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Alex Carnevale

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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 natalie portman (3)


In Which We Are Patronizing Of Everyone Including Ourselves

Ghostbusters Without Ghosts


dir. Alex Garland
115 minutes

The only remotely interesting aspects of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy were his ideas about faith. To summarize briefly: once certain people became intoxicated with alien spores, they begin to have different priorities. The resulting erosion of the self began with the title of this first, well-intentioned book.

I didn't particularly agree with where VanderMeer went with things next, but if Annihilation is successful, they will probably have to do a completely different story for a sequel. There was no way to film the changing of a person's mind, so Annihilation begins with a scene where Lena (Natalie Portman) is beginning her class on how a cell changes. This introduction is meant to convey that we will see, in the following, a mutation of human cells.


Portman has not seen her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) for an entire year at that point, since he departed on a military mission. They met in the military, which is so surreptitiously convenient that it sounds like a cover story. Director Alex Garland (The Beach) loves these kind of chicken or egg moments, because he believes they describe some aspect of the human condition. "Most of us here," a woman later explains to Lena, "don't exactly come from happy lives." Lena's depression is existential -- practically, it is not related to Kane at all.

Suddenly, Kane returns. All he can do is to take a single sip of water, in what he believes is what should be human behavior. In order to determine what has befallen him, Lena is introduced to the concept of Area X: an alien-affected area near a lighthouse which is slowly expanding until it takes over the entire planet. 


No one returns from Area X, and certainly not groups of men. Jennifer Jason Leigh's psychologist character, Dr. Ventress, has cancer, so she is not expecting to come back from this survey of the area they call "The Shimmer." Lena "agrees" to join.

Garland manages some exquisite visuals, but they lose a lot of the earthly feeling in the novel. In the book, there is a sense of being tied so close to your own biology that every breath is either a vindication or a repudiation of it. It would be a lie if we said there was not something essentially patronizing and transparent about this all women group of explorers. Relationships between any of the major characters in Annihilation are not fleshed out whatsoever, which I guess leaves a lot implied.


Portman is always entertaining for a max of 45 minutes. After that every director runs out of ways to make her react, so they inevitably go with some cheesy scene where she is giggling a lot, like more than a person should or would ever giggle. It happens in Annihilation, as the movie slows to the kind of placid place where the audience has to collectively pretend to agree it has not run completely out of ideas.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.



In Which We Will Never Drink Out Of Cups Again



Knight of Cups
dir. Terrence Malick
118 minutes

There is this scene in Knight of Cups where Rick (Christian Bale) is dry-humping a prostitute named Della (Imogen Potts) and he interlaces his hands with hers and they sort of swing them back and forth in a silly way, like two kids might. The couple never actually speaks to each other, we only hear their inner thoughts in voiceover. This is a Terrence Malick joint.

Were you interested in the less cohesive aspects of The Tree of Life without necessarily needing a whole lot of plot or exposition? Knight of Cups provides that important experience, in a package you will recognize completely. Half the shots might have been ripped straight from Grand Theft Auto V and L.A. Story. Los Angeles, and Christian Bale as an amoral womanizer, are both too familiar.

Knight of Cups is not really about any of that. Malick photographs most of the movie with a convex lens, and much of the camera movement creates motion sickness. Do not be alarmed — this is the strongest emotion you will experience during the journey of Rick, or as I prefer to call him, Master Rick.

Master Rick spends a lot of time strolling. The only time he shows the slightest bit of evidence that the world as it exists is affecting him in any way is during an earthquake. To be completely honest, I have trouble identifying with a character like this because I recently cried during an episode of the now-canceled CBS sitcom Angel from Hell.

Master Rick's brother Barry (Wes Bentley) takes him on a tour of the less impressive aspects of Los Angeles. Malick is deeply afraid of actual homeless people, so he casts actors in their roles. Much like Master Rick, Barry is very disappointed in the world. He sticks a fork in his hand and proclaims that he wants to feel something. This is the same guy who filmed an image of a paper bag getting knocked around in the wind and proclaimed that it was beautiful.

Master Rick gave me this idea. It is time to hold actors responsible for the content of their roles. An actor never really kills or maims, so you will not have to judge him for that. You will have to evaluate the sons of Stanislavsky on what they say. David Mamet always said that action talks and bullshit walks, but I mean, does it?

A brother's untimely death is the reason that Master Rick is sad. He tries to get over it by objectifying and projecting himself into various women. It turns out that his ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett) is not having any of that. She wriggles away from the touch of Master Rick! The two have zero chemistry; it occurs to us that maybe Christian Bale cannot even understand his ex-wife's accent. She complains that he became angry for small things, like maybe she was not the best housekeeper or she was facebook messaging a real estate agent named Gary Percival.

None of these examples are actually in Knight of Cups, but the movie becomes very boring so it is natural to imagine the lives of the characters if they were not complete clichés. "When I'm with you, I forget everything else," Natalie Portman puts it at one point, wearing a mesh sweater that looks like a fishing net.

Nancy and Master Rick start having sex in a bathtub (this might have been a flashback) but their dog interrupts. (I don't know the exact breed, it could have been a pinscher of some kind.) Nancy and Master Rick shared a contemporary style bungalow with a really nice pool, but neither of them struck me as swimmers. None of this really seems to affect Master Rick and Malick generally shoots Bale from behind, forcing us to intuit his responses to most of this horseshit.

Knight of Cups features a consistent focus on animals and how they move and walk: if they sway, if they dart off balance, how a duck saunters, how a fly buzzes, that sort of thing. This observational perspective channels how a child reacts when he sees an animal, emitting a basic wonder that they are not as we are. Such intimacy with nature originates as a childish notion, and most of us move beyond it by the time we reach the advanced age of ten. I get the feeling that when Terrence Malick witnesses a bee buzzing he probably achieves a hard-on, or at least wants to get one.

I don't mean to be too harsh on this guy. Maybe he hasn't seen the 100 movies released last year about disassociated and depressed white men. Malick has the character most akin to him explain that women — and their associated problems — are "a distraction." He probably doesn't understand that on some fundamental level casting a bunch of beautiful, talented actresses as accessories to the travails of a rich, complainy white guy is incredibly offensive. I mean, Master Malick was born in 1943. There were not even civil rights then, and suffrage for women in America was only twenty-three years old.

None of these women seem to have a particularly close connection with Master Rick. A few of the sex workers would be the same age as his daughter. Natalie Portman gives off a weird sister vibe with Bale and their intimate scenes together feel remarkably like incest. She puts her foot in his mouth and laughs. She is the most like him, the only other character in Knight of Cups who actually has a dilemma and story of her own. So of course it is hinted that she kills herself.

One of these women is a stripper with a philosophical streak named Karen (Teresa Palmer) who tells Master Rick he can be whatever he wants to be. "We're like clouds, aren't we?" she explains to him. He responds to that by pushing her around in a shopping cart and skateboarding. Master Rick is inert, but sometimes he can follow a woman if she is looking back at him while she moves forward. I have never met anyone like that.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Better or Worse" - Beacon (mp3)


In Which Black Swan Trumpets Disaster

Tortured Dancer


Black Swan

dir. Darren Aronofsky

107 minutes

Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller, Black Swan, is a cannonade of ballet’s absolutes turned burlesque. Like a self-doubting teenager who applies too much make-up or wears too much jewelry, the film piles on element after element and never once — despite its patent mirror motif — stops to consider its own reflection. In a world where precision wears the crown, Aronofsky’s cumulative fanaticism feels unwieldy.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a tortured young dancer whose reach for perfection as lead in Swan Lake results in her fatal undoing. Delusive eruptions of anger and suspicion, fright and mutilation, pilot her to the end without ever establishing reality or any basis for comparison. The entire film is a cold sweat panic attack that wobbles cartoonishly under a score of clichés — a devoted and despotic former ballerina mother (Barbara Hershey) who paints nightmarish portraits of her daughter, Nina’s infantilized Capezio pink and plush toy bedroom, a doppelganger dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), whose drugs, tattoos, drinking, and sex life tempt and thieve, and the company director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), whose “Attack it! Attack it!” method of teaching is sexed up with adages on “losing yourself” and “letting go” in order to become “transcendent.”

At first Portman’s performance as Nina is fascinating because her initial calm is almost macabre. As tokens of imminent craze begin to surface — jealousy from other dancers, stress rashes, a ripped toenail while practicing her thirty-two fouettés — the prospect of a diametric character becomes exciting. But Portman doesn’t break from the mould. She is the stereotype of a strained dancer, taut to the point of tears or possessed in a spate of delirium. No layer of warm-up shrugs or pastel legwarmers can hide overwrought, flinty intensity.

Like years of corset tightlacing, her entire face recedes into her fixed bun; even her eyebrows appear pinned. Her performance reaches its ceiling and remains there. And like so many thrillers that misfire, the camera ceaselessly orbits and stalks her every move; Portman’s Nina spends the majority of the movie trapped in what might as well be a hermetic maze of eternal mirrors.

While there are moments of stunning beauty, indelible is not a word that comes to mind. Ashen skin set against total darkness is contrast and nothing more. Music that bullies instead of chaperones is not moving, it’s simply too loud. A girl in a delicate white gown can so easily look like a girl in a nightgown. Rare are the moments where Black Swan takes off, and en masse, it’s the props that are deserving of praise. Like the celebratory cake, a gift from mother to daughter. Replete with bright pink edible flowers, lustre dust, and royal icing, it looks sickeningly sweet and under no circumstance would a dancer consider even one slice. The cake — so ridiculous and ornate like a Havisham relic — both mocks and infantilizes Nina. It’s the most heartbreaking and in some ways creepiest cake ever. A perfect prop!

Ballet in film indulges some of our guiltiest pleasures: drama is at its highest concentration, the pursuit of perfection is infinite, rivalry is both tacit and public, company hierarchy breeds paranoia, discipline breeds mania, and the dancer’s lissom body — a complex and almost cruel layering of muscles and bones, a miniature torso, a long neck — is impossible to ignore. With that in mind, some of the worst ballet films are in fact some of the best ballet films. We pander to their production because like CIA thrillers— cover-ups, classified files, lampooned conspiracies — ballet’s backstage can be similarly entertaining. Both genres are met with “It’s what you’d expect” approval and recommendation, and some even garner cult status.

So why isn’t Black Swan one of those terrible but wonderful ballet films? And what does it take to make a great ballet film a great ballet film? A central love story? A repellent but ultimately well-meaning impresario? Real soloists as lead characters? Or perhaps no lead characters at all? Is it a question of proportions? An even ratio of clichés to nuance? For every scene where she can’t eke out a perfect turnout, count one where she can let loose at a downtown walk-in class. For every question, another question?: “Why do you want to dance?” “Why do you want to live?”

That final example references the greatest ballet film: Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 The Red Shoes. In its climactic seventeen minute ballet of the same name, the most hallucinatory fantasia of optics and illusion dissolves the stage’s limitations into a celluloid nightmare. Likewise, the stage’s presence—its design, its costumes, the validity of live audience — imparts a physical power to the camera. Two art forms that are typically at odds converge. The ballet of The Red Shoes within the film displays the most harrowing commitment to art; a plenary account that Black Swan tries too hard to attain and ultimately misses entirely.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"My House" - Hercules & Love Affair (mp3)

"Athene" - Hercules & Love Affair (mp3)

"Blind (Frankie Knuckles remix)" - Hercules & Love Affair (mp3)