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Alex Carnevale

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Entries in dick cheney (166)


In Which We Strive To Be Outside The Thing That Thinks

The Culture Wars In Reverse


The 1960s and 1970s were a garbage time and place to be a part of. You had to choose a side in this war of bad color schemes, scarves worn in exactly the wrong places, and the all-encompassing scent of B.O. On one side stood an ungrateful bunch of wretches who had not really done any work, but listed the things they expected their country to provide for them. On the other side were a bunch of sexist racists who inhabited the power structure and were like, "What was really wrong with how things were when women and blacks were casualties of a quintessential maleless that was everpresent, like the wind?" 

Well, now that power structure has been dismantled. The most important person in our foreign policy has largely been a woman for seventy percent of the last two decades, and for eight years we have enjoyed the gentlemanly, paranoid camaraderie of an African-American policy wonk in the Oval Office. Nobody in their right mind would say that the last eight years were a nightmare; neither did they represent a renaissance. We stood pat. Unfortunately our hand was not all that great.

Now one maniac has a basic platform. Let's go back to how things were, let's make America gr8 again. The WGN series Outsiders concerns the white people who settled on a mountain in Kentucky more than a century ago, and a corporation which wants to remove them from their home. They know exactly what Mr. Trump is talking about.

All property is rightfully possessed by those with the will to defend it. None of the police officers in Blackburg, Kentucky want to go up to that mountain and lead an eviction of these primitive folks who call themselves the Farrells. This crazy inbred tribe brew moonshine; it is not entirely clear how they supply themselves with food. They are led by a man named Foster (David Morse) and his mother Ray (Phyllis Somerville), who looks like a granola bar.

At times Hillary Clinton lapses into a disturbing Southern accent. She cannot help being something of a fake, of being the sort of person who tells everyone she meets exactly what they want to hear, because this is the primary tact of her two main competitors in obtaining the presidency. Say what you want about Mr. Obama, but he always said what he thought he could get away with, and if you didn't like it, he did not really care.

That is two types of people. Whites are becoming a majority; white males even more so. America's population is becoming urbanized and weak, feeble like the sheriff in Blacksburg, an Oxycontin addict played by the marvelous New Zealand actor Thomas M. Wright. A man is not a man, now. Donald Trump is not even a man. Look at photographs of him when he was younger: he looks like Patrick Bateman crossed with William F. Buckley wearing a condom on his head.

Ronald Reagan was not exactly a man's man either. You have to go back a long way to find someone who was a man's man in the Oval Office. I used to think Donald Rumsfeld had balls, but then he focused his energies on making a card game app, and I started writing for This Recording because I wanted to seem cool and because I had a lot of jokes about Matthew Fox that I felt needed telling. When I looked down in the shower on Friday I couldn't see either a penis or balls. I was bare as a mannikin down there. 

Thomas Wright's police offer becomes the sheriff under unusual circumstances. The previous sheriff took him on the Farrells' mountain. His foot became caught in a bear trap, and he fell, where another trap snapped his head off. Outsiders showed this unlikely death, and since I am not a real man, I almost cried. 

Even the men on Outsiders, grizzled as they are, spend the vast majority of their time worried about what women think of their actions and behavior. It is less of a patriarchal society on Hick Mountain than you could expect. A ruling council is led and filled by women, though the men do not always obey. Outsiders is the best thing WGN has ever brought to air, but it may hit a bit too close to home.

I watched a movie the other day that I hoped would place some gristle in my private parts. It is called The Survivalist. It is about a man's man (Martin McCann) who lives on a little farm long after people have run out of oil and other fossil fuels which sustain our current way of life. He is doing fine by himself living in the cutest cabin until two women saunter into his garden. Naturally, the women are his complete undoing. The younger one (Mia Goth) has no eyebrows and offers to have sex with him for food. 

He accepts naturally, and he becomes incredibly soft. He only has eyes for Mia Goth. He is perhaps unaware of all the filthy things Shia LaBoeuf did to her in the context of what Shia calls a romantic relationship. Not even Shia LaBoeuf is a real man, for a real man only knows what a mirror is when he hears other people talking about it or when he uses the bathroom at the mall.

As you can see this essai has gotten away from me. When I began it, my goal was to prove that this was the culture wars in reverse: an aggrieved white minority wants to return to an idyllic past while a multicultural majority wants to suppress what they believe are disturbed values.

But as I was proving this by reviewing a TV show that airs on WGN and movie that went straight to OnDemand, I realized that in order for a culture war to exist, there actually has to be a culture. There is nothing Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton can actually do to change America in any discernible way. The only way they can alter the nation is by saying things that make people angry. Then perhaps those individuals will go and do things to alter the flow of events. 

The last important decision made by a president was made by a real man, Lyndon Johnson. It was the wrong decision, and we kept fighting the war in Vietnam. I say 'we', of course I had no desire to get anywhere near this shitshow. A president is not going to do anything, and anybody that tells you differently just doesn't understand the world. 

More importance is attached to that thing in our brain which thinks. That is what we are, and to make a culture, a bunch of people have to think a lot of different things. Someone asked me the other day who I thought the most important man in America was. It was a good question, possibly a query without a real answer. But then it came to me: there are no men left except for Robin Thicke, so I guess the answer is, him by default?

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

"Millionaire" - Thao Nguyen & the Get Down Stay Down (mp3)


In Which James Franco Purple Nurpled His Way Into Her Heart

Robert Pattinson of Arabia


Queen of the Desert
dir. Werner Herzog
128 minutes

"I get very lonely," James Franco explains early on in Queen of the Desert. Then there is this odd scene where Nicole Kidman towers over her cousin (Holly Earl) like a giant. One of the weirdest scenes in movies follows; it is how you know this is a Werner Herzog production. Nicole manhandles the poor woman and kisses her on the forehead like she is a little baby.

The film launches into Nicole's voiceover of a letter to her father. She explains to him that James Franco is always there when you want him, and never when you don't. If only that were true.

As he enters middle age Franco has adopted this muted seriousness that is completely amusing but also transparent. It screams, "I am acting! Isn't this vaguely reminsicent of Robert Mitchum or something, I don't know LOL!"

That night Franco performs a magic trick for Nicole. For some reason as he is doing this, he starts whispering. It is daytime we see James next, and he is still talking in a soft tone of voice. You get the sense that Nicole shares a lot of qualities with his mother.

This all takes place in the desert. James kisses her in the desert outside Tehran. She tastes like dandelions and sour milk, in the desert.

Eventually he asks her to marry him, upsetting her family greatly, presumably because they don't view James Franco as being particularly reliable. Queen of the Desert has a roundly mediocre score accompanying these events, but what makes it truly intolerable is just how much of it there is. "I am in love with your smile," James explains, and then like ten minutes later he throws himself off a cliff.

Nicole takes this about as well as you would expect. She replaces James Franco with Damian Lewis, who is a major upgrade in pretty much every way. Unlike the vast majority of men, Lewis appears a lot more youthful when he has facial hair. One man wants to look old and looks too young. One man wants to look young and looks young.

Damian Lewis' eyes are soulful, maybe too soulful? He should just do his character from Billions in every movie, since Queen of the Desert can't possibly take its story the least bit seriously. Herzog's gift is turning reality into a surreal fantasy, but there is nothing interesting in the story of Gertrude Bell that he really understands, so it is all just molting, begging and staring.

Lewis doesn't do much more than stroke Nicole's hair. He says he wants to be with her, but he tells her his wife would commit suicide if he ever left. Gertrude seems sad but maybe not as depressed as she might otherwise have been. She was guilty of love once, but never again.

Queen of the Desert doesn't get good until we come to the most amusing casting of time: Robert Pattinson as T.E. Lawrence. Since Lawrence was gay or asexual, his charisma with Nicole is not much at all. "I'm not sure the right man for you has been born yet," he tells her, in an accent so bad it would be laughable if Pattinson did not have look of a sad, wounded puppy on his face. You want to slap the shit out of it.

"I'm under you of course," Lawrence tells Nicole, even though this doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I mean, she doesn't even speak the language and she is absolutely boy-crazy, how would she even have time for diplomatic relations. The score changes to from ten percent cultural appropriation to one hundred percent; all the Arab characters stand around in worship of Nicole Kidman. "You were great in Far and Away!" they scream over the din of their camels.

Lawrence has his picture taken with some really adorable lion cubs and Winston Churchill. It is made evident that the reason all these people are in the middle east is because they find England absolutely stifling. The last line of Queen of the Desert is an Arab king saying, "You know, she really is the unofficial Queen of the Desert" and then some text comes on the screen, like there is more information that will supplement our understanding of where Nicole Kidman is in her life now. We know everything we need to by that time.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of his writing in these pages here.

"Breathing Spell" - Some Go Haunting (mp3)


In Which We Never Thought Beowulf Would Return To Be Consumed By Us Again

Forget Dorne


Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands
creators James Dormer, Tim Haines & Katie Newman

Would you possibly be interested in hearing about a show that is exactly like Game of Thrones except actually good? Life is filled with imitations better than the real thing. Bernie Sanders is like Jimmy Carter except with an IQ soaring north of 100; Marco Rubio reminds me of a Mirror Universe Scarface and Angelina Jolie is a more incestuous and sexually adventurous Jane Fonda.

In a bizarre move, Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands thefts Game of Thrones' theme song wholesale. It is very, very important that you are reminded that this is GoT except Lynne will not have to spend half the episode pausing the DVR and asking me if Ser Jorah Mormont is illiterate. "No," I scream, "that is the sea captain that Stannis Baratheon uses as his consigliere. Now get me some fucking canteloupe!"

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands makes Game of Thrones seem completely low rent in comparison. For some reason HBO has never been keen on spending money on their signature series. The special effects budget is limited to about 30 seconds of CGI per episode and the sets are starting to look like the same castle. The direwolves have basically been written out of the plot entirely, and the dragons have had about twenty minutes of total screen time in the entire run.

In contrast, the special effects in Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands are eyepopping and the art design of the so-called mudborn puts the lame fantasy tropes of GRRM's series to shame. Esquire network is bringing this British series from broadcaster ITV to America, and thank God for that.

Superior production is not the only advantage Beowulf has over its predecessor. It helps Beowulf tremendously that it does not fall into the trap of making a swords and sorcery setting a whitewashing. There are people of all shapes, sizes and colors in Beowulf's hometown.

The entire cast is fantastic. Beowulf was a really boring poem, so James Dormer constructs a rather loose adaptation. Most interesting is the relationship between Beowulf (Kieran Bew) and his half-brother Slean (Edward Speelers). Bew's wig is kinda distracting (if that is real hair, I shudder) but he makes a terrific Beowulf, the sort of man who is alternately naive and adept at the same time.

Beowulf returns to the Shieldlands after learning of his father Hrothgar's death. We know nothing of his mother yet, but his father's wife resented having Beowulf at court so he was sent away from home when he was merely a boy. Within the first moments of his return, Beowulf is framed for a murder and sentenced to execution.

Beowulf's best friend Breca (Gísli Örn Garðarsson) is the only person who cares enough to help him. After flirting with her smith daughter Vishka (Ellora Torchia), Breca marries a lovely woman named Lila (Lolita Chakrabarti) during a drunken evening of debauchery. It is an astoundingly simple subplot, but like much of what happens on Beowulf, it feels original and sensitive. Every single action has a consequence on Beowulf, and unlike Game of Thrones, that result need not always be death.

Beowulf is a decently fun hero, but the show would feel insubstantial without the presence of the ethereally talented Joanne Whalley, who plays Rheda, the wife of Hrothgar (William Hurt). Hurt only gets scenes in flashbacks, but we do not really miss him since it is a lot more fun to see Whalley stumble and get up from adversity as a female yarl ruling a council of male-focused tribes. Eliot Cowan is stupendous as her main political adversary, as both seem to be attempting to one up each other simply by the breadth of their costumes.

James Dormer's writing for all these wildly diverse characters is just as it should be. In a large cast it is supremely important that actors do not sound and talk alike, a distinction David Benioff seems to have forgotten while he was trying to coax GRRM to finish the next volume before Peter Dinklage drinks himself to death. Dormer excels at giving his actors physical, nonverbal moments: we watch them move and sway, sit in repose or at making or working. This is as much an aspect of who they are as what they say and do.

This is the best version of Beowulf ever done, but it is not really just Beowulf. Dormer draws from the influences of classical Greeks and Romans as much as from the epic poem. In truth, dragons are the last thing we want to see in this story, since the magnificently humanoid creatures of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands offer mysteries beyond those available to a woman who birthed them out of a mysterious egg after Jason Momoa ended her period.

Revenge, hatred and violence is what drives most of Martin's characters, but Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands proves there are far more compelling motivations. It is sedutively simple for us to know the mind of a man who kills his father on the toilet, but why Beowulf should love his father and yet be twisted by the lack of public acknowledgement as his son makes for a deeper story. Dormer is reminding us that characters have a drive, but human beings can be many things at once.

NB: A lot of you have been asking me my predictions for Iowa. A Donald Trump-Bernie Sanders contest will ensure that old white men are the dominant ruling species for all time. I'm starting to miss President Obama already.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

"You're So Good To Me" - M. Ward (mp3)

"Temptation" - M. Ward (mp3)