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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 eleanor morrow (44)

Tuesday
Sep162014

In Which Michael Fassbender Brought The Whole Band

Fassbending

by ELEANOR MORROW

Frank
dir. Lenny Abrahamson
95 minutes

In Frank Michael Fassbender has a line serrating his upper hair from his lower hair. It is the impression of the cartoon head he wears onstage as a performer in an experimental rock group for the first 70 minutes of Frank. Near the end of the film we meet Frank's parents and we learn is from the God that brought you the mentally unstable Daniel Johnston (he once crashed a plane and survived) or the astonishingly honorific Dr. Dre. I think Alanis Morisette has sclerosis?

Something is always like something else.

Frank features ensemble experimental music created by a group of actors, which was the entire reason for the failure of the John Cage musical. The songs are uniformly bad until the last number, where Fassbender bleats 'I love you all' while staring away from the camera. Maggie Gyllenhaal attempts eye contact for a few seconds during this improvised song, but it is never achieved.

Robbed of his ability to make that expression where he shows off his gums, Fassbender attempts to construct Frank purely out of his movements. The best part of Frank is when Fassbender runs anywhere - his legs revolve like those of Bugs Bunny or the Tasmanian Devil. You can tell it is Fassbender in the head the entire time, even if no one told you. You would just be like, That's the guy from everything, which is what we say before a talented artist achieves his defining role, like Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher.

At first Frank seems like a musical genius, but once you hear his songs, that possibility fades away. Frank has the worst music of any movie.


Gyllenhaal too is focused on her physicality. Left as the only interesting thing to look at in a group of guys who look like they were taken from central casting for  a Freddie Mercury biopic, she writhes and poses in equal measure. She has aged very well and is only now being cast in parts appropriate for her dashing, tilting artifice. She can keep something - a scene, a moment - alive long after you believed it was dead, and show the camera how it has been changed by being resurrected.

The only time the film is quiet or at rest is when the band's manager is tweeting about their album recording session or tumbling about a really moving artistic moment. The tumblr and twitter posts appear onscreen, just so you're 100 percent sure that none of this is the least bit authentic. All of them are super-cringeworthy, the ones that are meant to be and the ones that aren't meant to be. Telling the difference is a job for scientists, artisans, or psychologists. The only thing that is certain is that this movie is not a satire, unless...would that make it better?

Having never approached the sun, you can be certain Frank never tried to imitate the actual creative process. It just tries to stand in the light nearby.

The point of Frank, I guess, is that nothing is authentic, especially in, but not limited to, the musical world. John Cage was possibly authentic, but no one else, especially not Lou Reed or Andy Warhol or Mark Kozelek or Gary Lutz or Marlon Brando or Junot Diaz or Stanley Fish or Javier Bardem. They were all in soap operas. You will know the real thing when you see it.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Washington D.C. You can find an archive of her writing here.

"Armpit" - Ashrae Fax (mp3)

"Daddystitch" - Ashrae Fax (mp3)

Tuesday
Jul292014

In Which Her Parents Constituted The Final Straw

Paying My Dues for the Journey

by ELEANOR MORROW

They Came Together
dir. David Wain
83 minutes

Joel (Paul Rudd) is an executive at Candy Systems Incorporated, a multi-ventured candy conglomerate. He is in a long-term relationship with a brunette named Tiffany (Cobie Smulders) who struggles to return his affection because of certain depraved incidents in her past.

On the day that Joel plans to propose to Tiffany, he finds her apartment spackled with torn off clothes and accessories on the hardwood floor. He calls out her name and hears sounds in the bedroom. Assuming she is just washing herself noisily in the shower, he attempts an elongated speech to preface his marriage proposal. When he turns around he sees her in the arms of Trevor (Michael Ian Black). His relationship is over.

With this inauspicious beginning commences David Wain's supreme masterpiece, They Came Together. Previously known for tackling lighter topics like the innocent thrills of summer camps or couples retreats, They Came Together marks a departure for Wain. The film is riotously funny, but it is also deeply personal.

On the surface, They Came Together presents like a zany parody of You've Got Mail. Joel's new love interest is Molly (Amy Poehler). Watching Molly swish through her delightful homespun candy shop named Upper Sweet Side makes you realize how much the showrunners on Parks and Recreation dressed and made her up so as not to overshadow Rashida Jones or Aubrey Plaza.

In They Came Together, Poehler's Molly is the utter embodiment of womanhood. Mother of a nine year old son, she meets Joel at a Halloween party where both attend dressed as Ben Franklin.

Joel and Molly don't click at first, but eventually the two New Yorkers discover they share a rare hobby: they like fiction books. "It's the feeling of being transported to another place and time," Molly says at one point. Just as quickly as their romance takes off, Joel has second thoughts when he discovers that Molly's parents are white supremacists. (Did you know that over 30 percent of whites in America believe in white supremacy, and of those 30 percent, over 95 percent of white supremacists are regular viewers of Person of Interest?)

Molly and Joel try to make their relationships with other people work after that. Joel gets back together with Tiffany, who is honest enough to inform him that he should be very suspicious of her motives, and Molly finally accepts the advances of her accountant admirer Eggbert (Ed Helms). He does not particularly share her love of fiction ("I only like to read about things that actually happened," he explains over a burrito) but he does seem pretty devoted to her, even complimenting her on how she plays Charades.

Where They Came Together really shines in its exploration of how Jewish men adapt to dating non-Jewish women. Joel's parents were killed in a tragic accident, and he has had to provide for his younger brother  Jake (Max Greenfield) who now works as a cab driver. His knowledge of the financial reality of the candy industry is the complete opposite of Molly's homespun ways  in her shop, candy is free for all children and dogs.

When Joel's company attempts to put Molly's tiny candy shop out of business, we realize how insane it was in You've Got Mail that Meg Ryan blamed her low sales on bookstore chains that are now themselves filing for bankruptcy. No one has ever properly explained to me why wasting paper is somehow morally superior to reading something on your phone, and I doubt they ever will.

Unlike the out-of-date pieces of shit They Came Together pays tribute to, there is no happy ending here. Molly discovers she has an affinity for prescription painkillers, and the coffee shop that Joel tries to open on the Upper West Side flops within a week. Meaningfully, there is no overly familiar scene where Joel and Molly have sex  it wasn't really about that. It was about the candy, and how you really should not give it away for free.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She last wrote in these pages about Masters of Sex. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here.

"Not Mine to Love" - Slow Club (mp3)

"The Pieces" - Slow Club (mp3

Tuesday
Jul152014

In Which We Observe Lizzy Caplan In Her Natural Environment

Arching Back

by ELEANOR MORROW

Masters of Sex
creator Michelle Ashford

Lizzy Caplan's fake eyebrows are organisms in themselves. They represent the little amputations that everyone has on Showtime's Masters of Sex. They indicate the very opposite of what seems most probable. It would be most probable for Lizzy's titular boss, William Masters, to be happy with his blonde, pretty wife and new baby boy. Instead, he is miserable: when his son cries, he maliciously places "Bye Bye Love" on the record player. When his mother objects, he sends her back to Ohio.

Masters' own missing pieces are all figments of his imagination. He is not really devoid of anything, since he is a man. Others shamed by the explicit depictions in his revolutionary sex studies are reduced to menial labor and propositioned in bathrooms, but he not only gets his sex study back, he gets a new gig at a hospital with a lewd president (Danny Huston).

It is the wackiest kind of fun to watch Michael Sheen play this man who can emit so little of himself into others without ceasing to function. Masters' spastic attempts at trying to relate to people at all transform into misunderstandings that feature great deal of apprehension on both sides. In the bedroom he is like a tiger, all energy directed towards what he wants. A killing lion is to be envied; isn't William Masters just Aslan in a gynecologist's wardrobe?

The revolution can never completely succeed or fail because of men like Masters, who never forget that they are beasts, and never stop being ashamed of it. It is substantially easier to feel sympathy for someone like that than, say, Alec Baldwin. Don Draper can damn well help being who he is. Masters lacks that basic programming of self-awareness, and never bothers to apologize for not having it.

A friend of mine recently visited St. Louis. She said there was nothing there. Masters of Sex is as far from a love letter to the area as you can imagine. You can ascend, she said, in a tiny little pod that takes you to the top of the city's signature arch. At its zenith, you are still somewhere between the ground and the sky, and you have had to give up so much to reach it.


Lizzy Caplan/Virginia Johnson does not seem to spend very much time with her two children by her first husband. The show seems to share Sheen/Masters' disappointment with the sinister beasts, even though Virginia's kids are adorable and nearly self-sustaining. To feed them she tries selling diet pills, something she obviously would never do.

Children on Masters of Sex are solely an appendage that no one knows what to do with. When one philandering doctor's wife finds out his infidelities, she brings the kids to the hospital so that they can all confront him. (The offending adulterer hides under a desk.) The young ones are always around when you do not want them, and missing or nonexistent when you do.


Virginia breaks up with would-be fiance Ethan on the phone, and Dr. Masters hears her doing it in the next room. Later, Virginia asks if he heard her, as she had intended, and he said that he had, and did not sound pleased by the content of the call. How difficult it is to not hear a judge's sentence and think your fate is not being described as well!

The best part of the entire show is William Masters' home. The doctor has no eye for furnishings himself, and how his wife arranged the space is pleasing to him, but also a disturbing exertion of control. He strains at that, and there is something so lonely about his environment - open spaces in the living area that he feels drawn to not occupy, or move through quickly. Standing in the middle of his own house, he looks as if he might disappear into the wallpaper.


At times people fall out of love. But that is only rarely, if it really was love at the start. Usually what happens is that a misunderstanding of sorts existed. It went uncorrected at the time. The affair went on, resonating like love in each chasm or enclosed place, dwarfed only by innocence and naivete. No one on Masters of Sex can claim to be innocent, so it should not be surprising that these people are so frequently unsure whether or not they are in love.

There is a snake that lived in Nysa that always acted in the same fashion as its prey. If its prey fell in love and cozied up to the snake, the reptile would return the warmth to whatever extent he could. If the prey struck out at him in jest, he responded the same. And finally, when the prey ceased being prey, the snake hid.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Paradise Is You" - La Roux (mp3)

"Cruel Sexuality" - La Roux (mp3)