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Alex Carnevale

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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 george clooney (3)


In Which Every Morning When We Wake Up Robert Rodriguez

Mexican Goddess


From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series
creator Robert Rodriguez

I still think the casting in Pulp Fiction was all wrong. Bruce Willis was too old to play a prize-fighter. Uma Thurman looked pretty good but she didn't seem like some crime lord's wife, and I still don't understand what the point of flirting with a gay hitman was. Also giving someone a long speech before killing them, especially if they are Phil LaMarr? Pulp Fiction had a lot of plot holes, and it was also missing something very crucial: Wilmer Valderrama in a key role.

From Dusk Till Dawn
, the 1996 version, had George Clooney. It was before he met Steven Soderbergh and contracted the airborne virus of self-righteousness; it was before he turned an engagement with a semi-pretty lawyer into a public makeover emphasizing what a great guy he is. He was still doing that annoying thing where he lowered his head and looked up through his brow to talk to other actors.

I am ashamed to admit I thought the accent from That 70s Show was how he really talked.

The new George Clooney (D.J. Cotrana) looks like a miniature version of his hunky predecessor. Everything about the series version is a little smaller, a little less depraved, but it turns out that is just what the concept needed. The new From Dusk Till Dawn fixes almost everything that was wrong with the first one, including killing off one of the Gecko brothers far, far too soon. Recently released on Netflix in its entirety, the show has already been renewed for a second season.

Stacy Keibler is salivating for the third time today.

Seth and Richard Gecko's journey from Los Angeles to a strip club in Mexico that traps them inside deserved a lot better. It was one of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's first projects, and if George Clooney wanted in their movie, they had to take him, even if he was kind of bad and mealy-mouthed in the role.

The casting of Seth Gecko is no better here, but the casting of Zane Holtz as Richard Gecko is entirely improved, since Tarantino wasn't much of a performer either. Even after only a few minutes of From Dusk Till Dawn, you get how much of television has entirely the wrong tone for its content - Rodriguez's control over that aspect allows you to relax and enjoy the litany of stupid cultural references we have come to expect from Quentin Tarantino-inspired diegesis.

MIght be best not to take your wardrobe cues from Frank Miller there Bob

The original surprise of From Dusk Till Dawn is that you could be surprised by it, assuming you did not know it was a supernatural movie to begin with. In 1996, the twist came so out of nowhere it is hard to imagine the drama without it, but now that the mystery is gone, the concept has to rise or fall on its own momentum. In 1996, we were surprised by a lot of things, I mean, who even knew why a man would put a cigar tube in a woman's vagina in those innocent days?

Valderrama himself is a revelation as a powerful vampire masterminding the crime spree of the two disturbed brothers. Opposite Mexican pop star Eiza Gonzalez as Santanico Pandemonium, the pair deepen the flimsy role popularized by Salma Hayek. The extensive background on the vampires is not really necessary, but the tone is so much fun that it obscures all the flaws in the concept.

She should take her pep talk to the UN

The Gecko brothers meet up with a former reverend (Robert Patrick) taking his kids to Mexico as he flees a vehicle manslaughter charge, it was kind of hard to imagine Harvey Keitel as a man of the cloth. Robert Patrick makes a much better Jacob Fuller, and Juliette Lewis was a bit old to be the virginal sacrifice/ preacher's daughter. Replacing her in our hearts is Noah's Madison Davenport, who kind of looks like an off-brand Emma Watson.

She's eighteen and you're disgusting.

Davenport's star turn here is perfect. She is just tantalizing enough to be impossible; the character is deeper than any female in the entirety of Rodriguez's oeuvre to this point. Instead of being simply a survivor, we understand and appreciate what it means to be a woman torn apart by the men around her. Turning Kate into a real heroine rectifies nearly all my complaints about the original.

How I learned I want to marry Robert Patrick.

Rodriguez's talents are rare in the industry: he gets nuanced, emotional performances out of young actors that other directors can't, and his control over when violence happens and how people react to it stands out too. Where he is not so unusual is his love for the stems of his leading ladies. Fortunately the women of From Dusk Till Dawn are overall too young for him, and judging from the excessive screen time and gratuitous nudity Eva Green had on display in the latest Sin City, he had other priorities.

On some level worshipping women as gods or beacons of purity is as destructive as positioning them as prostitutes, but at least in From Dusk Till Dawn, they get a chance to select their fate for themselves.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"I Keep Running" - Ryan Adams (mp3)

"Jacksonville" - Ryan Adams (mp3)


In Which George Clooney Is A Land Unto Himself

Dictator of Sadness


The Descendants
dir. Alexander Payne
110 minutes

Matt King (George Clooney) is a real estate lawyer whose unfaithful wife was recently put in a coma during a suspicous boating accident. His two daughters, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) react in different ways: the older Alexandra begins growing up, and the younger Scottie begins acting out. Neither response is acceptable to Matt King; to him, both reactions lack considerable subtlety.

King is the sort of person you read about but rarely encounter outside of an audit — the man who derives pleasure from absolutely nothing in his life. During The Descendants, he never reads a book or watches television, he never swims or boats in his native Hawai'i, he never eats, sleeps or has an orgasm, he never has a kind or reassuring word for anybody, let alone his two daughters. Even though the mother of his children is on her deathbed, he does not once embrace either of them willingly. When it comes time to tell Scottie her mother will not awaken from the coma, he has a social worker do it.

"Hawai'i," Clooney opines in the tragically overbearing voiceover that begins The Descendants, "is not the paradise you think."  The fact that writer-director Payne feels the need to explain this parallels the way Matt King interacts with the world. No one ever tells him how things really are, he is always the one complaining that other people are not thinking and behaving the way he would like. "It's like they don't respect authority," he whines.

In the film's most awkward scene, the wife (Judy Greer) of his wife's lover (Matthew Lillard) suddenly shows up at the hospital to express her anger at the comatose woman who ruined her marriage and possibly her life. "I want to forgive her," Greer tells the incapacitated adulterer, although she obviously does not. Her righteous anger builds. The moment she starts to offer her true feelings towards Matt King's dying wife, he immediately ushers her out of the hospital room, telling the distraught Greer that it's time to go. He cannot mourn in the presence of another's grief, he alone is the guardian of feelings.

Although Matt King openly admits he did not treat his wife well during their life together, the soon-to-be widower must be the center of attention. Instead of quietly telling all his friends when he learns his wife will die, he throws a big party where he can properly express gratitude for their concern for him, almost forgetting to mention they should visit his wife before she goes. When he finds out his wife cheated on him with a real estate agent named Brian Speer, he's not so much mad she cheated as angry that he had to find out from his older daughter. It is the one time Clooney's character breaks his cool. During the rest of The Descendants, the only thing that truly seems to upset Matt King is the way his children speak.

"Where'd you learn talk like that?" he is constantly snapping at young Scottie. A self-described "back-up parent", he spends most of the movie force-feeding her ice cream and other high calorie foods. When she puts sand in her swimsuit to induce the appearance of large breasts, he finds fault in that as well. He takes special exception to whenever one of his daughters uses a euphemism for vagina. It seems he would rather they not have the organ. "Switch them out for sons," someone advises him.

Shailene Woodley's Alexandra King is the real star of The Descendants. The story is actually about her, but perhaps Payne didn't realize that until afterwards. We are singularly drawn into the events of the film when Alexandra King pushes forward the action or gives Matt King the motivation to so. Each time George Clooney's craggy face looms on screen, dressed in a shirt Alexander Payne presumably loaned him off his back, we can only think of how unbelievably courageous George Clooney is for not dyeing his hair in an industry that considers old age close enough to death to be the real thing.

When Alexandra takes over the frame, we lose the feeling that we are watching an actor playing a role, and the events of The Descendants seem not only possible, but inevitable. To console herself in the face of her grief, Alexandra invites along her friend Sid (Nick Krause) during the family's last days with their dying mother. Matt King objects to her daughter's choice of sleeping bag/stress ball/stoner, until young Sid movingly reveals that his mother is a receptionist for a veterinarian and his father was killed driving drunk the previous fall. Even though Matt King called the boy stupid a moment earlier, he does not apologize after hearing this confession, even though the young man, at the age of 17, has endured more than he has ever known. Grief is truly possible only in isolation.

In dramatic terms, the tragic accident, the sudden onset of sadness from unexpected death, is the cheapest way to wrench the audience. To its credit, The Descendants plays on this as little as possible. The death of their mother and wife feels like a tremendous relief by the end of the movie; it has brought the family closer together when they were completely stretched apart, and a not-very-good wife and mother has been eliminated (cremated) in the process.

Alexander Payne has a gift for making us pity the kind of people who don't deserve it, and detest those who do. I'm not sure why Payne had to throw Matt King's wife so completely under the bus; perhaps he was tired of the glorification that comes with an early passing, maybe he thought it would give the actions that surround "this tragic accident" a different cast. It does. Without this moral confusion, The Descendants would be nothing more than an overly long, not very exciting eulogy, and no one likes to sit through one of those. Such complications certainly make Payne's feature somewhat more intriguing than a Lifetime movie-of-the-week. Since the film itself only occurs over less than a fortnight, the departure of its stained and unkempt corpse comes not a moment too soon.

The subplot of The Descendants concerns a parcel of land on the island of Kauaʻi. Matt King is the trustee for the unimproved land bordering on water; it has been preserved by his family over generations. Because of various laws his family can no longer hold onto the valuable swath of beachfront. Because his wife's lover would profit from selling the property to a developer, he decides not to sell. He cares nothing for the benefits his cousins and extended family derive from such a sale; he thinks only of how he is feeling, what he desires. Amazingly, this represents a sea change for Matt King. We may want to tell others what to do, Payne is saying, but we have no right to speak for them, only for ourselves.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.

"Problem Queen" - Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi (mp3)

"Morning Fog" - Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi (mp3)

"Her Hollow Ways" - Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi (mp3)


In Which We Are An Ill-Suited Witness

Major Corporation


Up in the Air

dir. Jason Reitman

109 minutes

Jason Reitman's new film Up in the Air is very likely not for you. It is not for you if you have a fast-paced career, and it is not for you if you do not. It is not for you if you've ever been laid-off, and it is not for you if you've ever considered taking another's hand in marriage. It is not for you if you cherish your isolated modern life, and it is certainly not for you if you loathe it.

More likely Up in the Air is for those of us for whom major life decisions--do I marry? do I settle? - are possessed of exceptional orderliness, of such neat correspondence with your tastes and habits that attending to them is like selecting the color of your drapes. For George Clooney's Ryan Bingham, who charms and gallivants with Scrooge-like dastardliness, good solutions to life's problems come to him as air is drawn into a vacuum; there is nothing there in Ryan Bingham, the movie says, and so even something small seems like everything. But for the rest of us, our failings not so trimmed or well-shaped, that kind of inevitability is hard to imagine.

Up in the Air, according to its young director, “is the examination of a philosophy.” That philosophy is Bingham's, a survivalist samurai ethic that happily suits both his vocation and his personality. He's so fully a creature of what he does that he teaches it to others in motivational speeches.

For people in the business of inventing characters it's an irresistible trope: corporate life's starry promise that by actualizing certain strangers' interests - the firm's, the client's, the partners' - we in the process fulfill our own. But if you have spent any time at all in middling corporate office places you will know that it does not begin to describe the real complication of what happens there. It is color assigned to what is grayish and nebulous. We take jobs and pursue “career paths” that when the sun sets and we tuck in under our covers do not look very much like “paths” at all, let alone philosophies, warped as they are by the weight of our contradictions.

At the Major Corporation where I interned last summer, I worked under fluorescent lights with men and women who had postponed humanitarian ambitions and passed over MFAs in painting and dance. I sat one desk over from a prize-winning classical clarinetist who'd spurned conservatory for investment banking. Others rhapsodized about the outdoors and odd jobs in extreme geographies. “Dreams” was a disproportionate topic of conversation, and so was “Passions,” and “Priorities.”

They come to inhabit us, our dreams and our passions and our priorities, and often I imagined that I had truly come to know a coworker once I could identify his one thing, the one motive force external to his work at Major Corporation that impelled him to keep showing up on Mondays. But in retrospect this expectation seems unreasonable. The man who is fully a creature of what he wants to do is as rare and strange as the man who is fully a creature of what he does.

Hours at Major Corporation were long. Dinner on many nights came, delivered, in plastic containers and takeout boxes. Down the hall a squarish industrial machine emitted watery coffee into paper cups. Many of the people I worked with had problems with these and other features of life at Major Corporation. But more did not, and for me what brought them in on Mondays was harder to pin down.

Some had married quickly, thoughtlessly. Some retreated into waste and decadence. Others, finding their youth and ambition attenuated, simply began to shift their energies toward what was right in front of them, on their desk. They were not pining for just that one last missing piece, they were not simply waiting “to make a connection.” Their lives were fistfuls of missing connections, none of them explaining why they weren't ever really going to leave their desks, of why nothing else along the way ever seemed quite as right for them.

This is the real hardship of corporate life, the possibility that despite ourselves we may actually be suited to little else. That in walking the path toward our dreams we realize that we would die in the water at conservatory or as a French chef or as an aid worker. These realizations involve real sacrifices, ones more severe than abandoning a lone-warrior philosophy and learning to love a little. In fact for many of us it is that we love too much or too many that poses problems: we really cannot have it all, and George Clooney, for all the contemplative gazing he does in this movie, is ill-suited as a witness to that fact.

Ryan Bingham circles the country 322 days out of the year, and so his inner life has come to echo his disconnected outer one. Perhaps as metaphor this is appealing. But many of us spend too much time up in the air even when we are planted at a desk, and for us it is not garish metaphor that will make meaningful sense of this experience, that will propose workable responses to adult life's real gasping difficulties.

Raymond Zhong is a contributor to This Recording. This is his first appearance in these pages. He is a writer living in Washington D.C. He tumbls here.

"Have Yourself A Merry Christmas" - Frank Sinatra (mp3)

"Go Tell It On The Mountain" - Frank Sinatra (mp3)

"We Wish You The Merriest" - Frank Sinatra (mp3)