In Which We Pray At Length For Max Landis


A Max Landis Joint


Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
creator Max Landis
BBC America/Netflix

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-9-43-35-amIf you need to save the most scattered, implausible story with a completely awkward tone, there is only one thing for it: hire Elijah Wood. It is a damn shame that Wood was born Frodo-sized, he should have been Gary Cooper and Rock Hudson all rolled into one. Looking back on it, Wood was the only thing that made the Lord of the Rings trilogy even tolerably watchable. His FX series Wilfred contained zero jokes and he carried that to a few seasons. Elijah’s facial expressions are absolutely second-to-none; he always seems genuine and present in the moment, and he only gets more appealing to both sexes as he ages. He is like a time capsule in himself.

Creator Max Landis finally took time from his busy schedule appearing on one billion of his friends’ podcasts to write something. In this case, it is an adaptation of a Douglas Adams “novel”, co-produced by Netflix and the BBC. (All episodes come to Netflix in December.) Landis’ recent screen efforts have been something of a mixed bag, but his chatty dialogue fares much better on television. Max has a tic where he constantly forces his characters to repeat each other’s words. This gets kind of annoying in most contexts, but in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency what is happening is usually so random and distracted from itself in general that it helps to hear it twice.


Like a lot of Adams’ work, the plot itself is just a wacky bunch of skits and ironies that exist to set up various punchlines. Landis has smartly reduced that garbage to one conflicted relationship; that of Todd (Elijah Wood) to his new British friend Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett). When the series begins, we find Todd working as a bellboy in a fancy hotel. He happens upon the scene of several murders that appear to be the result of an animal attack, and becomes a person of interest in Gently’s holistic investigation.

Landis’ instinctive sense for how a scene should visually unfold pairs nicely with the direction of Dean Parisot, the man who helped turn 1999’s hilarious Galaxy Quest into such a sensational comedy. When Wood isn’t onscreen, the narrative suffers greatly, but Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency deserves credit for not just dropping in token characters of color but instead giving specific motivations and backgrounds for all the performers in the ensemble. It is just that there is so many of them: Fiona Dourif plays a disturbed assassin with Mpho Koaho as her frightened sidekick, Hannah Marks is Todd’s ill sister, Richard Schiff, Dustin Milligan, Miguel Sandoval are agents of the law.


Landis has spent the time since writing the box office bomb Victor Frankenstein and his direct-to-video L.A. story Me Him Her giving detailed recapitulations of all the pitch meetings he has had in Hollywood since Barack Obama took office. He loves being on a podcast more than anyone: even Jim Norton. In these interviews, Landis seems generally perplexed at why he was not given the reins to Ghostbusters and other major franchises. Since his comedies have not generally been all that funny, it is no surprise that Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is less amusing than generally dark and noir-ish.

Landis’ first, and some cynical persons would say only, success in the industry came with the 2012 smash Chronicle. Despite its substantial financial earnings, no one seemed all that interested in a sequel. Chronicle’s tortured handcam direction was a bit hackeyed, but it definitely worked for the compelling story about three friends who can’t handle their burgeoning powers. Landis is at his best when he takes familiar genres into darker places than you expect. As a writer, he has no real fear of going too far, and honestly his version of Ghostbusters (I believe he took credit for the idea of an all-female cast as well at one point) was substantially better than what Paul Feig produced.


This should be promising for future episodes of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. A straight adaptation of Douglas Adams’ novel would be something of a disaster – Adams can never resist explaining a mystery that he has created mere moments earlier, and his plots are usually hit-or-miss. Despite the fact that the titular character is something of a cipher, there is a lot more here to explore. Watching Wood rub abrasively up against a universe that seems completely dead set against him surviving is enough in itself to keep us watching.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is evidence enough of Max Landis’ mercurial talent, but it is also emblematic of his inability to connect with audiences at times. He grew up in Hollywood and it is the only world he knows. As a result, his wide imagination is so polished, so ready for the screen that it sometimes comes off as too overly planned and determined. He really needs to hit up a retreat in Napa and decide what actually is personal to him. The man is just all business.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


In Which Jack Reacher Was Catfished By The Very Best


T.C. = J.R.


Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
dir. Edward Zwick
118 minutes

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-9-56-40-amJack Reacher starts up a phone relationship with a brunette, one Major Turner (Cobie Smulders). She’s like twenty years younger than him and is currently under indictment for espionage, which makes her incredibly appealing. For a good portion of the running time of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back they never meet, which only heightens the intense erotic tension.

At roughly the same time that he begins this romance, Jack Reacher finds out that he has a fifteen-year old daughter. He has never even heard of the mother, but then again he did a lot of things around Y2K figuring that the world was probably coming to an end very shortly. He follows this suspected daughter, who looks something like a runway model but is a professional shoplifter. When she confronts him for tailing her, she asks if he is a cop. “Do I look like a cop?” Reacher responds. No one could possibly look like more of one.

Sometimes I wonder what sex between Cobie Smulders and Tom Cruise would actually be like. I imagine it would be something close to a mexican stand off, with a lot of rustling and light smacks atop the phallus and vagina. “Ten minutes is a very long time,” announces another character. We can’t imagine to what that could refer.


About twenty minutes into Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Tom is put into a military prison. Five minutes later he breaks out Cobie Smulders and himself without firing a single bullet. The first thing they do back in Washington D.C. is hit up an internet cafe to catch up on the Drudge Report and stuff. She still uses a RSS reader, which is kind of weird.

Reacher gets antsy and starts missing his new daughter. He breaks her phone by shattering it on the ground, and makes her dress up like a Catholic schoolgirl. She steals the credit cards of a classmate and does not fit in at the school at all. She has no plan to take the SAT and her college prospects look grim. Reacher pulls her out of school and the three of them fly from Washington D.C. to New Orleans. It’s actually quite funny watching Reacher have a family who he has to account for his actions to, and it makes Jack Reacher: Never Go Back a lot more fun than the horrid first film in the series.


While they are the plane, Reacher’s daughter cozies up to Cobie Smulders for a long talk. “What was it like working with Jason Segel?” she asks. “Does he talk about his dick as much as people say? Do you like Jack Reacher? Is he your boyfriend or friends with benefits?” She denies caring about Cruise at all, and he pretends to be asleep throughout this whole episode. Sex is anathema to the entire Cruise project — it will be like Westworld where everyone turns out to be a robot, Jack Reacher most of all.

A lot of times I wonder about what Tom Cruise is going to do when he gets really old. He does a lot of crossfit to stay in this good of shape, although it is quite noticeable that he never bothers taking off his jacket throughout Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. His horizontal mobility is still top notch, but sometimes when he runs, which is very often, you can see him starting to flag a bit.

The one thing I hate the most is when older people talk about being old. To his immense credit, Tom strictly emphasizes that no one is to refer to him as old. When he looks for a doppleganger in the airport in order to steal an ID that will allow him past the TSA, Tom looks for a guy no more than thirty. The two women he is with agree that they are a perfect match.


Later in the movie, Cobie Smulders strolls into Jack Reacher’s hotel room with a white robe. She asks him what he was thinking would happen after they went on their first date. She seductively places a french fry in her mouth. To no one’s shock or surprise this scene ends in an argument. If Reacher can’t close given these circumstances, this is a man who has no interest in sex with a woman whatsoever.

Maybe that’s for the best. Intercourse slows inertia — Tom’s aerodynamic properties could possibly compromised by the addition of other individuals. Soon enough he tells his women that they should stay at the greasy New Orleans hotel Cobie paid cash for while he meets up with a bunch of men in what looks to be an abandoned warehouse. It is the first time he has smiled since he has been in the South.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Would Prefer This Happen Another Time

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to


How long should you wait before explaining your feelings to a woman who recently got out of a long term relationship?

Before my friend Ava went away to the Peace Corps in Africa, we talked about maybe starting to date. She met someone over there and although we exchanged a few e-mails, I was pretty bummed about it. Now she’s back in the U.S. and her facebook says she’s single. Is it too soon to ask her if she’s interested in picking up where we left off?

Timothy E.


You should never ask someone for something that you could just as well start doing in order to know her answer. If you want to go on a date with Ava, by all means offer to take her on one. If you wait, there’s a fairly good chance someone else will get there first, given her magnetic personality and propensity for world travel. 

It is probably best to recreate the circumstances of her initial attraction to you, however. If you come on too strong it feels preordained. Try reconnecting with her again and slowly begin suggesting she rely on your affection. Next stop: codependence!

The real risk is in becoming a shoulder to cry on. Do not console her about her past relationship, unless it is in insightful cracks about the size of the guy’s dick or what a dick he was. Make it seem like you were living your own life while she was gone: although let’s face it, you weren’t.


I get along super-well with a guy I work with named Yan. I’m not really the type to approach a guy, but we have such a great connection and really lean on each other in workplace social settings. He’s been really helpful in my career as well for a number of reasons.

To me it would be worth risking our work friendship if it led to something more. I’m having a hard time thinking of a way that I can find out if Yan is interested in becoming something more without changing the way we interact with one another. Do you have any ideas?

Jennifer G.

Dear Jennifer,

If Yan is doing you all these good turns, it is quite likely he feels the same way. I wouldn’t be that nice to someone unless they honored me with their massive fortune.

Getting him to make the move should be easy. Just hang out as friends. Eventually, any man will begin to develop feelings for you. Drop classic, time-honored lines like, “Yan, you’re such a wonderful friend.” “You would be a great boyfriend for someone — not me, I just mean a hypothetical other woman.” Deep in the recesses of his animal brain, he will start to say to himself, I have done everything for this woman. There must be a reason

If necessary, invent a fictional, long-distance boyfriend who is really wanting to see Doctor Strange. Then give me his number.


Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Showed Up At The Office Once A Month



I won’t let him sleep in my apartment yet. I haven’t invited him to meet my friends even though he wants me to meet his, wants to show me to his parents, wants me to sleep next to him in a tent next weekend and sit next to him on a plane the week after. He wants me to come half a dozen times every night. He wants me to stay, even when it means he’ll have to wake up to drive me home at six in the morning because I forgot to turn off the alarm clock on my bedside table, and I don’t want to wake all the neighbors. He sends shivers down my spine, curls my toes, packs an extra sweatshirt that he pulls out of nowhere when my teeth start chattering on the walk to the truck – and I won’t let him sleep in my apartment.


When I was in elementary school, I used to show up in the office at least once a month, at least every time there was a lice outbreak around the school, claiming that my head itched so they would have to pick through my hair with the lice-searching chopsticks. I never had head lice. I did that, I tell him, I so liked the feeling of my head being scratched.


I go to an early yoga practice Wednesday morning. Twice during class, the teacher walks past me during a pose and presses her fingers into the back of my neck, where the muscles are activated, tendons tight and strained when they should be relaxed. The second time, she says: Recognize this. Just be aware of it now, through class, throughout your day. Recognize that you carry tension in your neck.

This is where you find the balance between effort and surrender, she says. It would seem, based on the words themselves, that effort is the hard part, but for many of us, that’s not the case. It’s not wrong if that’s not the case for you – but recognize it. She says: Try to find the balance.


Instead of sleeping at my apartment, we spend nights in the bed he shared for four years with the woman before me, and somehow he sleeps easy. Last night I lay awake and stare at the same walls that she maybe lay awake and stared at, in the beginning or toward the end of the fourth year or both. The place is haunted, I think, or I am. He doesn’t believe in ghosts.

Last night, when I roll toward him and then away, toss and turn and subtract from the already-meager four hours of sleep he will get before work, he lets me, he smiles, he runs his fingers through my hair like he’s searching for lice or in love. You okay? he whispers, as his hand moves over my head and down the back of my neck. Recognize: it is tense. Recognize: I am trying to find the balance.

Josiane Curtis is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Portland. You can find her twitter here. You can find her website here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about the first sign of dawn.

Drawings by Andrew Smith. You can buy prints and originals here.

In Which The Train Crashes And Only Emily Blunt Is Left Alive

Sippy Cup


The Girl on the Train
dir. Tate Taylor
112 minutes

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is great at drinking. I guess maybe it is just Emily Blunt who is fantastic at becoming inebriated. She sucks on this water bottle full of alcohol as she rides Metro North home to Ardsley-on-Hudson. This is great drunk acting, the best since Johnny Depp and he had a lot more training. I’m not exactly sure what she is drinking, but since she winces when she sips it we can presume the liquid is vile. The Girl on the Train is entirely recalled by an alcoholic, which means it is frequently unreliable and consistently repetitive.

Things start to pick up a bit when Megan (Haley Bennett) starts going out to have sex in the woods after sessions with her therapist (Édgar Ramírez). The therapist is a major suspect in Megan’s murder, because his questions are usually along the lines of, “How does that make you feel?” and his solution to most problems is to put his fingers in her mouth. When she does it the first time, he says, “Don’t make it difficult for us to work together.” When she doesn’t listen and continues to try to have sex with him, he begins speaking in Spanish.

Bennett is a marvelous actress with impressive range. She is a little too suited for most of these roles, which demand she project an unsustainable sexuality which is not really in her nature. “I’ve had a lot of different jobs,” she narrates, and informs us that the sex she has with her husband Scott (Luke Evans) makes her feel like a whore. Fortunately we do not have to think too hard about the implications of this, because Megan is a corpse.

This is definitely the Emily Blunt show. Blunt sort of gives up on the English accent about halfway through. (I guess maintaining it for half the movie was a concession to the novel’s original London setting.) The fact that life could be sufficiently indistinguishable in a suburb of New York as one thousands of miles away frightens all thinking people.

Rachel’s friend Cathy (Laura Prepon) gets tired of her drunken rages and kicks Blunt out of the room she rents her. When Blunt is drunk, she heads over to her old house where she lived with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux). Besides giving us a giddy anticipation for a future time when Jennifer Aniston will divorce Theroux and reunite with David Schwimmer as God intended, it seems like a mistep that Blunt’s real life husband was not in this movie to give it that extra edge of verisimilitude.

Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson smartly avoids incorporating any comedy into this milieu. This is not a single moment where we have a chance to think about how silly the whole thing is. Theroux is the only one who hams it up at all, and I think he does not even mean to — he is simply used to talking in that weird, husky voice to make himself seem larger than 5’3″. Instead of adding to Blunt’s emotional disarray, the direction itself takes no chances at all.

Theroux’s new wife, Anna, is played by Rebecca Ferguson, who looks like Haley Bennett if she went through a washing machine. She is worried about Emily Blunt lurking around her house, so she goes to a police detective (Alison Janney), who informs her that she has no case even though Emily Blunt briefly abducted her baby. The concept of a restraining order is presumably unknown to these people.

The movie kinda slows down a lot with Emily Blunt’s terrible investigation of Megan’s murder. After Megan’s husband is cleared, we get a few scenes with Alison Janney and Blunt where the film picks up a lot. In this one scene in a police station, Alison Janney is stroking Emily Blunt’s arm. It never got more exciting than that, even when they showed the murder in a ten minute scene.

At one point someone asks Emily Blunt if she has any hobbies or whatever. She can’t think of any. People without interests frighten me. I suppose she likes drawing — sometimes she sketches pictures of the people she loves. She has no other self-consciousness, and because she is so flimsy in comparison to all the other people in this story, you have to wish the worst on her. Anything else would be at the expense of something real.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

In Which We Open Up All Of Our Office Hours


Red Dust


Office hours begin at three. Who knows how long they’ll last?

I run into my therapist at the opening of a local juice bar. She does not see me, but I notice that her hair is done in a completely different fashion than what I have come to expect. I am so shaken I have to sit down.

On a bus downtown, a man carries a thousand little parcels and packages, attached to each other by string, cord and tape. A teenager asks him if it is an exhibit or something. The man opens one of the packages and inside is a business card.

My friend Stacy is a major theme of this essay. She has a very useful test that I have sort of made my own. If she meets a new person, she has these two restaurants that are very easy to confuse and not far from each other. She shows up at one, and if he doesn’t, well that’s just too bad.

Instead of finding out what someone is like when they are really, truly angry, make them a little angry.

My therapist recently discovered some of the things I had written about her. She says, “Your depiction portrays me as sounding weird.” She says, “Self-expression is the most innocent form of flattery,” and then she rotates a mug in her hands upwards of ten times. I say, “Your hero is Kafka? Your summer palace is on the Rhine? You say you have questions for me?”

In Agata & Valentina, Emmy Rossum asks an employee for aspargus. My dad called to tell me to watch the full moon tonight. “Did you ever think there were so many types of lettuce?” he says. His version of being retired is like a bird who has had a wing repaired, but doesn’t know it.

My brother is getting married in the fall. I am very happy for him, the way you go to one store in a strip mall, and another store is celebrating their grand opening. You wish and don’t wish the attention was elsewhere. I am so tired of the concept of attention. It seems like a modern conceit, maybe the only modern conceit. One that demands we be observed or acknowledged.


Stacy has a boyfriend now. When she tried the restaurant trick on him, he said he doesn’t like to meet women at restaurants. Stacy says that it’s because he feels uncomfortable eating in front of other people, like he is a pig at the trough. Do you see the connection between this anecdote and the line about attention? Would you even notice if the moon in the sky was upside down.

Lately I have been doing a lot of whispering. Nattering quietly to myself is the function of living alone, in the apartment I am renting. It was just built, and so no one in the building expects anything to break. I’d like to own a place, but not in New York City. Maybe somewhere upstate.

My therapist wants to know my evaluation of her. “I love how available you make yourself,” I begin. “Once I saw you in a juice bar… Never mind, never mind! I think that you are great at staying internally consistent. Sometimes I wonder if you are remembering what I said or remembering what you said. Then I think, what’s the difference? If you hear one side of the conversation, you can probably reconstruct the other! It will be as if one person is there, and the second participant exists only as a shadow of the initial act.” She says, “I’m not a shadow of you, Linda,” and sips Tropicana.


Last night I walked along 60th at the bottom of Central Park. Rats sprang out of the greenery to feast upon all the leftover horse feed. They are mad to be satiated, wild with abandon. In order to start a new thought, it takes more than simply matching the taste to the palate.

Stacy thinks she is in love with her boyfriend. “He’s kind of a weird guy,” she confesses. I ask if it something other than his apparent eating issues. She says that when they went to the movies the other night, she found herself massaging his temples and touching his dick. I ask if he told her to do that. “It seemed implied,” she says, cutting celery into the smallest possible pieces.

I want you to know that standing there is no more than an affectation.

My dad asks me to choose a color. He’s painting my old room. “What goes on in there now?” I ask. “Mostly the same stuff as when you were here,” he says, even though that was very long ago now. “Self-loathing. Pride. Catnaps. Sometimes I come in here when your mother is snoring.” I say, “Imagine being invisible only at night.” Half the shades he forces me to compare I can’t manage to see any difference. I imagine that for a god, the variation between the worst human being and the best would be this kind of tiny shift in color.

For example, have you looked at the Periodic Table of the Elements lately? Has there ever been a more outright obvious scam?

I ask my therapist about Stacy’s boyfriend. “They were in line at Starbucks,” I say, “and someone stepped in front of them. He got all up in the guy’s face and smacked down his coffee cup.” She says, “So?” I say, “Isn’t that kind of reckless and unwarranted?” She lets out a sigh that could inflate a balloon.

Full moon tonight. I whisper it and text everyone I know (the list is not long – as I get older it is more difficult to meet new people, and even when I find someone I like, the context is always wrong). In my text I detail how much more fun it will be when we are all wolves. Imagine the licking alone! I crow and cackle. Feeling like I could run up the face of a mountain, I start crumpling up all the useless pieces of paper I keep around here. Everything made or unmade was with my hands.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.


In Which We Don’t Have The Energy For Another Flight

Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 10.15.23 AM.jpg

Give Everything


Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can
be attained only by someone who is detached. — Simone Weil

By that time there were two of them, and I lived in a pointless fear that one would see me with the other.

Neither of them thought he was my boyfriend, but I knew in my heart one was.

I saw Michael with his dog in a park. She died, struck by a car, a few weeks later. You can imagine my surprise.

From New York, I moved to San Jose and back. Flights take too long.

Michael had this crest of hair, and when he touched silverware, he always turned it over in his hand. Are you good enough to touch my body?

See if you can figure out who is my boyfriend, I don’t know.

OK, but so I imagined what would happen if Michael saw me with Luis. Eventually I thought of a proper solution: I would say that Luis was an attorney, I was making a will, and I would give him everything.

Some other shit was going on, too. I don’t know if it is my fault, or maybe just the way the world is, but every single thing feels like a distraction from something else.

Luis did not feel that way, but I do not say it was a good thing. He had the straightest teeth I had ever seen, and he brushed them religiously. His dark hair was kept short, and he took vitamins every morning.

It took him so long to take them all.

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 9.47.03 AM.jpg

Michael, perched on the edge of the escalator of some store he took me to. His family had money, and he never knew what it was to be without it.

The thing is, I always did like taking pills. This all happened after I stopped taking them, but I still liked them.

I never mentioned it to Luis, but Michael knew about my habit. He asked me what it was like, and I said that it was like I was a honeybee that finally found the nectar.

He said, “Did you know Russia doesn’t have honeybees?”

He knew a lot of little things, like how to wear a scarf and where to eat on Tuesday night.

Luis was not like that, although he was far from the creative type.

You can probably tell I have moved on from both these men.

I liked the idea of one telling me what I did not like about the other, but I knew they would find out about each other eventually.

OK, so Luis’ mother died. It was March, his hands were calloused from moving all the stuff out of her house and sanding down the floors. His mother was a smoker, and sometimes, but not all the time, she ashed on the floor.

I asked Luis how his mother could do that. Was there anything particularly difficult about an ashtray? Then I closed my mouth.

I wasn’t overly celebrating my sex life with either one of these men. That is not to say we did not have moments. They were both very serious people.

It is wonderful to think of life that way, like you are Anna Karenina or Hamlet, or both wrapped up into a sad package. I am not that type of person, so I aspire to be with someone who is like that, and stay nearby.

Michael’s dog was named Rye. He said that she was a willful dog. I threw out the golden’s collars. He didn’t need them anymore, but he thought he did.

It took me awhile, maybe a few cross-country trips, to realize I am a judgmental person. I think most people evaluate others on their words and deeds, which is a fine way of doing things, I’m sure.

I prefer to focus on what people are not doing or saying.

Let me start with Michael. He did tell me he loved me, but he did not do it all the time. He did not introduce me to his family until much later. He never prayed, he never shot pool, he never rode the bus.

All the straight rows of houses out here. It bothers me sometimes. It is fun to observe normal things only if you are irregular, which is the attraction of such drugs. I could have taken them forever, and on some level I wish I was taking them now.

Luis’ mother developed lung cancer. It progressed rather quickly.

He never held out much hope.

He did not know how to drive, he had a horrible sense of direction, he never wore jeans, never drank coffee after noon. He never said, “I love you,” but honestly he did not have to, and it would have ruined things.

I don’t have the energy for another flight. I actually still take drugs, just none that are any fun, except klonopin, which makes me feel like a bean bag.

I miss Luis, and probably the Michael I am writing about a bit more. I think they both knew they were not the only one, and that ruined things.

I admire people who can keep such things separate in their mind, discrete partitions of experience. I find myself going back there, stretching through the flimsy walls. I would not like to be a man.

B.H. Dansforth is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New Jersey.

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