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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 (72)


In Which We Stare Down Alison Brie In The Past

Perils of Adam


The Little Hours
dir. Jeff Baena
90 minutes

You can tell how much writer-director Jeff Baena loves his girlfriend Aubrey Plaza in the opening moments of The Little Hours. Fernanda is a young witch posing as a nun in 15th century, and as she drags a donkey across a landscape that looks suspiciously un-European, the camera can barely hold its attention off of her. Baena writes his life partner into the most objectionable role, but this is a subtle message also esteemed in the source material of The Decameron: the unlikeliest things are also the holiest.

Plaza looks a lot like Alison Brie since for the most part all we see are their full-lipped, pouting faces and icy eyes. Even with her body obscured, there is something indecent about Alison, and no matter how prim she looks, we realize she will be disrobing at some point in every narrative. In The Little Hours, that comes in the garden of a convent, where she pounces on the mute gardener, Massetto (Dave Franco).

Even thought The Little Hours does not focus at all on the beauty of its female leads, it would be a hard thing to obscure it. Baena not only seems devoted to Brie and Plaza, but this is also the best Molly Shannon, also playing a nun, and John C. Reilly, as the local priest, have looked in years. Baena gives all of his actresses and actors a quiet dignity, except for one. 

Dave Franco was maybe not the best actor to begin with, but he is supposed to be the straight man here and in this role he fails miserably. Attempting not to draw undue attention to Franco's physical form, Baena makes a show of his considerable deficiences. First of all, the man's gargantuan adam's apple slides up and down his throat perilously for the entire film. I don't know what everyone involved might have been able to do about this, but preventing Franco from repeatedly swallowing during his scenes would have been a welcome start.

The Little Hours initially focuses on Alison Brie's desire to leave the convent against the wishes of her father Ilario (Paul Reiser) in order to select a husband, but it is quickly distracted by her embroidery. Reiser never appears in the movie again and Brie never does manage to find a husband. Instead of any plot per se, we receive a series of jokes involving the aggressive nature of Ms. Plaza. Some are funny, like when she assaults the convent's handyman and calls him a Jew. Others are not really as enlivening, since they involve her brandishing a knife repeatedly and saying 'fuck' more times than is really entertaining.

Baena's last directorial effort, Joshy, was a clone of The Big Chill that was very serious and depressing. In contrast, The Little Hours is even less significant or thematically memorable than a Mel Brooks movie. It is at least a great deal funnier, which is not actually saying a lot. It is obvious that the film was made on a considerably tiny budget, and it shows. The Little Hours avoids displaying the local town at all – we just see actors going and returning from the place. Even the props and costumes on this production are third or fourth rate.

Late in the film, Fred Armisen shows up as a bishop. His presence adds a striking focus to the proceedings, as if what we really required to enjoy the bad behavior of these purported adherents to the word of the lord was an antagonist who doubted their sincerity. It is a missed opportunity that he only receives a few scenes, and that they are the most amusing in the entire film reminds us that The Little Hours is about as meaningful as a Portlandia sketch.

I don't know what turned Baena off from making serious cinema instead of something this frivolous. He might taken a page out of the comparative success of The Big Sick and made something that comes a little more directly from his heart. He could make a movie about why Aubrey Plaza is interested him. Does he have a large penis or cooking skills that would otherwise explain why she lives in the house?

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Retreat From The Peaks Of Yore

On Ashley Judd Time


Twin Peaks
creators David Lynch & Mark Frost

"I can't do this," a man tells a woman in a room they both know. From one corner of the room, possibly under a lamp's base, something indescribable is shaping their words and deeds. Twin Peaks: The Return is a show about the Schrodinger state of indeterminacy: not knowing whether you are alive or dead, whether the things these people – the Midwestern sort with salt in their beards and their minds – are experiencing exist in the true world or another.

In 370 B.C. Xenophon wrote down his story of Cyrus the Younger's invasion of Asia to depose his brother, the great king of Persia. He titled it Anabasis, and thereafter any military expedition from sea inland was also referred to by this term. Similarly, Twin Peaks: The Return begins on the eastern seaboard in a dark New York apartment, about as far from David Lynch's home in Los Angeles as you can get.

At one point, when Winston (Lynch himself), Diane (Laura Dern), Albert (Miguel Ferrer) and Tammy (Chrysta Bell) are flying over South Dakota on their way to Philadelphia, Winston has the plane suddenly reverse direction. They cannot, physically, head towards the coast. That would be like giving up, as lemmings do, on their short and lonely lives.

In a police station where the bloated body of Major Briggs sits, still fresh some thirty years after its presumed expiration date, the pieces begin to come together. You honestly need a scorecard to follow them all, but it all comes back to the day Agent Dale Cooper first heard of the existence of the White and Black Lodge. After that a lot of it is pretty murky, and if you want to figure everything out, you might be here awhile. There are podcasts to explain these connections better than I ever could, but Twin Peaks: The Return is about whether or not you can perceive the existence of a mythology behind your life. The details themselves are largely immaterial; the real evidence of another world is in the present moment, the one you currently inhabit.

What is astonishing about the world Mr. Lynch gives us from moment to moment is that certain things disappear from it completely, replaced by the sense of forboding that overwhelms the self. Gender is not really present, even though sexism is. These particulars are merely small forces exerting themselves on the world, while something larger and more earthly is really taking a tighter grip. In a way a man's wife (Naomi Watts) is a god, as much as anyone.

This democratization of self takes over as Lynch presents a series of people we would not normally identify as protagonists or antagonists. He brings them out of the background of these scenes, giving them their full duration in the sun. Whether it is a series of chuckling local federales or Tim Roth as Evil Cooper's accommodating henchmen, the way these people talk to each other makes us feel like mere observers. The last piece of television that properly managed such an arrangement was The Wire. I like to think of Twin Peaks as The Wire of rural America.

Ashley Judd had this great movie where she played the wife of Bruce Greenwood. Bruce was in a lot of debt, so he faked his own death and made her look like the killer. She served eight years in prison and was released on parole, for murder. The second she got out she went looking for Bruce, and when she found him, he was selling himself at a charity auction in New Orleans. She bid on him and won.

Imagine the world above us, where time moves more slowly than it does here. We could spend, say, twenty years ago in that place but it would feel like only months on Earth. Still, we would age, grey overtaking our temples and armpits, while the real world sped by. That is what it must have been like for Ashley Judd in prison. I hope she never went there, but in my heart I think I know that she did.

With the deliberate pace that Lynch has established with this revival, it seems almost fait accompli that Twin Peaks: The Return is in line for another season after it finishes this run on September 3rd. These episodes have seem so effortless, like poring over a children's picture book. Perhaps Lynch wants to return to other topics, challenge himself with different concepts and forms. This will be a loss for television — but it is not the only medium, only the most malleable one.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan.


In Which We Seriously Miss Megan Fox At This Time

Operation: Enduring Freedom


Transformers: The Last Knight
dir. Michael Bay
149 minutes

There is a scene smack-dab in the middle of Transformers: The Last Knight where Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is sitting in a room opposite Oxford professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock) for around two minutes. That is how long it takes for him to refer to her attire as "stripper-wear" because she was showing maybe an inch of her breasts. That no one has thought to arrest Michael Bay and put him in jail for this is a testament to the enduring freedoms possible in our country.

In all other ways, Mr. Bay informs us at length, Dr. Wembley is a piece of shit. Even though she appears to be a tenured professor, she also gives tours at a local museum. She informs her tour group that the Knights of the Round Table probably never existed, which is quite the statement. Dr. Wembley is proved to be an academic fraud shortly after she was objectified by a man she did not even know. Subsequently, we learn her only purpose for being in the film is that she is the only one able to grip a long wooden shaft.

The rest of Transformers: The Last Knight makes a lot more sense, except the parts that don't. Take one subplot involving Seymour Simmons (John Turturro). Simmons appears in two scenes in Transformers: The Last Knight. Both of these scenes take place by telephone – Turturro literally got paid to stand next to a phone and talk to Anthony Hopkins for a few minutes. Why was he in Transformers: The Last Knight? I don't know, is it weird every single woman in these movies is a carbon copy of Megan Fox at different ages? Yes.

At the beginning of Transformers: The Last Knight, Cade Yeager finds a fifteen-year old Peruvian girl (Isabela Moner) in the wreckage surrounding Wrigley Field. He calls her "bro" and allows her to stay in his house. Much later, she hides aboard a dropship, unnoticed by a platoon of soldiers in order to follow Cade Yeager into the upper atmosphere. And that's it. That is her entire role in the movie. I don't know, is it weird that the way we are introduced to Dr. Wembley occurs when she careens into a bunch of bicycles with a car because she can't handle the challenges of an automobile?

In another scene, Anthony Hopkins is trying to evacuate an old Navy submarine that is held in a museum. He screams, "Get moving fat boy!" when one of the tourists does not vacate the premises as quickly as he would like. But why stop there? Why not just bring racial slurs back into vogue, Michael Bay? It certainly would have livened up the proceedings. Without ever having met Michael Bay, is it not terribly hard to conclude he is the dumbest piece of shit of all time. Transformers: The Last Knight features the long awaited return of the ghetto Transformer, who speaks in an African-American dialect siphoned from landmark films like Do the Right Thing and Scary Movie.

Cade Yeager and Dr. Wembley pilot a submarine into a ship buried off the coast of England. Although it is at the bottom of the ocean, there is no depressurization whatsoever as they return to the surface. I don't know why, but this bothered me more than anything else in Transformers: The Last Knight. The cast heads from underwater to Stonehenge, where they have learned the Earth's ancestral name was Unicron, and that the Earth's crust conceals a massive organism beneath the surface. Despite teasing this early on, Bay saves this plot development for a future movie he has promised not to direct.

The worst part of Transformers: The Last Knight, besides the lack of plot of any kind, is the humor. Since the characters have zero pre-existing relationships, it is painful to hear them joke with one another. Particularly cringe-worthy is a transforming butler voiced by Jim Carter responsible for the major comic relief. He is more like a physical manifestation of Michael Bay telling us what we should be laughing at in each scene of the movie. After Anthony Hopkins dies at Stonehenge, the butler explains that of all the lords he served, "you were by far the coolest." Michael Bay hasn't changed since the moment he walked out of The Goonies in 1985.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.