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Alex Carnevale

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Ethan Peterson

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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 ethan peterson (34)


In Which We Live In Detroit Until We Find Something Better

Alcohol-Related Pun on Steel City


creators Tim Robinson, Sam Richardson, Zack Kanin and Joe Kelly
Comedy Central

Sam Duvet (Sam Richardson) lives in a crumbling Detroit one-family home by himself. Without a woman in his life, he has to find solace where he can. He loves his city more than anything, and why not? He knows everyone in it. When Duvet and his partner in their advertising agency Tim Cramblin (Tim Robinson) go out to a business lunch, they have six or seven drinks, because they will most likely not be paying. Detroiters focuses on the day-to-day lives of two compulsive, functioning alcoholics in a realistic way we are not used to seeing on television, let alone on a network like Comedy Central.

For Sam, drinking is a way of dealing with the fact that his sister Chrissy (Shawntay Dalon) has a successful marriage with Tim, while his happiest romantic entanglement comes when a local woman mistakes him for a prostitute. We see Sam when bartenders and other service employees accuse him of drinking beyond his limit – this is the only time he is really mean to anyone in Detroiters. The rest of the show consists of him making allowances for other people in the same fashion as he chooses to do so for himself and his terrible disease.

One particularly tragic episode consists of Sam and Tim trying to round up money to pay for an employee's health insurance. They ask a local attorney for the money that they are owed. Sensing their inebriation, she does not take their entreaties seriously, and they end up with $20 from her son, who purchases a t-shirt from Sam for the purpose of ejaculating into it.

Sam and Tim's other acquaintances are equally seedy, and most of the locations they visit in the city of Detroit consist of either an abandoned school, a restaurant or bar that has not altered in any significant way after the year 1985, or a dilapidated urban residence with few windows or open spaces. Given the dire surroundings, there is plenty of reason to drink in Detroiters.

It is less clear why Tim Robinson (Saturday Night Live, where he was a staff writer) and his character are so focused on consuming alcohol. Tim Cramblin has a productive, loving relationship with his wife and a business he inherited from his father. Later on in Detroiters' nine episode first season (the show has been renewed for a second) we meet Cramblin's massive father (Kevin Nash), who was confined to an insane asylum after portioning out platters of feces to the participants in a pitch meeting. Seeing Tim's biological family ostensibly should help explain his life, but instead it only gives rise to more questions.

Richardson and Robinson are both Detroit natives themselves, and there is a consistent insistence on casting actors who are actually from Detroit, which does give Detroiters a weird verisimilitude. Their attachment to place as a defining factor in their lives is probably simply another byproduct of their alcoholism, but it is a relief to see this illness in a context that is not out-of-control abandon. We sense that Tim and Sam will be alcoholics for their entire lives, and the only thing that will stop them from abusing alcohol and drugs would be to leave Detroit, which they will never do.

There is something a bit perverse about portraying emotionally stunted versions of yourself, but the broadly talented Richardson has already made a short career out of doing this in Veep and in feature films. At times, it is disappointing that in a role he wrote for himself he offers no real introspection in his character. We see Sam reflected in his city, and this view represents only part of the whole. Robinson and Richardson's humor is usually confined to the expectations we have for other people and the world relative to ourselves. When people or events let them down, they are momentarily disappointed, but the combination of alcohol and their own perverted friendship allows them to take the righteous view.

There is this crazy scene in a Mary Karr book – actually this might happen in every Mary Karr book – where stranded for an indeterminate period of time, she unpacks an entire bottle of vodka she plans to continuously sip from for the duration. Sam Duvet has the crutch of his best friend to enable him even when drinking alone cannot cure his sadness or even annoyance at the city where he was born. In its best moments, Detroiters shows how different individuals find something, anything, that allows them to go on.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


In Which We Crack Open Scarlett's Shell

Kristen Stewart In The Car, With The Anime


Ghost in the Shell
dir. Rupert Sanders
106 minutes

Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) has this faux-anime haircut where as she slips down a hallway her hair is fringing upwards and downwards. She murders an android in the first ten minutes of Ghost in the Shell, and afterwards she is very upset, since her mind is in an inorganic body. "You're not like that," explains her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek). Well, her stilted acting is exactly like that, so it is odd that it turns out that before her incarnation as Scarlett Johansson, she was a human Japanese anti-augmentation activist.

Scarlett's wretched performance in Lost in Translation made her the poster child for misunderstanding the Japanese. This version of Ghost in the Shell has been absorbed in some controversy or other since it was announced, even though making crude American versions of foreign stories has become quite routine. The nation of Japan requires no protection from anyone, and although they have not appropriated as many cultural traditions as they have exported, they look upon American adaptations of their IP as amusing parallel universes. The sensitive aspect of this particular casting was that Asian actors have not been as successful as actors of other races in breaking into leading roles, and Paramount accounted the Pepsi-esque kerfluffle as the reason no one has gone to see Ghost in the Shell in theaters.

Then again, would you really prefer a Japanese actress be subjected to Rupert Sanders' version of Ghost in the Shell? This is the kind of mess that probably should have been canned on the set. The voicework done by Michael Pitt in this movie is so amateurish it could have been present in a Sharknado sequel. In one scene Scarlett is about to be raped by a variety of Japanese mobsters, and she is tazed by them repeatedly before killing them all. In another she interrogates a man who is clearly innocent for ten minutes of screen time. Her breasts look disturbingly small, like they were altered in post, and her eyes are made slightly ethnic as well.

What surrounds her has the appearance and quality of the shit Luc Besson takes almost every morning. At some point we begin to detect that Ghost in the Shell is just a big stall with no discernible story, with all the texture and emotion of a fan-film. Ghost in the Shell's director Rupert Sanders is most famous for cheating on his wife with Kristen Stewart, easily the finest artistic decision he ever made. This was the fifth of sixth draft of a script designed to translate the emotional reserve resonant in the original medium into something understandable for a mass audience.

The art direction here is a stolid mess, from the flat representation of Killian's bodysuit to the enormous, unexplained avatar heads dotting the landscape of this city. We never get any sense of the setting as a place where people actually reside. Sanders has clearly seen Blade Runner and virtually nothing else in this genre.

There is this great scene in Blade Runner where one of the characters sees an android waiting for him outside his apartment. After a brief conversation he invites her up, and we see this massive apartment complex from the inside, realizing there is nominal safety behind one of the doors, only we do not know exactly one, or what else might be behind it. This sense of dread and hope is accomplished in under a minute as they walk to the door.

Sanders is hopeless when it comes to creating any kind of atmosphere. He cannot feasibly make Ghost in the Shell gritty since it is not really that kind of story, give that the protagonists are police officers. He cannot really focus on the technical aspects of a sentient entity outside of a corporeal body, since he and screenwriter William Wheeler have clearly not thought for more than thirty seconds about these issues. As Killian's creator, Juliette Binoche gets all of six or seven incredibly cliched lines before she is quite predictably murdered. Nor can he reframe Ghost in the Shell as an action-centric revenge piece, since that is not really the story for the most of the running time, and his command of the gunplay and intricate cinematography required to make it exciting is nonexistent.

Ghost in the Shell goes wrong in so many directions, but even the empty, um, shell of something beautiful could have been entertaining enough for ninety minutes. Hell, one of John Woo's best movies had substantially less plot than this but overcame it simply through masterful choreography and a multiplicity of violence. Once they forced John Woo to make a movie about two guys who switched faces and he pulled it off. I still marvel at that. The art direction here is just not on the level of the original anime, and recreating various scenes and shots from the 1995 film just reminds us what a pale imitation we are forced to witness.

What is also troubling about Ghost in the Shell is that it reminds me that action movies are not made anymore without humor. In this new jokey environment, Ghost in the Shell is completely serious, barely even attempting to make jokes of any kind, and we are so not used to this after superhero movies that are really more ensemble comedies than anything else. Scarlett has her particular uses, but her poor comic timing is only exceeded in this medium by Alicia Vikander. Reportedly she pocketed $12 million for this piece of trash, so more power to her.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


In Which We Were Jewish Once And Young

Passed Over


The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
creator Amy Sherman-Palladino
Amazon Studios

Until she takes the stage Midge (Rachel Brosnahan, House of Cards) is unlike any character we have ever seen before on television. Her outward face, delicately applied during the early morning while her husband believes her to be asleep, is that of a Manhattan housewife whose parents (Marin Hinkle, Tony Shalhoub) live floors above her in the same building. Her two children consist of a young boy named Ethan who may be autistic and a baby with a massive head. Her husband Joel (Michael Zegen) depends on her completely, and so when he announces he is leaving, we are not the least bit surprised.

Midge measures her calves and thighs, and claims she goes through this intense process on a weekly basis for ten years. When she cooks, it is with a hat that a woman twenty years older would be far more comfortable in. In other words, she is not really comfortable with herself at all.

We saw far more of truly ethnic portrayals of Jews in decades past. Most were contrived by Woody Allen, who did the work of the ADL in showing that traditional stereotypes about the characters of Jewish people were sometimes true, sometimes false. The ways in which they were true were charming personality quirks which allowed them to survive the difficulties if their lives as American immigrants, Allen explained, and the ways in which they were false painted Jewish-Americans as hard-working, patriotic citizens in therapy for the rest of their lives.

Midge Maisel is also somewhat religious – she refuses to eat nuts in the early morning of Yom Kippur, for example. It will be intriguing to see if she leaves her religion behind as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel goes to series, since almost every white person we see on the small screen has zero relationship with religion of any kind. Amy Sherman-Palladino's father was Jewish, and to some extent her ways of speaking have always been rooted in the cultural and environmental proximity that forced Jews to adapt by talking quite a bit.

It is strange that the women Sherman-Palladino writes so well for rarely struggle with poverty. But then, few shows on television deal with this theme in general. There was a time in the past where Rory and Lorelai were really living hand-to-mouth, and I will never forget the astonishing episode when Lorelai's mother viewed the place her daughter and granddaughter were living all that time. Lorelai made it, however, and hopefully The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will show us what it takes a single mother to survive on her own.

Sherman-Palladino has never received sufficient credit for the amount of visual perfection she achieves in her hour-long dramas. Gilmore Girls had a wonderful camera and the small Connecticut town of Star's Hollow where Rory turned into such a tragic figure was particularly evocative. On her short-lived masterpiece Bunheads, she gave us the porcelain charm of California, although we were unfortunate to spend so little time there. Given the task of creating New York in the late 1950s, Sherman-Palladino spares no expense in detailed stormfronts and meticulously wrought apartments. She never forces her characters to inhabit anything less than a fully realized world.

After her husband peaces out, Midge takes up a stand-up career of her own. She is not completely terrible, but it is still hard to watch stand-up routines written for other people. Even being forced to view her husband stealing wretched Bob Newhart bits feels like an excruciating waste of time.

It would be better not to have to watch her perform at all, since her life off-stage is so much more exciting than what she explains of herself when she is on it. Her struggle relating to her children seems a mere proxy for her inability to directly address the world at large in something other than a costume. We completely understand why her husband left her, and we are surprised that he even made it this far. What kind of person toasts herself at her own wedding? We are wanting desperately to find out.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.