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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 christian bale (6)


In Which We Will Never Drink Out Of Cups Again



Knight of Cups
dir. Terrence Malick
118 minutes

There is this scene in Knight of Cups where Rick (Christian Bale) is dry-humping a prostitute named Della (Imogen Potts) and he interlaces his hands with hers and they sort of swing them back and forth in a silly way, like two kids might. The couple never actually speaks to each other, we only hear their inner thoughts in voiceover. This is a Terrence Malick joint.

Were you interested in the less cohesive aspects of The Tree of Life without necessarily needing a whole lot of plot or exposition? Knight of Cups provides that important experience, in a package you will recognize completely. Half the shots might have been ripped straight from Grand Theft Auto V and L.A. Story. Los Angeles, and Christian Bale as an amoral womanizer, are both too familiar.

Knight of Cups is not really about any of that. Malick photographs most of the movie with a convex lens, and much of the camera movement creates motion sickness. Do not be alarmed — this is the strongest emotion you will experience during the journey of Rick, or as I prefer to call him, Master Rick.

Master Rick spends a lot of time strolling. The only time he shows the slightest bit of evidence that the world as it exists is affecting him in any way is during an earthquake. To be completely honest, I have trouble identifying with a character like this because I recently cried during an episode of the now-canceled CBS sitcom Angel from Hell.

Master Rick's brother Barry (Wes Bentley) takes him on a tour of the less impressive aspects of Los Angeles. Malick is deeply afraid of actual homeless people, so he casts actors in their roles. Much like Master Rick, Barry is very disappointed in the world. He sticks a fork in his hand and proclaims that he wants to feel something. This is the same guy who filmed an image of a paper bag getting knocked around in the wind and proclaimed that it was beautiful.

Master Rick gave me this idea. It is time to hold actors responsible for the content of their roles. An actor never really kills or maims, so you will not have to judge him for that. You will have to evaluate the sons of Stanislavsky on what they say. David Mamet always said that action talks and bullshit walks, but I mean, does it?

A brother's untimely death is the reason that Master Rick is sad. He tries to get over it by objectifying and projecting himself into various women. It turns out that his ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett) is not having any of that. She wriggles away from the touch of Master Rick! The two have zero chemistry; it occurs to us that maybe Christian Bale cannot even understand his ex-wife's accent. She complains that he became angry for small things, like maybe she was not the best housekeeper or she was facebook messaging a real estate agent named Gary Percival.

None of these examples are actually in Knight of Cups, but the movie becomes very boring so it is natural to imagine the lives of the characters if they were not complete clichés. "When I'm with you, I forget everything else," Natalie Portman puts it at one point, wearing a mesh sweater that looks like a fishing net.

Nancy and Master Rick start having sex in a bathtub (this might have been a flashback) but their dog interrupts. (I don't know the exact breed, it could have been a pinscher of some kind.) Nancy and Master Rick shared a contemporary style bungalow with a really nice pool, but neither of them struck me as swimmers. None of this really seems to affect Master Rick and Malick generally shoots Bale from behind, forcing us to intuit his responses to most of this horseshit.

Knight of Cups features a consistent focus on animals and how they move and walk: if they sway, if they dart off balance, how a duck saunters, how a fly buzzes, that sort of thing. This observational perspective channels how a child reacts when he sees an animal, emitting a basic wonder that they are not as we are. Such intimacy with nature originates as a childish notion, and most of us move beyond it by the time we reach the advanced age of ten. I get the feeling that when Terrence Malick witnesses a bee buzzing he probably achieves a hard-on, or at least wants to get one.

I don't mean to be too harsh on this guy. Maybe he hasn't seen the 100 movies released last year about disassociated and depressed white men. Malick has the character most akin to him explain that women — and their associated problems — are "a distraction." He probably doesn't understand that on some fundamental level casting a bunch of beautiful, talented actresses as accessories to the travails of a rich, complainy white guy is incredibly offensive. I mean, Master Malick was born in 1943. There were not even civil rights then, and suffrage for women in America was only twenty-three years old.

None of these women seem to have a particularly close connection with Master Rick. A few of the sex workers would be the same age as his daughter. Natalie Portman gives off a weird sister vibe with Bale and their intimate scenes together feel remarkably like incest. She puts her foot in his mouth and laughs. She is the most like him, the only other character in Knight of Cups who actually has a dilemma and story of her own. So of course it is hinted that she kills herself.

One of these women is a stripper with a philosophical streak named Karen (Teresa Palmer) who tells Master Rick he can be whatever he wants to be. "We're like clouds, aren't we?" she explains to him. He responds to that by pushing her around in a shopping cart and skateboarding. Master Rick is inert, but sometimes he can follow a woman if she is looking back at him while she moves forward. I have never met anyone like that.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Better or Worse" - Beacon (mp3)


In Which We Get Lost In The Follicular

Consider the Hustle


You may not have heard, but American Hustle opens on a hair. David O'Russell's newest film begins with a single strand, quickly revealed to be part of a larger, more capricious hairpiece that is itself just one of many sculpted styles punctuating the movie. If the internet is to be believed, as many people leave American Hustle with an appreciation for its styling as for its Bee Gees-heavy soundtrack. The clue is in the title. A film about hustlers, it’s a film about front, a film about image and what we do to both make and keep it. From Christian Bale's opening toupee to Amy Adams's disco crimp, from Bradley Cooper's tightly manicured perm to the desperate flop of Jennifer Lawrence’s platinum curls, the movie’s many stars recreate the 1970s through the rich, external life of their hair.

It would be easy to get lost in the follicular, but stay a moment to consider the hustle. Based on the true story of the Abscam scandal, the film begins in 1978, as FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Cooper) forces con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) into an elaborate sting operation to unseat corrupt politicians in New Jersey. While the sting itself was real enough, O’Russell pre-empts the audience’s disbelief with a screenshot that reads “some of this actually happened,” a phrase so callously open to inaccuracies that it draws laughter from the audience.

Truth is en vogue this Oscar season. Since Argo won Best Picture over Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty, this year's American Hustle must square up against The Wolf of Wall Street, Saving Mr. Banks, and 12 Years a Slave, all films that are, in some way, “based on a true story.” However, O’Russell’s admission that only “some” of the scenes in his film “actually” happened paraphrases Mark Twain’s oft-quoted phrase: “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Twain’s point riffs on the idea that the imagination is capable of projecting events that might never have occurred, a theme that the movie’s hustle embodies. In a world where the con is your living, the film asks what prevents the con from then becoming your life.

Behind or even beyond the hair, Twain’s quote speaks to the existential angst in which O’Russell’s film is immersed. These characters are troubled for the sake of making trouble, lost in a swirl of frustration and naivety that characterized the limited freedoms of the 1970s. Indeed, American Hustle feels very much like a director assembling a company in order to set them free. It is not surprising, perhaps, given the O'Russell’s reputation for treating his cast with an air of barely concealed aggression, that Hustle's actors seem pushed to the edges of their impulses, producing performances that feel like fight or flight.

Christian Bale is unrecognizable as the hairpiece-fondling, potbellied Irving, whose belief in the love of a good woman leads to the most romantic dry-cleaning montage ever committed to celluloid. By his side, Amy Adams reaches peak sincerity as a lost girl desperate to believe in love and other transformative costumes. Together, the two lead the audience through questionable dialogue and a meandering plot, buoyed by equally low neck lines that sweep Bale’s impressive potbelly and Adams’ omnipresent side boob with indiscriminate joy. Jennifer Lawrence, as Irving’s destructive wife, steals every scene she’s in, depicting a woman so young and fragile, so oppositional to Adams in her complete fear of change, that she can’t fix the curls on her head long enough to put out the fires she quite literally starts around her.

You'll instinctually love or hate this kind of acting; instinct, also, will define the extent to which the disturbing revelations about O’Russell’s personal life change your understanding of the film. Whatever the truth to the accusations, there is an incredible innocence to American Hustle’s version of the 1970s that remains unsettling, a pervasive nostalgia that ear marks the decade as a time when things were simpler, when sex was sexier, when corruption was a little more innocent. Halfway through, Sydney and Di Maso strike out on their own and head to the discothèque. She's Donna Summer and he's John Travolta, so iconically dressed that the costumes often become divorced from the context in which they were once so powerful. The earnestness with which Sydney and Di Maso believe in the healing rhythms found dancing under disco lights is another kind of nostalgia porn that feels good to the audience because it is so easy on the eye.

Adams's brief nod to Donna Summer as a style icon is also telling of the movie’s wider problem of diversity. Though the stars and associates of American Hustle are white, the African-American and Latino populations of Atlantic City are only granted a brief cameo as prospective recipients of charity from a politician come good. Not only do the spectres of diversity feel like an allusion to a collective poor that have been filed, neatly, somewhere off screen, but their appearance in the film is no larger than a scene in which they are called to collectively applaud their benefactors. No voices, then; just the sound of applause.

The silencing of any non-white voices extends to the plot of the hustle itself. In order to convince politicians that a mysterious Sheikh is willing to fund their project, the team dress an FBI agent of Mexican descent in Sheikh-like clothing. This allows for a pithy punchline, but you can't help but get the sense that the storyline exists to silence the "Sheikh": he must hold his tongue so as to keep his poor command of Arabic a secret.

As a result, American Hustle feels like a film about fantasy, simultaneously attempting to convince you of the illusion while constantly alluding to the fact that it's just an illusion. This was a problem, too, in Silver Linings Playbook, a film stuck somewhere between Garden State and Dirty Dancing, that never seemed to settle on how it could represent its characters' emotional truths. In both cases, it is often hard to tell whether the actors are tapping into profound emotion or simply making loud noises to convince you that they are.

When Irving and Sydney first meet at a party they connect over a love of jazz. Making doe eyes at each other over a Duke Ellington record while the party continues around them, O’Russell misses something fundamental about their situation. Unable to communicate the profundity that follows an unexpected connection with a like mind, he draws the scene around his actors like two teenagers who believe no-one else could ever understand them. And that, his films suggest, is what O’Russell believes of himself.

Rachel Sykes is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Nottingham. She last wrote in these pages about music in December. She tumbls here and twitters here

"We All Went Down With The Ship" - Ed Harcourt (mp3)

"Love Is A Minor Key" - Ed Harcourt (mp3)


In Which It's The Best Jewish Comedy Western Since Blazing Saddles

Nature's Cathedral


True Grit

dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

110 minutes

Who incepted my fantasy about wandering the wildernesses of New Mexico with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon? Who told the Coen brothers that every scrappy tomboy sees herself in Rooster Cogburn? When did Matt Damon get so goddamned awesome? Is he Leonardo DiCaprio's black swan because he reminds us that what we don't love about Leo is his humorlessness and inability or unwillingness to make fun of himself?

Since they slayed it on the first try with No Country For Old Men, you might think the Coen Brothers would shy away from making another Western. Apparently they're going for the hat trick and doing Blood Meridian next, although you never know if they'll zig. If they can manage to make Blood Meridian not humorless, I will give them a billion percent of my mind futures. True Grit is a perfect modern existential Western, a tribute to The Wizard Of Oz the way O Brother Where Art Thou was a retelling of The Odyssey.

Matt Damon knows how to play a white hat in an interesting way. He always brings something of a black hat attitude to it. That's why he was so great in The Departed and The Talented Mr. Ripley as a black hat hiding behind a white hat façade. He is a genuine movie star. True Grit reminded me a lot of Hayao Miyazaki movies, which feature determined little girls on dangerous missions in dreamlike environments. National treasure Jeff Bridges really gets his Orson Welles in Chimes At Midnight on.

In addition to Western tropes, all of the Coens' own tropes are here too: severed limbs and digits, repetitions of key phrases that become funnier as they are repeated, salty old men and fast-talking women. The Coens are tender-hearted nihilists, and so are all of their characters. Do other directors resent the Coens because they make it look so easy? I am sure that making it look that effortless is actually really fucking hard. 

My favorite classic existential Western is Man Of The West, Anthony Mann's claustrophobic take on the genre. Existential Westerns are Waiting For Godot against the background of nature. They replicate what it's like to be inside your own mind, and recall all the weird Jungian dreamscapes you've ever seen in your sleep. Attempting to convey in film the intense spirituality of landscapes is Terrence Malick's life's pursuit. 

I have a lot of love for Westerns, because I am from the West. I romanticize Western tropes, and so this movie was perfect for me because it was a romantic but not bloodless take on the Western. I also loved No Country For Old Men, which was decidedly anti-romantic. I love that the Coens can execute both and see no conflict in the differences between them. I respect versatility more than just about anything.

For me, True Grit and Black Swan both captured the atmosphere of dreams and nightmares in a way that Inception did not at all. The immanently mystical quality of some places, especially natural environments, derealization, the ways in which life sometimes feels like a three character play in which you are all three characters. 

Avatar was James Cameron's Wizard Of Oz remake. The Wizard Of Oz is the ultimate existential fantasy movie, and seeing it for the first time is a lot of people's first mundane psychedelic experience with art. In dreams you are often on a mission of some sort, and it is comforting to think about having such a clear purpose in life. In real life our personal directives are much less obvious, if they are discernible at all.  

The modern existential Western/Wizard Of Acid/spiritual landscape film that best captures and approximates my own internal processes is Easy Rider; the avatars of 1970s Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson are in constant battle for my eternal soul. God help you if Jack Nicholson wins. God help me if Dennis Hopper does. There's an excellent argument to be made that I am also McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Genre tropes always sound like liabilities in advance. I've seen enough bad child actors to be instantly wary of a movie centered around a child actor, but Hailee Steinfeld is a born natural. She more than holds her own against the A List actors all around her.

Fun facts about Hailee: her dad is "Body By Jake" as shown in the Pie-O-My episode of The Sopranos, she is a valley girl like me, that diva bitch from Glee snubbed her and it made her cry. If I was caught off guard by the ending of True Grit (and what an ending), it's because I expected her to grow up to be Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona.

Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn is the cowardly lion. Bridges is one of my absolute favorite actors. I have a major soft spot for second generation actors, because a lot of them seem to understand how to treat acting like it's a regular job. They are not necessarily less prone to be divas, but certainly Jeff Bridges doesn't seem like a diva.

Neither does Matt Damon. That's why they are so good. They never pull focus, even when hamming it up. They understand how to collaborate, how to work on a team. It's a quality I think all the best actors have. Can somebody please cast Owen Wilson in their next Western? Shanghai Noon/Knights fan #1 over here, and I'm serious. 

The Coens always create a sort of collaborative seeming world, perhaps because they are themselves collaborating. One wonders if Joel and Ethan ever disagree on things. Surely there must be times when one of them sees a shot one way and the other sees it some other way, and they have to compromise. Who is Micky and who is Dickey?

Here's how to fix The Fighter. Wahlberg and Bale swap roles. THINK ABOUT IT. Wahlberg would be much more genuinely menacing as the fuck-up crackhead brother, as anyone who's seen Fear can attest. Bale's natural smarminess would make the sympathetic lead more complex and interesting. Bale and Amy Adams actually had the best chemistry in the movie in their one real scene together. To make it up to me, they can do a webcast of True West where they switch roles every other scene.

Fargo is a kind of Western (a Midwestern), wherein Frances McDormand is the law. The Big Lebowski is a Western, in addition to being a neon noir detective movie. I was a little sad Sam Elliott never showed up in True Grit. He could have been The Wizard.

In the FMK situation that will be this year's Academy Awards, I think I'm going to have to kill The Fighter, fuck Black Swan (it was college!), and marry True Grit. But I need to see both of the latter again to be sure. How exciting is it to have so many actually good films in theaters? Winter movies are summer tentpole movies for film geeks.

Best Existential Westerns:

The Searchers 

Dead Man

Man Of The West

High Noon


Once Upon A Time In The West

The Good The Bad And The Ugly

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

El Topo

Ride The High Country

The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre

Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia

There Will Be Blood

Easy Rider

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. If somebody can hook her up to be artist in residence at the Gene Autry Museum she'll murder your enemies for you. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"River Crossing" - Carter Burwell (mp3)

"A Great Adventure" - Carter Burwell (mp3)

"Your Headstrong Ways" - Carter Burwell (mp3)

"Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" - Iris DeMent (mp3)