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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 dick cheney (135)

Tuesday
Feb232016

In Which James Franco Purple Nurpled His Way Into Her Heart

Robert Pattinson of Arabia

by DICK CHENEY

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)

Monday
Feb012016

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

Forget Dorne

by DICK CHENEY

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)

Monday
Jan112016

In Which The Shannara Chronicles Remains Rather Cynical

Elf Stone

by DICK CHENEY

The Shannara Chronicles
creators Alfred Gough & Miles Millar

The last time I watched MTV the entire channel was reruns of Beavis & Butthead that I had already seen and repeated, unending loops of "California Love." Christ that song was bad. MTV has always been very literal, since their messaging is cynical, as is all marketing directed at children. 

Enter their new original series, The Shannara Chronicles. This fantasy outing features a young princess Amberle (Poppy Drayton) who has to enter a tree in order to claim the bloodseed, which she has to deliver to some safe place in order to regrow the phallic trunk. The seed itself resembles congealed semen, and one of the other characters might as well have cracked, "I hope it is not that time of the month." Terry Brooks penned the books this show is based on, and to say he was averse to overt sexual metaphor would be a lie.

While she is inside the tree, Amberle hallucinates fighting off a bunch of men. They try to kill and rape her, but she does them in with a sword. It is at that point when they win her respect, and she is allowed to carry their semen off with her. She tells one of the men, "I never loved you," since he looks like her old boyfriend, who died recently. Poppy Drayton's nostrils are massive, and as an actress, her greatest strength is looking somewhat surprised by every single thing that happens to her, e.g. this face:

Attempting to salvage the hot disaster that is roughly all of this is James Remar, who plays a misogynist thief named Cephalo. He has a slave named Eretria (Ivana Baquero of Pan's Labyrinth) who is unfortunately so gorgeous and talented that she outshines the princess who is supposed to be the main draw in The Shannara Chronicles. A supporting actress should never make a lead actress look plain. 

Since the relationship between master and hot slave is the only interesting aspect of The Shannara Chronicles, instead we are forced to witness scene after scene with Wil (Austin Butler) a farm elf who can use magic stones in lieu of any actual intelligence or ability. Butler at least is trying to be decent in this thankless role of a blond goofball who is the center of events for zero reason, but his straight man with a bad name Allanon (Manu Bennett) looks like he just stepped off the set of a porno. 

Bennett plays a druid who is over a hundred years old. He cannot act like at all, and he gets most of the painful screentime here. The original novel was an attempt to rewrite LOTR with an actual story and characters. The Shannara Chronicles is a lot better than watching Peter Jackson's odious movies, but that that is not saying much. Brooks does manage a few interesting — if familiar — twists with the lame fantasy conceits Tolkien relied on: Shannara is set on a dying Earth with a capital E, and bloodlines explain the genomic split between humanity and its sister species. 

The chief problem with The Shannara Chronicles is that they are entirely humorless. This is no fault of the original material, but more the wonky adaptation. Millar and Gough, in all of their television output, are incapable of putting any jokes into their writing. At least Tolkien conceived of some crude comic relief since he knew on some level he was a shit writer. The Shannara Chronicles has some lame banter about its characters staring at each other's naked bodies, but even the sex is glossed over. Did Gough and Millar never see Undressed?

Shannara actually features a decent, if relatively mundane plot. Normally, a drama without humor would be perfectly acceptable on its own. But fantasy by its exaggerated nature relies so much on the existence of comedy to make the fantastic something outside our own experience. There is no wonder in this deformed America; even the most massive cavern or lookout is reacted to to as if were grudgingly familiar. The show's first sequence features a decimated Space Needle, soon relegated to a mere memory like every other gorgeous visual the show's stellar art design provides. 

John Rhys-Davis portrays the elf king Eventine. His scenes with his disbelieving, power-hungry son Arion (Daniel McPherson) are great fun, since they feature an actual conflict and the motivations are easily understandable. McPherson is one of the best discoveries in The Shannara Chronicles, since the show badly needs an antagonist other than the whining demon (Jed Brophy) who spends most of his time swirling around a gray and listless netherworld. Such scenes are too close to Peter Jackson's movies to be called tribute.

For what I assume are budgetary reasons, the production values here seem much higher than on Miller and Gough's AMC show, Into the Badlands, which recently concluded its first season with a finale so effortlessly dull I am shocked anyone lasted so long to see it. The Shannara Chronicles has a much brighter future, but like the other show, it may not actually be edgy enough to keep the attention of those accustomed to the heightened violence that Netflix series and adult movies can allow for. The Shannara Chronicles is for kids, and it shows.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

"The Cabin" - Bear McCreary (mp3)


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