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Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

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Metaphors with eyes

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Entries in will smith (3)


In Which We Exercise A Spiritual And Moral Preference

Always the Bridesmaid


dir. David Ayer
118 minutes

I recently received an e-mail from a concerned reader, a member of the guild. He asked me why we put the only name of the director on a movie review when the writer of a film is often just as important to the final product. As an example, he cited The Princess Bride, which required almost no input from Rob Reiner at all, and was possibly made substantially worse by the director’s presence. Well, this concerned reader had a point, and I will take it under advisement. But today is not the time, since the writer of Bright is dogshit, and whether the changes director David Ayer made to the script are good or bad, it is spiritually and morally preferable to pretend that Bright was more like an immaculate conception.

Pretending only goes so far, however. Bright still features the awful, patterned, unfunny dialogue of He Who Shall Not Be Named, and listening to it is something of a chore. On the plus side of the ledger is the presence of two likable and disciplined actors: as a police officer in Los Angeles, Will Smith, who is finally beginning to look seriously old, and Joel Edgerton as his partner, an orc. The former is somewhat traditional casting, but the latter is inspired. Edgerton’s chameleonic face is intrinsically unmemorable. Slathering it in blue makeup gives him the distinctiveness required to slip into a particular role.

For the amount of adjectives I have used so far in this essai, I should probably try to get my name removed from this review. Sometimes such words are required to say what you mean. (I will try to be more plainspoken from now on; like if Raymond Carver had a child with the guy who wrote The Trumpet of the Swan.) Bright has its own vocabulary/lore, although it is pretty shitty/dumb. Urban fantasy is new to Max Landis, since the only book he has ever read is the Model Penal Code. This Los Angeles is filled with different races: orcs, elves, centaurs (I didn’t see any, but I think it says this in the wikipedia). OK actually there are not that many races.

Envisioning Bright as the first effort in a series of films, Ayer never has the Dark Lord of the Elves make an appearance in Bright, but we are told that a thousand years ago he was fought off by orcs and elves and humans. Since the Los Angeles depicted in Bright features rampant police abuse (“Everybody hates cops,” Smith’s daughter tells him before never appearing in Bright again), racism, sexism (Noomi Rapace has all of four lines), anti-Semitism, poverty, gang violence and prostitution, drug use and slavery, it is unclear that the Dark Lord did not, in fact, win a significant victory.

Smith and Edgerton spend the entire movie trying to protect a magic wand from its rightful owner, a powerful elf played by Ms. Rapace. The majority of the running time consists of running between two locations, as it was clear Netflix was intent on paying most of Bright’s $90m production budget to Will Smith. I can’t attack the wisdom of this move, since no other actor clicks so completely with the streaming service’s core audience, and Smith’s recent choices at the actual box-office have been wretched. Ayer does enough to make Bright feel like his other cop stories (End of Watch, Training Day). He is knowledgeable, at least, about how cops feel and think, and several scenes reflect this experience.

Like many of Ayer’s films, he tries to convince us of a variety of plot twists that only make sense in his mind. Unfortunately, this is also the execrable trend of the writer behind this project, and the pairing leads to a messy, unemotional final project, which is probably one of two reasons why Bright received some seriously harsh reviews from critics. As bad as Bright was, there is something redeemable about the project that could probably be salvaged by another writer. Then again, you could say that about anything that does not involve Colin Trevorrow.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


In Which Jared Leto's Existential Crisis Troubles Us All

Swamp Thing


Suicide Squad
dir. David Ayer
123 minutes

“Were there any that didn’t get cut? I’m asking you, were there any that didn’t get cut? There were so many scenes that got cut from the movie," Jared Leto explained. "We did a lot of experimentation on the set, we explored a lot. There’s so much that we shot that’s not in the film." He slightly massaged his left testicle and took a break to rewatch The Dark Knight. "If I die anytime soon, it’s probably likely that it’ll surface somewhere. That’s the good news about the death of an actor is all that stuff seems to come out."

There is a disease called Jared Leto disease. Once minute you're performing a very emotional scene opposite whatever has become of the rapper Common, and the next you think you have one thirty-fourth the talent of Heath Ledger. This ailment is about believing that you are more than what you seem.

The worst part of Suicide Squad is Jared Leto, which is not surprising since almost every actor involved in this movie besides Jai Courtney is a substantially better performer in every way. Hopefully Leto's comments about how mad he is about watching his scenes get cut gets him replaced by the little kid who disappeared in Stranger Things when it comes to the next Batman movie. In a few they will both look exactly the same: like a teenager who freshly discovered emo.

The Joker had one last card to play in the movies — that was his toxic relationship with Harley Quinn. Unfortunately, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto are both in their forties now and playing ten years younger. The characters themselves have aged horribly. The Joker is repositioned here as a sort of manipulative mastermind instead of the crazy man he was when Heath Ledger administered the finest acting performance of the last decade. As Leto suggests, Joker disappears for most of Suicide Squad, although he does send his girlfriend Harley (Margot Robbie) text messages.

Because Suicide Squad is PG-13, Joker never even beats his girlfriend up or causes anything except the most mild inconvenience. Sensing how bad this was coming across in early cuts, director David Ayer decided that Leto's performance was probably the worst part of the movie as it existed. Joker was minimized and fast.

Replacing him as the centerpiece of Suicide Squad is Deadshot (Will Smith). The first twenty minutes of the movie consists of a shortened version of his battle with Batman (Ben Affleck). Affleck is more bloated than he appeared when he strolled out of an after party recently looking like he wanted to pull his pants over his head in shame. Say what you want about Smith's Scientologist beliefs, but he is only getting better with age and Suicide Squad is about 1000x better when he was on the screen.

Seeing how audiences reacted to the humor of Suicide Squad's first trailer inspired a litany of reshoots on the project. The result is a mishmash of tone. Christopher Nolan's efforts in this world were almost never funny at all. Sure Christian Bale popped off a one liner using his Patrick Bateman voice from time to time, but the essential core of the movie was completely overserious, the complete opposite of what Marvel attempted to counteract the franchise's critical success.

Ayer's secret weapon of seriousness is a villain so completely absurd that they cast a fashion model to play her. About forty minutes in Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) causes some chaos in a sequence so completely dull Ayer can't wait to play another seventies rock song over it. The atonal music in Suicide Squad is a mess, so clearly is it attempting to steal from the general vibe of Guardians of the Galaxy. This is like copying a plot twist from Fifty Shades of Grey.

Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) spends a lot of time flirting with Will Smith, and the palpable sexual tension explodes while Ayer layers Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady" over it. (Just the amount of songs here is mind-numbing.) Before President Obama went onstage to deliver his address to the Democratic National Convention, he also listened to Eminem, and the similarities between that speech and Suicide Squad are quite numerous. Both proclaim the essential fact of self-importance as a basic human right. I think Obama mentioned himself like a billion times.

Given that these characters do not really have a lot in common with another and don't form much in the way of relationships over the course of Suicide Squad, Ayer smartly makes the movie an all action-shootbang. Honestly, the movie probably should have been about Harley Quinn realizing that Jared Leto is an asshole and settling down with Deadshot in the Gotham City suburbs.

Instead, the sheer amount of guns in this shitshow is almost breathtaking. Ayer isn't exactly Stanley Kubrick, but he does create some memorable visuals here — the astonishing flight of a helicopter radiating light, the iridescence of one character's signature flame — when he isn't worried about the audience getting too bored with the utter lack of depth. Overall, though, he seems genuinely unhappy to be working on a project this cynical.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which The License Plate Said Fresh And It Had Dice In The Mirror

Born and Raised


My first real American Halloween, my brother and I dressed up as Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones from Men In Black. You can see the problem with this already.

I insisted that I would be Will, so my mom slicked back my hair and drew a thick, black mustache on my face in eyeliner. We wrapped toilet-paper rolls in tin foil to represent the memory-erasing “neuralizers” and wore baggy black suits of undetermined origin. These were probably the worst Halloween costumes in history, with the exception of the year that my friends and I were “homeless” and just wore sweatpants.

There was no way in hell that anyone would know what we were, but we took this holiday as newly-minted Americans very seriously and so we remained undeterred. The rules of Halloween, as shown in the movie Hocus Pocus, were that a cute face got you candy and the elaborateness of your costume was somewhat inconsequential, though dedication was always encouraged. We came home that night with pillowcases stuffed with foreign candy and the British Isles began to seem like a very faraway place indeed.

If you were under the impression that America is just a jazzed-up version of England with different sports and a shorter history, I’d like you to think about Halloween.

Every October 31st, little children and their mischievous older siblings wear disguises and run around their neighborhoods in pursuit of free candy, which grown adults dole out happily. Then these children take this candy home and devour it, leaving the undesirables (Sugar Daddys, Circus Peanuts) for their parents. What the fuck is this about?

I learned about trick-or-treating from Hocus Pocus, which made my British imagination believe that every suburban town in the United States looked like Salem, Massachusetts. We celebrated Halloween in England but there was never the same level of fanfare — usually it’d be a dull party with eight kids drinking too much sugary squash and going to bed with stomachaches. I don’t remember ever dressing up.

In 1996, when we were relocated to the not-so-New-England-looking suburbs of Philadelphia, my brother and I were encouraged to approach perfect strangers while cross-dressing in ill-fitting suits and ask them to give us stuff. And they would oblige. My love affair with America had begun.

1989 in Leicester

The gray-haired lady whose name I don’t remember held two silver coins, one in each hand.

“This is a nickel,” she said as she raised the chunky circle with Jefferson’s face shining back. "And this is a dime." Much more nimble, I thought. "A nickel is worth five cents and a dime is worth ten. And a quarter" — she reached down and presented the silver piece in her palm — "is worth twenty-five cents. Like a quarter of a dollar."

I shifted in my seat, feeling slightly patronized, though I knew that that afternoon I planned on inspecting a handful of change to test myself on the various names.

The next task was a little harder. The gray-haired lady had made a list of words that were spelled wrong, which she handed to me and said, "These are the correct spellings."

Was this a trick?

"You may be used to spelling certain words one way but we do it another way here."

I looked down at the list. It was long and had some words on it that I didn’t even know, but the ones that I did looked like weird cousins of themselves with letters deleted and transposed.

Color, pajamas, center, organize, traveled.

"Uh." I looked at the gray-haired lady, bewildered.

"Just try and memorize them, okay?"

Must memorise, I thought.

1991 in Leiceister

England and America are bound by certain commonalities. We speak the same language, we share the same flag colors, and we both are fond of sports-related riots. I have always seen America as the younger teenage brother of England and that's why I loved it so much when we first moved — juvenile excitement is everywhere.

The first time I ate ice cream out of a plastic baseball cap, I knew that America had an edge. Who decided that for supreme enjoyment of ice cream, a baseball cap should be turned upside down, miniaturized, and enrobed in plastic? An American. This was one of the greatest joys I’d ever known until I had my first encounter with pancakes.

I wasn't ignorant enough at age 8 to have not ever heard of pancakes, and I may have at one point even eaten them, but in no way was what I knew of pancakes remotely similar to what I would experience.

When we first moved to America, we lived with my uncle for a few months until my mom bought a house. My favorite uncle is a master pancake-maker; he manipulates batter into the fluffiest, sweetest, perfectly round and circumferentially exact pancakes. Pancakes are a thing here, which I learned rather swiftly and with no complaint. A stack of Bisquick pancakes topped with Aunt Jemima’s syrup is one of the hardest things to look at and say "No, thanks." Seven a.m. couldn't come soon enough when I was living there — seven a.m. was the pancake time. The great, wholesome pancake time.

When people don’t speak the language of their new home country, it’s not uncommon for them to pick up a lot of its nuances by watching television. It makes sense — not only do you get to hear the accent and see a less stiff version of the language than a book could show, you also get to see the new culture acted out. Though I already spoke English and needed no phonics assistance, I was a large proponent of this practice when I was younger.

I watched TV to find out what the hell an American was and how best to become one. When I would watch Sesame Street as a young girl living in an old British home with the original 250-year-old ceiling beams and a greenhouse, I believed my house was actually on Sesame Street. I have been told that most kids think this way, which is the magic of the show, but most kids don’t confuse their antique gold-gilded door chime in the perpetually chilly and dark foyer for a lively front stoop framed by window boxes of geraniums. I believed I was American before I had even left England.

My favorite TV shows when I moved to the States greatly influenced my understanding of American culture. They were all the 90s standards: Step By Step, Martin, Family Matters, Full House, Hanging With Mr. Cooper, and that weird show Dinosaurs, which I guess didn’t help me understand America but did freak me the fuck out. They all donated some key information — uncles are creepily affectionate, there is always drama at Thanksgiving — but there was no show that quite defined Americans to me more than The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

I wrote a 10-page paper in college about Will Smith. Looking back on this now, it was with certainty one of my best undergraduate achievements, marginally edging out my multimedia presentation on Shakespeare’s similarities with the Animaniacs. The paper reflected on how his presence in rap was essential for the progression of more legitimate hip-hop to go from underground to mainstream. Reflections like these remind me a cantaloupe with legs could get a liberal arts degree.

Given my insistence that I be allowed to dress up as Will Smith when I was 9, then 12 years later wrote a paper defending his legitimacy, it should be obvious that I have a slight fascination with him. A guy I dated my freshman year in college sent me a digital canvas portrait of Will Smith that has hung in every apartment I’ve lived in for the past five years. It is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Not to mention, he sent it to me anonymously months after we’d already broken up. For fifteen minutes, I speculated that maybe it was Will himself who had delivered it, knowing what a huge fan I was. Once I sleuthed around enough to figure out the real sender, I admit to a level of disappointment that probably is not natural.

I watched episode after episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It was something about Will Smith’s simultaneous arrogance and empathy that made him seem so American to me. He wasn’t tight-lipped but he wasn’t necessarily impolite; he was funny and personable and warm. He was a guy who didn’t fit in with his surroundings but was making it work while occasionally failing, like when he used Carlton’s handspun silk pocket square as a tissue. It was his persona that I emulated and envied as I grew up surrounded by Yanks.

Looking back, channeling a 6’2” black man who played a loud-mouthed prankster with NBA aspirations on a television show about L.A. was one of my more misguided decisions. When he turned 38, I threw a Will Smith­–themed party in my college dorm with balloons and crepe paper; I wore a backwards neon hat and Nike dunks. That may have been the weirdest thing I have ever done.

I was drunk in a bar with two British friends when we got into an argument over which city was cooler: New York or London. Obviously, this is typical conversation for the metropolitan twenty-something douchebag, so I’m sure you can imagine what was said ("Uh, The Strokes, dude." "Have you seen Alexa Chung?") but at some point, there was a shift that made the disagreement much wider. Four or five pints in, in a state of belligerent twenty-something douchebag disarray, I found myself arguing that it wasn’t just New York that was better, it was America. Like, I was actually doing this.

My friends rolled their eyes and retorted with bland indifference. I became heated, saying things like "it’s just funner [sic] there." They even remained calm when I said that they were lucky Shakespeare was British because he was their "only defense." (I’m not even quite sure what that means.) There was no weight to anything I was saying because I obviously believed both places have their merits or I wouldn't have gone back to England several times since I’d moved. But the less they responded to my attacks, the more I wanted to prove that I was right. So finally I said what I’d wanted to say all night: "Brits are like Americans, but with less swag."

Dayna "I'm a patriot" Evans: 1, The Commonwealth: 0.

Dayna Evans is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about summer reading.

"Santa Fucking Claus" - Johnny Foreigner (mp3)

"Tru Punks (Whiskas remix)" - Johnny Foreigner (mp3)

"JFNV" - Johnny Foreigner (mp3)

The new EP from Johnny Foreigner, Certain Songs Are Cursed, was released on April 18th and you can purchase it here.