Kevin Gordon (mp3)


In Which Introducing Joey Lauren Adams Into Any Situation Achieves A Good Result

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The World According
to Tara


When I realized that Diablo Cody and John Irving were in fact the same person, I was not totally surprised.

Irving's 1981 epic The Hotel New Hampshire is probably his worst novel. The family dog is named Sorrow, two major characters die for no reason in an airplane crash, and the remaining ham-fisted symbolism is dull at best, insulting at worst. Like in all Irving, bad things are set up to happen and occur with astonishing regularity, especially the laziest of all plot devices: the accidental death. When Irving stops being able to imagine a future for his characters, or if he is bored at how happy they are, he invents another calamity.

Diablo Cody's Showtime series The United States of Tara, which has begun its second season and has already been renewed for a third, takes a similar tact. The worst is going to happen; the best of intentions is bound to end up costing you everything in the end. Although the show's first season was primarily about Tara (the absolutely magical Toni Collette) and the other personalities which inhabit her body, it has now become about her children, which is the introduction to every single fucking John Irving novel.

Two people come together to start a family in The Hotel New Hampshire, and it basically turns into a haunting version of Irving's sickest high school fantasies - with incest to spare! One of the daughters is raped; a black football player saves her. Someone dances around in a bear suit. Like in The United States of Tara, this union results into peripheral accidents, which Irving and Cody say is really the only way life unfolds.

In many ways these two diablos, both legendary for their command of invective, are actually puritanical celebrators of determinism. Everything is fate in Irving, and coincidence takes on the significance of a missive from God. Who can forget Garp's lonely battles with other people's foibles, the petty love of The Cider House Rules, the thinly-veiled super-gross autobiopic A Widow for One Year?

Mere attraction in Irving is accorded the same level of meaning as the deepest love. Sorrow isn't just another name for the family pet, it's the generalization Irving makes about the world.

Cody's show improves upon this by giving her characters some freedom, although we are still wary of the destructive friendships they might foster and the inevitable resulting pain. It is in fact an open debate on how much control anyone has of their own lives in The United States of Tara. Are Tara's disturbing drifts into other personalities not essentially representations of her true self? It is easy to see how Cody finds this appealing.

The show's incredible ensemble has taken what can only be called an important step forward by adding Joey Lauren Adams, in that Chasing Amy is basically what The United States of Tara is going for; bringing a cultural milieu that exists one place into another. This is a lot of drama for Kansas.

Tara's daughter Kate Gregson is played by Brie Larson, one more of the more exciting young talents in acting. (Diablo's advice for her is always, kind of like Ellen Page, but blonder.) This season, she has taken a job with a debt collection agency and every scene she's in is better than Mike Judge's entire career. Kate's job is the finest subplot in American television since George Costanza got engaged, and the best thing Steven Spielberg has ever been involved with.

Tara's son (Keir Gilchrist) is named Marshall, and he's basically the inverted Juno, except he dresses a lot better than she did. Marshall is ostensibly gay or questioning, and after experimenting with unrequited love last season, he's now prepared to explore all the possibilites. Like John Berry in The Hotel New Hampshire, Marshall harbors a strange love of his older sister, which is currently manifested in time spent with a brunette. He used a Ouija board to close, and it worked.

The quirky Kansas presented in The United States of Tara is basically New Hampshire if you think about it hard enough. There is another, saltier America forged from the intersections between its parts. All is exaggerated - the dangers of high school, Rosemarie DeWitt as Tara's sister Charmaine pining for marriage, the weird gay couple next door, Marshall's suave sexual confusion, the way that Tara loathes weakness in herself and others.

In their depictions of gender, Irving and Cody are polar opposites. Women in Cody's imagining are spheres of reciprocity and cultural innovation; they master their men and achieve intellectual superiority through force of mind. Diablo Cody does to what women what Irving, that former wrestler, was so keen to do with boys: make them short, Owen Meany-esque projectiles of enthusiasm, slowed as often as they speed forward into unknowing destruction. Each view of gender is profoundly sexist and aggrandizing, but the broadest of strokes is likely to leave some lasting impression.

Irving's Hollywood career was marked by several missteps; he can also easily be blamed for Tobey Maguire's career as a feckless ciderboy. There has never been a really good adaptation of Irving's books, because they are never-ending repositories of details which by their simple incoherence are expected to assemble together into a whining whole. Characters are neither funny or tragic enough because of the plaintive way they are portrayed.

When Irving wishes to shock or offend, he tries to push a button but never succeeds, like an eight-year old putting forth a dirty joke. Thus he prefers the simplest of dramatic acts over all else: surprise!

Innocence isn't innocence if you take the time to point out how naive it is. Tragedy deserves roughly the same amount of skepticism. The United States of Tara, probably the funniest show to air this season, may not be clear on the difference between the two yet. Tara is not a show about mental illness, it's about how disturbing and painful it is to feel normal, you know, like Diablo and John.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can read her previous work in these pages here.

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