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Ethan Peterson

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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 ethan peterson (57)

Monday
Nov062017

In Which This Could Be A Normal Family

The following review does not contain major spoilers for the second season of Stranger Things.

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Life on Mute

by ETHAN PETERSON

Stranger Things 2
creators The Duffer Brothers
Netflix

It would be nice of everyone involved with Stranger Things 2 to offer a cut of this limited series without the non-original music. The aural shitposting in this dull sequel to the brilliant original becomes overwhelming somewhere during the eighth rendition of a Duran Duran track that, I'm sorry, was not very good to begin with. The incessant period soundtrack is all the more disappointing and generic-sounding because the original music, composed by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon of Survive, is so much better than the trash that horrendous decade emitted from its orifices. But whatever. Maybe that is the least of the problems in this meandering return to Hawkins, Indiana.

New this season is Max (Sadie Sink), a fetching redhead at the school where Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Will (Noah Schnapp) spend most of their time moping. Once these boys used to play Dungeons & Dragons and go on adventures. With the onset of early puberty, everything has turned to shit. Fuck Jim Croce, Duran Duran, Ted Nugent, Al Casey, Dan Quayle, Roy Orbison, Pat Benatar and Olivia Newton-John. Fuck The Police.

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Time is also out of joint for Mike's sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer). Nancy is already beginning to look like her mother; her fresh-faced joie de vivre has pretty much entirely vanished. She spends most of her time complaining to her sometimes boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), who has given up his college ambitions in order to enter his father's business. Hawkins is the saddest town in the world, and unlike the sonorous mystery of the original, here the main question is whether Will, who returned from the upside-down at the end of last season, will be able to sleep through the night.

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Winona Ryder has, for some reason, entered into a passionate relationship with Bob (Sean Astin). Astin is meant to bring us conjoined memories of The Goonies (Fuck The Goonies); instead he and Ryder have all the natural chemistry of a frog inside a shoplifted handbag. Ryder in particular is given almost nothing to work with this season. At least last time out she was believably concerned, driven to find her missing son. Now she is completely aimless, and financially provided for by a man who looks like a lugwrench.

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It is kinda weird that Stranger Things 2 focuses so much on the romantic aspect of the show, because that is exactly the kind of material the Duffer brothers cannot write, like at all, even if you gave them a million pages. First of all, love between middle schoolers ain't exactly the most fertile territory to begin with, and high school ardor is barely better.

When Nancy drunkenly tells Steve how little she cares for him and that their relationship is bullshit, the show just has her pretend her subconscious was doing the talking. That way she is not actually a functional character, but simply a Mary-Sue-esque projection of what men require from their women. At one point I thought if I saw Nancy in one more turtleneck I was going to scream.

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Stranger Things distinguished itself in the way it wrote believable and meaningful storylines for young people, brought to life by a substantial and broad cast of child actors. All that is still present, although the acting of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is clunky and poor overall. Stranger Things 2 could have used a whole lot more imagination regarding what young people actually feel and think. The boys of this story are either bracingly mature and completely naive, sometimes within the same scene. Mostly it is hard to tell, because the Duffer brothers are focused on the more pandering, comedic side of what they created.

Well, that was all a mistake. Instead of a generic shadow monster, they had a chance to actually make something that blended horror with a realism of time and place that added to, rather than subtracted from that intrinsic aesthetic. Instead, Stranger Things 2 is a watered-down retread of the first, chock full of the fan service that should have only come after they ran through their original ideas. Or did they have any in the first place?

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

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Thursday
Oct262017

In Which The British Empire Returns In Full Force

The Crater

by ETHAN PETERSON

The Last Post
creator Peter Moffat
BBC One

Honor Martin (Jessie Buckley) arrives at RAF Khormaksar in Yemen at a most inopportune time. She has been taken into the final belch of the British colonial experiment when no one in her right mind should have ventured into such a place, let alone an Irish woman, let alone as a British subject. It is a good thing that Jessie Buckley, most recently of Steven Knight's disastrously dull series Taboo, is probably the most exciting young actress in the entire business, because the rest of The Last Post is a morbid, gloomy, and somewhat racist affair.

Under more normal circumstances - say a Gosford Park-clone set in turn of the century India? - Buckley would be outshone by her counterpart, the salacious, sexual, adulterous, sexual Alison Laithwaite (the versatile, flexible Jessica Raine). But not even the sun could diminish how appealing any redhead looks in a desert biome. Honor Martin's husband is the dreadful Joe Martin (Jeremy Jones), the most generic British soldier one could ever imagine. This is no matter, because The Last Post is all about fast-forwarding past the nonsensical conversations men have about subject like torture, imperialism and the love of fellow soldiers and country and getting to the really important material: sex in the time of cholera.

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For an ostensibly historical series, The Last Post makes a disturbed mess of its past. It treats the Sunni and Shia residents of the region as relatively indistinct, and only barely pauses to consider that they might have slightest justification for their violence. Which is not to say there isn't a lot of "both sides," just that I can't realistically argue one of those sides.

Again, though, the parallels to the current war on terrorism are pretty much exhausting and exhausted. Politics has become a separate field of inquiry; whatever relevance it bears to our actual day-to-day existence can only be described as a painful imposition. This similarity is present in 1960s Yemen, which is actually South Africa disguised as Yemen since it is more practical to shoot The Last Post there. It's a desert, though, and one looks like another.

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Let me get back to Jessie Buckley. Sometimes they put her in citrus colors, and you can barely look at the screen, but mostly she is rotating through a very entertaining set of outfits. She pops out such bon mots as, "I should check on George" and "This will be our honeymoon!" as if they were actual things a person would say. She has the innate ability to make anything believable.

In contrast, we first meet Jessica Raine's Alison when she is underneath a soldier who is not her husband. She moves her body less precisely when she is not engaged in sex, but in any capacity she wields it like any actor should. She is really the only innately interesting character here, and her disease is that of Britain as a whole — the completely forgivable sin of inflated self-importance.

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Is this an oblique warning to America, or am I just getting paranoid? This disturbing reiteration of the basic lessons of Mad Men has been extremely shocking to British viewers, particularly a scene in which Alison attempts a homemade abortion. If this had been on Mad Men, people would have barely talked about it the next day. She never actually does it, which is the difference between the two.

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As in The Last Post's American inspiration, children play a critical role. It is they who are continually thrust into the thick of danger, whether that be in the water or in the darkness. Creator Peter Moffat is intent on replicating the symbolism that inevitably ensues when we thrust children into the danger meant for adults. No responsible society could live with this state of affairs, so the implication is devastatingly clear.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

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Thursday
Oct122017

In Which We Make The Right Choice After All

American Buffalo

by ETHAN PETERSON

Mr. Robot
creator Sam Esmail
USA

About two-thirds into the third season premiere of Mr. Robot, an elaborate proof that even a revenge fantasy can be made dull through its own generic willpower, Sam Esmail begins laying into Donald Trump. For people like Sam who thrive on words, and the general, reductive meaning they are able to apply to ideas, moments and opinions, the president is impossible to understand.

To their credit, artists, doctors, lawyers and citizens all educated, have been taught to live and die by their words. For those of this tortured mindset, any other approach could make no sense of their lives. Verbal articulation is how they define themselves and their relationship to others. Well, the president is not great with words, so he does what anyone might do who can’t speak or write very well: he shows how little power speech has.

Eliot (Rami Malek) is a similar creature. When he does speak, a manifesto comes out, but it is not really of his own doing. His truer, more authentic self is beneath the turgid recitation of the ills of society. Beneath this veneer, his shyness tells a more nuanced story. More than anything, what drives him is wanting to be liked and respected. Such personages – I can think of many who share this ultimately useless view – intimately understand what others most want to hear. This, they believe, is the best purpose of speech.

Eliot’s sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) recoils from all this. When someone starts talking to her, she either responds profanely, runs away, screams, or has a panic attack. At other times, she represses her introverted calling, and dominates others through an otherworldly combination of presence and enthusiasm. Once she feels she has lost her cause, however, she returns to a state of grace.

Eliot’s friend Angela (Portia Doubleday, easily the best actor on the entire show) watched her mother die from the bad actions of a large corporation. She allows this singular tragedy to corrupt every other moment of her life. Angela pushes love away at every intersection, and when she cares for those like Eliot, people who cannot care for themselves, she wields a silent combination of pity and hate. I said Mr. Robot was dull, and it is, but the men and women standing in front of computer terminals throughout the show are all fairly alive.

Quite possibly a word, or a series of words, might serve as a guide to some future act. But the words would fairly fade with time. Irving (Bobby Cannavale) strongly believes words mean something very important. When he is promised a free milkshake after his tenth hamburger, he is intent on collecting. In short, he is like you and all your innocent, naive friends. They believe it is right to judge people by what they say. (“Action talks,” someone said, “and bullshit walks.”). Philanthropy, someone without a soul said, is the way that brands will win. We have prized speech over content, and this is actually how Rome fell, if I’m not mistaken.

Mr. Robot suffers from a similar fate. Nothing much really goes on in it. Every once in awhile, someone will suddenly and unexpectedly receive exactly what they deserve.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.