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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

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Ethan Peterson

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 scarlett johansson (5)


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 The Coen Brothers Enter The Studio System



Hail, Caesar!
dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
106 minutes

History becomes ancient history. When American people thought of the recent past in 1953, the cultural life of the previous fifty years had not quite absconded from them, principally because there was not too much of it. For Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) to manage his job as a movie executive, he only has to know five or six things, and once he knows them, he has plenty of time to genuflect as to whether he really does know them.

Hail, Caesar! is a kind of anti-nostalgia, pared down to its bare essentials. Scarlett Johansson has only two scenes in the movie as a kind of anti-Esther Williams, a Brazilian actress giggles through one scene like a jack-in-the-box, Tilda Swinton plays twin sister gossip columnists for a combined five minutes and that is it for women in Hail, Caesar! Hollywood during this period (and when you think of it, most others) was largely composed of the interlacing stories of male homosexuals and Jews fleeing Europe.

Esther Williams' movies are not half bad if you watch them today. A lot of times she portrayed the same role she played in life: a talented swimmer in a stage show at odds with the management. Williams' brilliance at marketing herself and her evident abilities as a performer are never touched on in Hail, Caesar!

Instead she is a foul-mouthed slut sleeping with a foreign, married director, not her first. Abandoned by the father of her baby, she has no other options, and so marries Jonah Hill after admiring his physique. Hill is in the movie for two minutes, and Scarlett only five more than that, so how they had made it on the poster moves beyond deceptive advertising into the realm of true evil.

But then, the male stars are just as vapid and sloppy in their art, except for Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum). The best part of Hail, Caesar! by far is an extensive song and dance routine about how there will be no women on a submarine the sailors are boarding in the morning. Tatum, who was recently so awful in The Hateful Eight, appears to be some kind of oscillating god here, and his singing and dancing is ten out of ten. Maybe in the future he could just not talk.

The rest of the movie sets that Josh Brolin strolls onto are shooting awful, satirical versions of failed projects from the period. Clooney is better at pretending to be a period actor than performing a modern role. His not-so-hidden homosexuality is a riff on Tony Curtis, but the vapidity of the character is not. Turning Tony Curtis, a Bronx Jew who was savagely beaten by his schizophrenic mother, served in the U.S. Navy and achieved success from the most meager circumstances imaginable into a spoiled, whimpering ditz is pretty low.

Clooney's character, Baird Whitlock, is abducted by a group of communists. The humor comes from the idea that they explain they have been actively plotting to include communist ideas in their Hollywood scripts in order to do their part for the movement. Isn't this ridiculous? the Coens crow. Except there were films which presented Russia as an idyllic utopia — after all, communists were always substantially better at explaining themselves than actually governing.

But the important thing is that Hail, Caesar! is funny, right? If something is funny, it doesn't matter who it makes fun of, or why, or whether it's true because that would mean, you know, like, actual research. The Coens aren't too good with that part of the process. Over time any director acquires a sinister envy and disgust for actors. Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) even slaps around his young star for not being able to say, "Were that it twere so simple" in a convincing manner.

You feel the contempt for the performers in most scenes of Hail, Caesar! We rush so quickly from moment to moment as Brolin assuages the feelings and insecurities of all these people that you start to think of them not as individuals, but only as problems. Hail, Caesar! is a bunch of brilliant skits that explain all of the jokes for people who don't grasp the overly familiar subject of Hollywood satire. I think most of us understand it by now. William Goldman's book about one year on Broadway, The Season, once estimated that 80 percent of the subject matter in any given Broadway year concerned the theater itself. Today an endless parade of comic book movies saves us from the harsh reality of old.

When I do watch films from this period on TCM, I am not struck by any difference in quality, or even production values. The most obvious change between Hollywood's output today and then is the seriousness of its story choices. During this period, scripts explored non-trivial issues even in frivolous films, and they took their characters just as sincerely, even in goofy contexts. There was a chance of doing that here, but it vanishes as swiftly.

Josh Brolin comes home to dinner with his wife. He doesn't touch her, kiss her, or even look at her. He considers a job offer from Lockheed Martin that would have him working substantially less hours at a higher rate. "What should I do?" he asks his wife (Alison Pill) as he eats the food she has prepared for him, prompting her to comment on a decision that could completely alter the next decade in her own life and the lives of her children. "You know best," she tells him. Maybe I didn't get the joke.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"The Caterpillar Workforce" - Guided By Voices (mp3)


In Which The Presence Of Ultron Is Duly Requested

You're the Woman


The Avengers: Age of Ultron
dir. Joss Whedon
141 minutes

Chris Evans' upper body looks like the crest of some unearthly plateau. He has no love interest in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but sometimes you catch other people admiring his body, especially in comparison to their own dilapidated form. He is the kind of person who has to keep shifting his own gaze, because he is never quite sure who might be addressing him.

Robert Downey Jr.'s facial hair is beginning to resemble the vaguely ancient locks of Father Time. He chooses his roles a lot more carefully than some, but playing assholes has a way of aging a person - Jamie Dornan is somewhere sobbing about this as we speak.

Since the producers did not want to deal with the particular headache that employing Gwyneth Paltrow entails, Downey Jr. seems extremely lonely, with his only friend being Mark Ruffalo. This being the case, he tries to create an android friend for himself.

Paul Bettany ends up being that android. His body is hidden in a velvety, Jack-Kirby ludicrous suit and the strange modulation of his voice into a sound that is unmistakably Wimbledon. In that film, he pursued Kirsten Dunst as a human woman, a far more unrealistic plot than occurs anywhere in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. "This makes no sense!" one of the Avengers exclaims at one point.

Mark Ruffalo is the most attractive of the group. Despite being fifteen years younger, Scarlett Johansson is attracted to his ansible-shaped penis. She turns him into a larger being when she is tired of looking at the gee-willikers mannerisms that make him the lesser evil when it comes to the men of her social circle. These guys are all becoming too old for her.

Jeremy Renner seems like he loathes all of these people. He is not permitted to banter with Chris Evans about their leader's considerable rigidity; he is very lonely spending time with the others because he misses his wife (Linda Cardellini) and two children. Renner is a member of this posse purely to provide income for his family, and it seems obvious that Downey Jr. gives him a large salary. The main perk is a certain amount of discretion should he want to cheat on his wife with Scarlett or the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).

Whedon thought it was a good idea to give Olsen and her very fast brother Aaron Taylor-Johnson slight European accents. They are so distracted we barely notice the two are not extras on a set. Olsen's slightly upturned nose and whining cheekbones serve to put everyone else in a slightly better light.

In order to replace the aging older members, newer actors have been added to the group. Most are weirdly reminiscent of past individuals, making these people a sort of family which does not actually care for each other. By the end of the film they are all living together in a residence in upstate New York, where their nonprofit organization receives tremendous tax breaks from local and federal authorities.

There is a retreat from things here, a reluctance to group themselves with the rest that comes off, yes, a bit snobbish, but also somewhat stodgy, as if they simply cannot handle the vagaries of living in the world. Ruffalo and Johanssen plan to go off and hide somewhere, and he even suggests leaving the group as they are attempting to battle an army of androids in a small Eastern European city. None of them actually wants to be there.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Huller" - Adrian Northover & Daniel Thompson (mp3)

"Buhrstone" - Adrian Northover & Daniel Thompson (mp3)