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Entries in eleanor morrow (44)


In Which Introducing Joey Lauren Adams Into Any Situation Achieves A Good Result

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The World According
to Tara


When I realized that Diablo Cody and John Irving were in fact the same person, I was not totally surprised.

Irving's 1981 epic The Hotel New Hampshire is probably his worst novel. The family dog is named Sorrow, two major characters die for no reason in an airplane crash, and the remaining ham-fisted symbolism is dull at best, insulting at worst. Like in all Irving, bad things are set up to happen and occur with astonishing regularity, especially the laziest of all plot devices: the accidental death. When Irving stops being able to imagine a future for his characters, or if he is bored at how happy they are, he invents another calamity.

Diablo Cody's Showtime series The United States of Tara, which has begun its second season and has already been renewed for a third, takes a similar tact. The worst is going to happen; the best of intentions is bound to end up costing you everything in the end. Although the show's first season was primarily about Tara (the absolutely magical Toni Collette) and the other personalities which inhabit her body, it has now become about her children, which is the introduction to every single fucking John Irving novel.

Two people come together to start a family in The Hotel New Hampshire, and it basically turns into a haunting version of Irving's sickest high school fantasies - with incest to spare! One of the daughters is raped; a black football player saves her. Someone dances around in a bear suit. Like in The United States of Tara, this union results into peripheral accidents, which Irving and Cody say is really the only way life unfolds.

In many ways these two diablos, both legendary for their command of invective, are actually puritanical celebrators of determinism. Everything is fate in Irving, and coincidence takes on the significance of a missive from God. Who can forget Garp's lonely battles with other people's foibles, the petty love of The Cider House Rules, the thinly-veiled super-gross autobiopic A Widow for One Year?

Mere attraction in Irving is accorded the same level of meaning as the deepest love. Sorrow isn't just another name for the family pet, it's the generalization Irving makes about the world.

Cody's show improves upon this by giving her characters some freedom, although we are still wary of the destructive friendships they might foster and the inevitable resulting pain. It is in fact an open debate on how much control anyone has of their own lives in The United States of Tara. Are Tara's disturbing drifts into other personalities not essentially representations of her true self? It is easy to see how Cody finds this appealing.

The show's incredible ensemble has taken what can only be called an important step forward by adding Joey Lauren Adams, in that Chasing Amy is basically what The United States of Tara is going for; bringing a cultural milieu that exists one place into another. This is a lot of drama for Kansas.

Tara's daughter Kate Gregson is played by Brie Larson, one more of the more exciting young talents in acting. (Diablo's advice for her is always, kind of like Ellen Page, but blonder.) This season, she has taken a job with a debt collection agency and every scene she's in is better than Mike Judge's entire career. Kate's job is the finest subplot in American television since George Costanza got engaged, and the best thing Steven Spielberg has ever been involved with.

Tara's son (Keir Gilchrist) is named Marshall, and he's basically the inverted Juno, except he dresses a lot better than she did. Marshall is ostensibly gay or questioning, and after experimenting with unrequited love last season, he's now prepared to explore all the possibilites. Like John Berry in The Hotel New Hampshire, Marshall harbors a strange love of his older sister, which is currently manifested in time spent with a brunette. He used a Ouija board to close, and it worked.

The quirky Kansas presented in The United States of Tara is basically New Hampshire if you think about it hard enough. There is another, saltier America forged from the intersections between its parts. All is exaggerated - the dangers of high school, Rosemarie DeWitt as Tara's sister Charmaine pining for marriage, the weird gay couple next door, Marshall's suave sexual confusion, the way that Tara loathes weakness in herself and others.

In their depictions of gender, Irving and Cody are polar opposites. Women in Cody's imagining are spheres of reciprocity and cultural innovation; they master their men and achieve intellectual superiority through force of mind. Diablo Cody does to what women what Irving, that former wrestler, was so keen to do with boys: make them short, Owen Meany-esque projectiles of enthusiasm, slowed as often as they speed forward into unknowing destruction. Each view of gender is profoundly sexist and aggrandizing, but the broadest of strokes is likely to leave some lasting impression.

Irving's Hollywood career was marked by several missteps; he can also easily be blamed for Tobey Maguire's career as a feckless ciderboy. There has never been a really good adaptation of Irving's books, because they are never-ending repositories of details which by their simple incoherence are expected to assemble together into a whining whole. Characters are neither funny or tragic enough because of the plaintive way they are portrayed.

When Irving wishes to shock or offend, he tries to push a button but never succeeds, like an eight-year old putting forth a dirty joke. Thus he prefers the simplest of dramatic acts over all else: surprise!

Innocence isn't innocence if you take the time to point out how naive it is. Tragedy deserves roughly the same amount of skepticism. The United States of Tara, probably the funniest show to air this season, may not be clear on the difference between the two yet. Tara is not a show about mental illness, it's about how disturbing and painful it is to feel normal, you know, like Diablo and John.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can read her previous work in these pages here.

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"The Moon Asked The Crow" - CocoRosie (mp3)

"Grey Oceans" - CocoRosie (mp3)

"Undertaker" - CocoRosie (mp3)


In Which Heaven Forbid We Should End The Evening Reflecting On Our Own Mortality

As You Can See, I Just Love Things


An Education

dir. Lone Schorfig

95 minutes

Nick Hornby has spent his years listening to the Beta Band and haunting us all with his elegiac tales of how white people also have feelings. Then he wrote How to Be Good, one of the worst books of the twentieth century. After that he just hung out a lot and read Sasha Frere-Jones and thought about how much he sucked as a music writer in comparison and how he wished he was Hugh Grant or even, sometimes, Colin Firth. Then he adapted Lynn Barber's Granta article about getting boned by Peter Sarsgaard into a movie. Luckily, Peter Sarsgaard was available for this important role because Jeff Bridges was doing his wife.

At first, An Education is about Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a silly young girl who gets A+ marks on her papers but really at her heart just wants a bun in the oven. (When the bun is not available, she wisely opts for a latke.) Of course this is how Nick Hornby believes all young girls think, and when David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard) pulls up in his sharp automobile and reveals to everyone's surprise than he is both smarter and better-looking than her domineering dad, Jenny's pleased as punch.

The difference in age is glossed over rather quickly, but unlike a similar relationship that Roman Polanski had some time ago, here a banana was only used for the breaking of the hymen. It's totally cool with Jenny's parents that David gives her lavish gifts, and makes up an elaborate story about knowing C.S. Lewis. After all, before 1961, no one in the world was creepy.

The movie then does a 40 minute stretch where Jenny becomes more aware of David's general tendency towards inaccuracies and lies. He also coincidentally reveals that he is a Jew; well, he actually does this within minutes of meeting her. It is truly a wonder that they didn't consider forcing the character to wear a yellow star, but I guess the time frame didn't really allow for that.

I didn't have a major, but my thesis was on Latin American economic policy.Jenny's dowdy teacher is played by Rushmore's Olivia Williams. This is good for a laugh, but ultimately it's a bit disturbing that Olivia once played the hot teacher and now she's playing the one unfamiliar with mascara. Soon enough Jenny is off on trips to Paris and Oxford, which are places a million miles away from where she was before, even though every part of England looks the same except when James Herriot is involved.

David's business partner is Danny (The History Boys' Dominic Cooper, replacing Orlando Bloom). The two steal paintings and money and work for Peter Rachman, the famous Notting Hill slumlord. David is slightly more at ease with this lifestyle than Danny. The filmmakers cast the most gentile partner-in-crime they could think of, and then made him the ethical conscience of this whole storyline.

Danny is in fact the most morally upright thief in history, and he tells David that he doesn't want to see Jenny hurt, and he tells Jenny that she has a future that doesn't include David. It's almost like David's ability to manipulate and distort situations rubbed off on this poor, gentile criminal.

The last movie that so lavishly perpetrated invidious anti-Semitic stereotypes besides the Harry Potter movies was Schindler's List. (The Pianist wasn't so great either.) Avatar was also borderline anti-Semitic, given that the qualified member of the anthropological team was Jewish and he never got to put his blue thing into her blue thing because Sam Worthington was in the way. Also, why were there no chosen people in The Matrix? Think about that.

Of course, the only exciting thing about An Education is the Jewish man. He takes everyone to the nicest places, the finest bars and restaurants. And no one asks any questions about this, until they do, and then they're super-disappointed. If this isn't the most alarmingly anti-Jewish metaphor for the Third Reich I've ever heard, it's up there.

The English turn the Jew into the other because they're too afraid of anything really different, so they prefer the slightly less boring version of their own lives. In Hornby's imagination, the ideas that provincial people have about non-provincial people are generally provincial. In this case, they're bigoted, too - as Jenny's father, Alfred Molina dislikes all the Jews he knows, but he professes that "he's not really like that."

Uh-huh. And the goblins that haunt Gringotts are just for funsies, and the Brothers Grimm had lots of Jewish friends.

I know you're mad now, but can I get your word that this won't become a movie?The most pernicious of the literary Jew haters was maybe Roald Dahl. Matilda is one of the most bracingly anti-Semitic stories of its time, including a mustachioed car salesman who cons his customers by rolling back their odometers and pores over the Torah during evenings. Don't get me started on Charlie on the Chocolate Factory. I really don't know what the English fascination with the Jews is, all I do know is that Peter Sarsgaard is about the most Gentile actor I can think of, I mean he was an altar boy for christ's sake. He's from southern Illinois; the only Jews there are in Obama's field organization.

An Education falls in the end rather flat, but mainly because this is a story that has been told so many times we can barely suffer through it once more. What surrounds that tale is easier to recommend. The visuals and performances are diverting, and the direction is capable, a microcosm of the story itself, where mere excitement isn't enough to carry meaning forward any. As in About a Boy and High Fidelity, An Education dismisses a way of life as inadequate without finding anything worthwhile to replace it. An Education is the perfect Hornby project, because as John Cusack openly wonders at the end of High Fidelity, isn't attraction just liking the same things?

Near the end of the film, after David asks her to marry him, Jenny finds papers in his glove compartment that he left there for her so that he doesn't have to go through with the marriage. They inform her that he is a married person. Instead of thanking him for his openness, she calls him and his friends liars. She instructs him to tell her parents that the whole thing was all his mistake, as if she had nothing to do with it. After getting kicked out of school, she still gets to Oxford, and true to her real-life counterpart, she spends the next seven years working for Penthouse.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about Crazy Heart.

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"Easy Chairs" - Suckers (mp3)

"It Gets Your Body Movin'"- Suckers (mp3)

"Afterthoughts & TV" - Suckers (mp3)


In Which We Don't Want No Part Of This Crazy Heart

Whatever Happened to the Dude?


The Dude entered all of our lives somewhere in the 1998-1999 era and jokes based on his one liners ("he peed on my rug!", "mind if I do a J?", "there's a beverage here", "they killed my fucking car") touched the lips of every person more concerned with his own amusement than the pleasure of others. Now the Dude has been recast in a full length motion picture where he is essentially himself, only slightly different: Whiskey rather than vodka is the new Dude's poison of choice. For a hard luck alcoholic, the Dude is better at making it work for him than most. Sometimes I put on Blown Away just to remind myself Jeff Bridges still has a face under whatever's growing on his. The new Dude is named Bad Blake, and he's a singer/songwriter.

that was brilliant. drive me to work.But wait - Bad Blake has entered into the unlikeliest of romances! And what's not to like? Bad Blake, his handle in Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart, is a alcohol-swilling malcontent who coasts through life under the premise that someone may recognize him and be grateful enough for that human contact that they take mercy on him. Blake is constantly having to conform to a society that mystifies and disturbs him. For example, he performs at a bowling alley.

The Dude was never this way. He wanted out from the conspiracy, to leave the rat race and the popular culture behind him and just relax. He was too old and too fully automated to be forced to change. In contrast Bad Blake wants to change, like a hopeful puppy. And he does. In Crazy Heart, he kicks his lifelong history of alcoholism in under 90 seconds, a record only surpassed by one of the Lizzy McGuire movies, if I'm not mistaken.

You'll spend most of Crazy Heart luxuriating in the fact that Blake's "romance" with Maggie Gyllenhaal is so unusual. I mean, they both like Lefty Frizell, but only one of them I guess actually met Lefty. To make this romance even more unusual than is commonly depicted in collected oeuvre of Zooey Deschanel - including her fake "marriage" to Ben Gibbard - the two connect while she interviews Bad for a story she's writing for an mp3 blog.

Adding to the super-realistic complexity of the entire situation is that Maggie has a son, who is named Buddy. Was he called this just so the Dude can get a lot of mileage out of creepily/kind-of-jokingly connecting to Maggie's teeny son while he says "Buddy" upwards of 5,000 times? When Maggie and Buddy show up at Blake's house for a visit, he has a breakdown and loses the kid in a bar somewhere. I mean, what is this rule about children not being in bars? The last three bars I went to had children in them. Blake and Maggie spend most of their time connecting one-on-one about how unusual this is. The Smiths never come up.

In between, Blake heads out on the road, or what is left of it. We witness scenes where Blake stumbles around like an elephant walking the high wire, vomiting and then heading onstage for more. The performance segments prove Bridges isn't the worst singer in the world, and although Crazy Heart captures little of the thrill (or lack thereof) that drives Blake from town-to-town, above all we are in the hands of someone who loves to be the center of attention.

Broke and fucked-up, Bad Blake is forced on the mercies of his former protege Tommy "Ponytail Beeswax" Sweet. Needing the money, Blake performs the opening act for his incredibly popular student, acting like a petty master the whole time. At one point the silly-named Sweet joins Bad on stage and we can feel the older man's resentment, like, "You'd take this from me, too?" What kind of room could a woman find in the life of such a person?

As the Dude's life tumbles to shit as it was wont to do after Donny was lost to us and the Dude got Donny's ashes in his beard, he enters into a wholly unexpected creative period.

Crazy Heart equates the painful onset of a hard life with the material necessary to create art, hardly a new perspective on the matter. Bad Blake's previous hits (written largely by Jeff Bridges and one super-cute duet with Colin Farrell, "Falling and Flying") were rollicking, unapologetic anthems. Seeing Blake grind through them one more time is like watching someone with obsessive compulsive disorder cleaning their room.

In the flush of getting laid by a worthwhile woman for the first time in three decades, the new music Blake writes is introspective, heart-stopping. His unusual girlfriend starts a weepfest in bed because she overhears him playing something memorable. It'd be hilarious if it was Joe Francis, but in the otherwise capable hands of the Dude it's a goddamn shame.

Later he tells his other buddy (Robert Duvall, who also gets a song on the soundtrack and produced Crazy Heart) about this woman he met. He sounds like a sixteen year old instead of a multiple divorcee. Soon enough the Dude is dressing more modern. He starts to resemble Harrison Ford. His incredible 90 second recovery from alcoholism belies the fact that he was the least harmful drunk in the history of drunks. Blake starts wearing a cell phone on his hip like everyone else over 50, and he's not as crabby during soundcheck.

Maggie calls Bad up one day. "I'm worried about you," she tells him. He's making eggs on the clean stove. It got that way because of the energy level he maintains while not craving alcohol. He's clean-shaven, looking at something in the pan. He's happy, in artistic control, and she is the one who becomes the wreck.

The pleasure-seeker - which the Dude most certainly is - pursues his self-satisfaction in many guises. Bridges' strength as a performer has always been the way he slips into a role while simultaneously being unrecognizable; the acting equivalent of deja vu. This pleasure seeker has his fill of life's tiny little orgasms, until in a candid moment a doctor tells him to stop smoking, stop drinking, and lose 25 pounds. Just 25! Did you see what this guy ate in a motel room in a towel?

For the pleasure seeker, a heady grasp on your own mortality is part of the package. For the Dude, money itself has no value or status, it is simply the means to a more explosive end. He tells Tommy Sweet, who he apparently taught guitar to, and who therefore owes Blake a living for some reason, that he needs money, but he's lying. That's the last thing he needs.

Tommy Sweet is played by Colin Farrell, which is a laugh. They might have been better off with someone who could sing, but Farrell at least brings a star magnetism to the role of a pouty superstar. Hearing him vocalize Blake's finest artistic achievement is painful, but mostly because Farrell's smoked approximately 49,000 cigarettes in his short life and his lungs look like two black testes.

By the end of Crazy Heart, instead of being emasculated by this intrusion of commercial culture onto his own personal throwback lifestyle, the Dude tells his ex-girlfriend that he's taking it one day at a time, possibly the worst cliche in a long history series of them. The point for the pleasure-seeker is the experience rather than the end result. In Blake's case, it produced a work of art, so the pain was worthwhile. You gotta ask: what's Brad Pitt's excuse?

It isn't what happens in Crazy Heart that's terribly exciting. It's not the places we go in our heads or in the real world. For people like Bad Blake, life is shortened, abbreviated, childlike. This is the exact position that being the constant moving target of a consumer culture puts us in. It's no wonder Blake sends Maggie's son Buddy gifts to spoil him and win his favor. That's the only appropriate expression of his grief for what's been lost without adult behavior and artistic maturity. It's a way of participating in life that is distinctive to this time and place. The Dude would have mixed himself a White Russian and told everyone to fuck off.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She last wrote in these pages about the premiere of Big Love.

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"The Weary Kind" - Ryan Bingham (mp3)

"Live Forever" - Robert Duvall (mp3)

"If I Need You" - Townes Van Zandt (mp3)

"Brand New Angel" - Jeff Bridges (mp3)

"Reflecting Light" - Sam Phillips (mp3)

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