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Alex Carnevale

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This Recording

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 rachel mcadams (2)


In Which We Desire A Certain Male Individual

The Method


A Most Wanted Man
dir. Anton Corbijn
121 minutes

Aesthetics are not my forte; and then, how is one to talk about color? It might be reasonably left to the blind to discuss then, just as we all discuss metaphysics, but those who have eyes know how irrelevant words are to what they see. - Braque

Philip Seymour Hoffman looks the part of a heroin addict in Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man. Breathing heavily through his nose, puffing on disgusting menthol cigarettes through the entire film, he is a walking suggestion to children of all ages to avoid the rigors of injectable drugs. Shaking at times to even lift a cigarette to his mouth, he mumbles through this adaptation of a John Le Carre novel that begins when a Chechen terrorist enters Germany by sneaking in through a port.

Unfortunately, he is not playing a heroin addict, only a spy. But he doesn't let that stop him.

Robin Wright Penn observes Hoffman the way we would a water buffalo stranded by a bask of crocodiles. Reduced to a short-haired brunette so as not to outshine the beauty of an actress decades younger (Rachel McAdams), Penn plays the soft version of Claire Underwood she will be typecast as for the rest of her career. She and Hoffmann attempt to banter back and forth to keep A Most Wanted Man from slowing down to a crawl from sheer lack of inertia. 

There is not a whole lot going on in A Most Wanted Man. Hoffman leads a small anti-terrorist unit trying to set up the Chechen by getting to his lawyer, played by McAdams. It turns out that the reason the Chechen turned to the Muslim religion was because his mother was raped and murdered by a Russian. Subject to his rapist father's inheritance, he wishes to give the money away. Because his lawyer is cute, he gives her his mother's necklace.

Before he can do that, Hoffman and McAdams have an incredibly awkward interrogation scene in a bare cell. Neither has quite mastered the intricacies of a German accent, so the ensuing dialogue is mumbled by both parties. Despite the vagaries of lawyer-client privilege, McAdams gives up her client in a few hours. At some point you wish they would drop the pretense of the German accents and talk to each other like human beings.

Riding around Hamburg on her dopey bicycle, McAdams' face is a cartoon capable of surprise and polite apprehension; she barely even changes clothes in the movie. There is exactly one scene in A Most Wanted Man where she even moves her body at all, and that is to get on a train that allows her to lose an entire anti-terrorist task force. (Like much of what happens here, her escape is implausible.) McAdams' bleached hair and tired face make her arguably more disheveled than the Chechen refugee. I wasn't sure if the whole thing was a joke on Katherine Heigl's career or what.

McAdams negotiates with a president of a Hamburg bank (Willem Dafoe) over the massive inheritance her client is to receive. Dafoe, like his female counterparts, puts on a look of intense empathy for Hoffman throughout A Most Wanted Man, indicating that if his colleague were to say, keel over during a particular scene he would be there to catch him. You can't hide a basic look of concern and fear, and it is lucky for director Anton Corbijn (The Constant Gardener) that it fits with the theme of A Man Wanted Man.

Dafoe played characters older than this when Hoffman was in his thirties. Unlike his portly opposite act, Dafoe seems to be going backwards in time like Benjamin Button, while Hoffman hurtles towards an ignominous ending in a Greenwich Village apartment.

Watching a cast of non-Germans play residents of Hamburg doesn't really work at all, and so A Most Wanted Man comes across like a bizarre stage show enacted for no discernible reason.

We know these are a bunch of American and Canadian actors. They show it in the faces, their movements and even their dress. None of them know very much about Germany, but this should not really matter, since A Most Wanted Man is only concerned with the global war on terror, a subject completely dull in its intricacies and depressingly obvious on a macro level. Making it seem complicated or fascinating is a waste of everybody's time. 

It is impossible to faithfully portray any of these people. A Most Wanted Man reminds us how ineffectual acting can be at times, how little such fakery hinges on. Corbijn's spy thriller is partially ruined by the fact that we know Philip Seymour Hoffman is about to expire, that there is no chance whatsoever he is actually a man named Gunther. Obscured by his coming death, Hoffman's subtle gestures at character for his policemen are similarly useless  his hints of homosexuality and a relationship with a young Muslim scion he has employed as a spy resonate only with his own private life rather than any actual aspect of the character.

In one scene near the end of the film, a vignette only included to memorialize his star, Hoffman plays a few lonely bars on his piano. Corbijn tries to be impressively restrained in his eulogy, but it is hard to care about a vague sting operation that climaxes in the signing of a few documents when larger matters outside the diegesis are at stake, such as whether the world is even worth living in.

I used to think acting was easy. Then I tried it, and learned how difficult it was. It's lying, isn't it? That takes a toll.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

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In Which We Are Simply A Natural At This

Piece of Cake


Rachel McAdams has Olympic caliber poise. Somewhat jelled, her smile is red-lettered, her jaw, prominent, and her body, sprightly. It's as if she just landed a double axel or performed a clean dismount from the balance beam, no sweat. In romantic roles her male co-stars regularly lift her, carry her, or nimbly swing her, but I suspect it’s McAdams who supplies any, if not all, cantilevered grace.

What lends most to screen is her strikingly nostalgic features. Owing perhaps to the alien twinkle in her eyes, her dimples, or her downy skin, McAdams appears especially saturated on celluloid; especially Sirk. Like Jane Wyman she is puckish and beautiful, and at times lost in thought. Both women look buffed — a near satin sheen. Both women have incredibly expressive foreheads.

In The Vow she plays Paige, a woman who after emerging from a car accident induced coma, suffers from amnesia. She cannot remember the last four years of her life which include an artsy, permissive turn — sculpting, air-dried hair, loft living — and more importantly includes her marriage to Leo played by Channing Tatum. As a result she wakes confused and returns to her old life: estranged parents, law school, quotidian suburban customs, blueberry mojitos, a sister’s wedding, sweater sets, and Scott Speedman. Unfortunately, not much happens. Despite the potential for something far creepier, sadder, syrupy and even peculiar, the film bops from scene to scene as if dispirited and mooney, much like Tatum-speak and Tatum-mien.

Ironically, it’s McAdams’ performance as a character whose life has been erased, that provides the most vitality. She has filmic gumption and a bounty of grins and laughs that rescue stale moments. (Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock pioneered that particular bail out; McAdams and Anne Hathaway have revived it). Moreover, Paige has whims. She resists but ultimately surrenders to tickling, she feeds a stray cat, she buries herself in an oversized sweatshirt, and offers plump strawberries to Leo’s friends at breakfast. Her wedding dress was pink and her vows were written on a coffee shop menu.

Regardless of these parts, Leo and Paige’s love story plays out like a music video. Or the music video for a song on The Vow’s original soundtrack. Or something Josh Hartnett may have done in 2004. In many ways, its finest function is as a catalog of required proportions: McAdams’ hands are the size of Tatum’s neck and when he scoops her up, she screeches. He is shirtless for nearly forty percent of the film. She wears a classic rotation of outfits: pajamas (his), pajamas (hers), formal wedding attire, messy studio clothes, lace underwear. She has a six-to-one, charismatic to gross, ratio of habits. Even so, they are never that gross.

The camera loves McAdams. It is her moon. Tina Fey admits learning from her throughout Mean Girls. "That was the first movie that I had ever been on. And I would watch – I would stand with the director sometimes and watch her scenes. And I would say to the director: Like, that’s really small. Is she doing it? And then watching her on film, watching the dailies, I’m like: Oh, yes, she’s amazing. She’s a film actor. She’s not pushing. And so I kind of learned that lesson from watching her…"

What Fey recalls, those "small", minor mannerisms are McAdams’ register of finely controlled facial muscles. She can call upon each one as if summoning an invisible series of nylon strings secured to her cheekbones, chin, temples, ears. The slightest twitch or eye roll, easy! The faintest pout or cartoonish gaze, done! A toothy hee-haw, no problem! A single, bulging vein, why not! She is a natural. She knows when to elongate her neck, how to scurry in heels, how far to dip back when laughing, how to kiss passionately and dispassionately, and how to eat cake as if it were more satisfying than the man sharing the slice with her.

McAdams’ performances are truly athletic. And unlike Keira Knightley or Scarlett Johansson, whose acting we often watch as curious spectators, (anthropological!), too far removed from their traits to relate, wondering perhaps how they will pull it off, McAdams, we simply cheer.

There’s a moment near the end of The Family Stone, where McAdams — who plays Amy, the cranky and defensive, but ultimately very loving "mean sister" — is sitting in an ambulance on Christmas day with the guy who "popped her cherry” years ago. His name is Brad Stevenson (Paul Schneider). He is shy, mumbles and has a slight swallow. He’s an EMT who wrapped her present in a clock radio box. "Don’t worry, it’s not a clock radio." She’s gruff and impatient but appreciates the gesture, and perhaps even him, once more. Inside the box is a snow globe that McAdams cups in her hands as if it were hidden treasure. As if she was a child. As if she might, in that moment, be living inside the stillness of a snow globe. She smiles and quietly exclaims, "Wow, Brad.” The scene is interrupted by yet another madcap Stone family moment, but the peaceful way Amy appreciates Brad, the way McAdams says "Wow" as if it were her first word, chimes until the end of the film

As Diane Keaton, who starred with McAdams in both The Family Stone and Morning Glory, remarked, "She's like a violin. She can do anything, and she can play anything. She's a dynamo, but she's also soft. She can be bitchy but also light. She can do serious drama; she can do comedy. She has a lot of things going on, which makes her absolutely captivating.”

At the 2005 MTV Movie Awards, McAdams and Gosling won the award for Best Kiss. She in a bustier and jeans and he chewing gum and wearing a white Darfur t-shirt, the then couple reenacted their Notebook kiss as Maroon 5’s "She Will be Loved” played. The crowd went crazy, Lindsay Lohan screamed "Oh my God!” and Hillary Duff giggled with her sister. The entire two minutes are a pop culture capsule and emphasize McAdams’ irrefutable appeal. As she walks off the stage with Gosling, who picks up her blazer and coolly throws it over his shoulder, McAdams looks flush, a little embarrassed, but triumphant with her Golden Popcorn, silly sure, nevertheless, a medal.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She last wrote in these pages about Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

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