In Which Wherever We Go Billy Also Goes

Passing Time

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The amount of talking in The Magnificent Seven is truly impressive. Someone is moving their mouth every single second in Antoine Fuqua’s version of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The original version is the most tolerable of Kurosawa’s westerns, which were revolutionary for their time but never compared favorably with American iterations that perfected the genre. Kurosawa too was fond of the endless throes of dialogue, but this chatty aesthetic demands a cast of actors who can pull off this mealy-mouthed script by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective).

When you think of the sheer number of conversations in this movie which accomplished absolutely nothing, you begin to realize that all the talking is purely for show. Watching The Magnificent Seven with no sound would be just as easy, and the only thing missed would be having to listen to the completely shitty accent Chris Pratt has brought to the role of Faraday.

As the staid and boring marshal putting together this dream time to seek revenge on robber baron Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), Denzel Washington is completely miscast. His white co-stars get the vast majority of cute quips, but the filmmakers seem to force humor into the diegesis: this is more a sad story than a funny one, and a dramatic opening scene in which Bart Bogue murders Matt Bomer emphasizes this is no buddy movie.

Unlike most directors, Fuqua has no fear of using music to set the mood or situation. He is deeply afraid that The Magnificent Seven might become dreadfully boring if the tension, humor or speech were to drop for a second. There is a moment where the group looks out on the operation of Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke collecting what I hope is a mighty check) and a horse nuzzles the ground with his paw. The presence of authentic moment is almost shocking because there is no dirt, disease, or poverty in this edition of the American West.

Kurosawa aimed at a different type of versimiltude. When his heroes moved through the grass, they felt it on their fingers and arms. Pizzolatto turns all of the characters here into verbose outlaws who converse at length in full sentences. “Let the shot surprise you,” explains Ethan Hawke at one point. I have no idea why or what this could mean. It is difficult to believe that anyone ever talked like this before the 21st century. “You have to hate what you’re firing at,” he screams.

Fuqua is a lot more at home when the action begins. The group first enters into a fight with the local lawmen of the town who permitted Sarsgaard to threaten the citizenry. Without a clear villain for most of the film’s running time, the focus is generally aimed at Pratt. He is a very charismatic centerpiece, and covering your ears slightly when he speaks makes his accent sound vaguely tolerable.

Learning more about these guys isn’t exactly fun. It’s implied that Hawke’s tiny character owned slaves, but this does not seem to bother Denzel any. No one so much as takes his shirt off, eats or goes to sleep, which turns them caricatures — just as they descend into parody, Fuqua ratches up the dramatic music so that we forget how stupid this all is. “It’s a box of death,” says someone. It could be anyone.

The film’s only happy surprise is the presence of Haley Bennett as a frisky townswoman. She has no actual agency except to beg men for her life, but coming off a breakout performance in the disaster that was last year’s Hardcore Henry, she shines. “I had a father, thank you,” she informs Chris Pratt, and the only potential interesting aspect of the narrative is destroyed. Fuqua makes her run around without a bra whenever the film starts to seem the slightest bit homoerotic. God forbid one man ever touch another, even if only in kindness.

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I really don’t know whose idea it was to kill off important characters, since there was serious potential in a sequel that could have been, you know, an actual Western. (Then again, box office receipts haven’t been particularly amazing.) This revenge plot of hired men defending a town was always pretty lame, and Kurosawa basically used it as a excuse for everything else his film contained. It did not matter that the story was purely background since his filmmaking offered so much else. Here there is just basic revenge, except the man they are trying to kill gets one scene at the beginning of the movie and then shows up suddenly at the end.

Then again, neither Fuqua nor Pizzolatto seem terribly interested in this time period or material. Working with a budget of $100 million, it seems obvious most of it was spent on the cast. Production values are not noticeably different than films made fifty or sixty years ago, and performances are substantially worse. The film’s climatic finale is perhaps its most disappointing element. Watching a Comache sling arrows at a bunch of cornered men, it feels like the enemy is completely outnumbered.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

In Which We Dismiss An Impossible Idea

Letter to the Father

by RUBY BRUNTON

I realize now that all that time he wanted me. And that’s really hard for me to say, because I never think anyone wants me.

I see people I want everywhere, on the train, in a café, at a bar, riding their bikes down the street craning their necks to check for oncoming traffic (I love necks. I run my fingers down the backs of necks, bite into them, watch the little hairs standing up.) I stare at these objects of lust, hoping they’ll stare back with a look in their eyes that says, “I want you too. I want you so bad, I dream about you.”

But it never happens. They remain preoccupied with their phones, coffees, beers and bikes and don’t even notice me staring. So it is only after years of reflection that I am able to state that what he wanted was me. For so long, I couldn’t believe someone like him would even look at me in that light. Or I thought that only happened to other girls, those self-assured femme fatales or whatever. But maybe that’s what got him going, my naiveté, my lack of prowess, my obliviousness to his desire. Maybe he liked that I was delicate, that if he lay me down I might shatter. Maybe, just maybe, he really did care. But how many girls have fallen for that. How many had fallen for that.

I remember the second class I had with him. I don’t remember the first. I think we just went over the necessary formalities. Grades, deadlines, dates and downloadable resources. The humdrum admin of academic life. Later, he talked about the constitution. I didn’t know Australia had a constitution so I guess that’s why it stuck in my mind. During the second class, he stated the specifics. He talked about indigenous law and land rights. I had a head full of questions. How could the foundational legal system result in one group getting everything of value while the other was stuck with arid land? After the lecture I approached the front to ask him what would require a long and complex to answer. Before he tried, he asked my name. “Ruby.” He said, turning it over and over on his tongue. “Ruby. That suits you.” He began to answer, but realizing the time – about 9:30 – suggested I come back the next day during his office hours.

I had a full time job and was trying to complete a Master’s degree with a full-time load of three evening classes and countless assignments and group projects. There was little chance of me making it up the hill to the university during his office hours. It was almost impossible to finish all my teaching paperwork in time to be a student in his class. I was wrecked from the insomnia. I would lie awake at night, unable to sleep, my brain so full and churning. Night after night. I would doze off sometime before dawn and, an hour or two later, rise to splash cold water on my face.

In his third class, I fell asleep. Not a deep, head down on desk, faint snores emitting kind of sleep. I was listening intently, and then I just drifted away. When I came back to the room, I saw him staring at me and I felt embarrassed. When he’d finished the lecture I walked down the front to apologize. I explained that I was an insomniac and he said he was an insomniac too. He hadn’t slept properly in over ten years, he crept downstairs after his wife was asleep and read, watched movies, went online. He mentioned his cellphone was always on and he would always answer.

“Are you in theater as well?” he asked.

“As well as…?” I asked.

“As well as your parents,” was his response.

“H-h-how did you know my parents were in the theater?” I stammered.

“I googled you.” And then, seeing my expression of surprise, he added, “I do it to all my students,” as though to put me at ease.

I thought it was strange, but not suspicious. Not then. Besides, I had other worries occupying my brain. The lack of sleep was dangerously altering my work mode, my position at my school had come up for review. Teaching jobs are not good for insomniacs anyway, the requirement to be switched on and lucid at all times, the expectation to be charming. I was close to flunking one of my evening classes and I didn’t care about the other. I began to seriously question if an advanced degree was going to help me. I had borrowed thousands of dollars in the hope of escaping teaching for a “career” which was such a vague concept at the time it seemed laughable.

Still, something continued to draw me to his law lectures. There was a formula, and at the time my brain required stability. The case studies were engrossing. Copyright law intrigued me. I was set on writing my final project on sampling in hip-hop. He was very supportive, finding book and journal titles for me in his spare time.

During his lectures, he kept his eye on me, making sure I was awake, enjoying seeing that I was fully engaged. Afterwards we would go straight to his tutorial, where he took relish in repeating my name. “And what do you think, Ruby?” He’d ask in front of all the other students, not caring that he said my name the most. “Surely Ruby has some thoughts on this.” And he’d catch my eye and smile. The day of his sixth lecture I took off from work. I had an appointment with the university counselor who advised me to drop two of my classes. The workload was too much for my fragile, sleepless body, my fragile, sleep-deprived mind. “You should keep going to one of your classes,” He said, “It’s very important that you maintain an attachment to the university. Or you may fall into the abyss.” I weighed up the options. I felt I could drop the film module, I felt it would hardly be relevant to my vague future career. Besides, the instructor hadn’t seen one film I’d describe as decent. That left Public Relations, where I had a 100 percent pass rate, but could not stomach the thought of another group project on how to minimize a media disaster for major oil companies accused of spills. I wanted to keep going with Law, but I was so far behind. The counselor advised me to take the easier option.

I went to his sixth lecture anyway, and afterwards made my way to the front, one last time. His face sank: “Are you not enjoying my lectures? It can be a bit of a boring subject at times, but I do my best to make you laugh.” I tried to smile.

“I love your lectures” I said. “But we’ve only completed 10% of the final grade. I’m sinking and I’m fairly sure I’m going to fail.” He said I was one of the smartest students in the class and with a little help would pass easily, with merit, even. He said we should talk about it, outside of the confines of the classroom. He took out his business card and wrote his cellphone and personal e-mail address on the back. “Don’t bother with my office line,” he said. “I rarely answer it. Try my cell. And remember you can call anytime. I’m awake through the night.” He gave me a smile that seemed nervous, rather than suggestive, but if it had been the opposite I wouldn’t have noticed. Sleep deprivation is a strange hallucinogen; I walked around with a veil over my eyes, never knowing if what was happening was actually happening.

I sent him a message that read, “Ruby”, and he replied with a smiley face. We agreed to go for a coffee the following day. I didn’t go to his seventh lecture, or eighth, or ninth. The tenth lecture was the final one, and there was supposed to be a party after, but I wasn’t there. I had reached a stage where words on a page no longer sat neatly next to each other. I had attempted to search the library database for articles but drowned in a sea of titles that hurt my eyes. I finished 75 percent of my final Public Relations grade and stopped going to classes after that.

I got a one-year grace period from the department, one year to pull my act together and re-enroll. But a year later, I had abandoned this project all together, turned my back on my accumulated debt, my half complete degree, the school where I hated teaching anyway. I moved to New York City, had a string of strange part time jobs, made new friends, began to sleep. He was all but forgotten. Even now, I can barely remember what he looked like. What his voice sounded like. How his inelegant accent butchered the two syllables of my name.

 

Years later, a scandal slash publicity stunt exploded over every social media outlet. A Toronto lecturer professed his undying allegiance to great male authors. All the sexual radicalism he needed could be found in books written by men. The most sexually explicit novel to garner his praise was The Dying Animal, which naturally piqued my curiosity. A condensed version told the story of a 62-year-old male professor who knows exactly how to seduce his 24-year-old student, having done it successfully countless times before. I didn’t suddenly view my own lecturer as a predator, but the blinders fell from my eyes. He was not some lame séducteur falling on every female that walked through his door.

But he had wanted me. He had attempted to solidify his presence in my life by offering me the fatherly support I had been missing for the previous ten years. He had wanted to take care of me.

I arrived at the café late, and he had already found a table. He stood up when I arrived, and kissed me on the cheek. I had been advised by my doctor not to consume alcohol or caffeine and so I ordered a chamomile tea. He ordered a glass of wine. I told him more about my research topic, the articles I’d read, the cases studies that related to my thesis. He asked me about my family, where I grew up, my plans for the future. As I spoke, his eyes bore into me; his toes touched mine under the table. I grew distressed, thinking of how much money I already owed the university, how I may have been about to lose my job, how impossible the idea of producing 5,000 coherent words on copyright law seemed. He placed his hand over mine, and it stayed there until it was time to leave. His fingers stroked the back of my hand. I don’t know why I didn’t pull my hand away.

The café was closing. He had office hours, I had decisions to make. The last words he spoke to me were, “I’m here for you, Ruby. Anytime. For anything.”

I never saw him again.

Ruby Brunton is a contributor to This Recording. She is a New Zealand-raised, NYC-based poet, writer and performer. You can find her twitter here and tumblr here.

Sketches by Tracey Emin.

In Which What Happens After They Broke Up Haunts Them

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 justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hi,

My ex-boyfriend Rob and I broke up because it wasn’t financially viable for either of us to travel the distance to see each other all the time. Rob moved to a different area in early September. I know through facebook that he has dated other people the year after we broke up, which is not surprising. The women he was with were very beautiful and it kinda makes me feel a little insecure.

Because of his move, Rob has been trying to get in touch with me, saying he wants to see if we still have a connection now that circumstances have changed. I’m really conflicted about what I should do. I really like Rob, but at the time I felt like he could have done more to make things work, even though both of us agreed the obstacles to a real relationship were many.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be unreasonable. We had great physical chemistry and it’s not like anything really terrible happened. I just feel like we had our chance. Am I being stupid?

Jane W.

Jane,

Rob sounds like a total asshole. You mean he actually dated people and they were — gasp! — attractive human beings. Where did he get the idea this was okay?

It’s actually a good sign that Rob was dating superficially attractive women, because it means he was likely not bonding with them on the interpersonal level that you were. You really get Rob, and you have a lot in common, I mean probably.

Breaking things off with Rob instead of demanding more was the strongest move you could have made. Now you are openly in the catbird seat. If you really want toy with him more, ask him to meet up just as friends. At this point he will be ravenous with desire. Then, explain some of the difficulties you had in the relationship. He will insist they were nothing and offer ways to correct him. By the end of this encounter, you will have his balls in a vice. He will no longer be able to procreate with you, but perhaps that is for the best. Do you really want to be the soccer mom to a Rob Jr.?

Hi,

Over the past few weeks, I have really been connecting with a girl on Tinder. We have so much in common, and we talk on the phone frequently. Right now she is away for the first part of the semester, but in a little over a month, she will be on campus and we’ve made all kinds of plans about the time we want to spend together.

Recently, however, I learned that she is a fairly hardcore conservative and will be voting for Donald Trump in the election. We have yet to really talk about politics. She is from a conservative family and they are all supporting Trump. I don’t know if there is pressure on her to do so as well, but I find this pretty troubling.

Should I tell her why I feel uncomfortable moving things forward, ask her about her choice, or just forget about this potential relationship?

Davis R.

Dear Davis,

It sounds like you’re worried that voting for Trump could be communicable.

At some point in life you’re going to have to accept that other human beings do things for different reasons than you do. There are plenty of valid reasons that someone could vote for Donald Trump:

— they are related to that Secret Service agent that Hillary Clinton made eat out of a trough in her Chappaqua barn

— they owe money to Jared Kushner

— they are the inventors of the “Stop & Frisk” policy

— they love the creation of new adverbs

— they are Catholics

— they need a heat-check on potential boyfriends to see which ones aren’t completely superficial know-it-alls

Maybe this young woman is actually testing you, and will be voting for Gary Johnson. After you leave college, someday you will understand that a person’s political preferences don’t describe their entire story. If you haven’t sensed that this woman is an outright racist, you should probably get to know her before dismissing her. Plus, she might have useful connections in the Secret Service.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which It Took Us An Hour To Get There

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Night on the Hudson

by DICK CHENEY

There is a scene in Steve McQueen’s 2011 sex addiction movie Shame that I think about a lot. Michael Fassbender has absconded to a lovely hotel on the Hudson with a co-worker. He actually cares for her, so he is unable to maintain an erection during sex. You see, his erotic imagination is only enlivened by subjugation; with a real woman, he is powerless. Afterwards, she tells him that it’s all right. He cries anyway.

The morning after the debate I walked down Fifth Avenue. Donald Trump owns a $350 million dollar corner store that he rents to Gucci for $16.5 million a year. Since they pay the rent, they hired some terrible graffiti artist to paint dumb shit all over the facade. When tourists walk by, they think some crazed individual is trying to make Trump look like a fool. I guess little do they know he already did it himself.

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In a New York City cafe, various people discussed the previous night’s events. “Nuclear containment is a serious issue,” a man in a black suit opined. His hair looked plastered on, an up and coming look. Lynne says that Trump combs all the hair on his head forward to create his signature look. I don’t even remember what it was like to have hair.

About two hours earlier in Miami, Florida, a band played an odious instrumental version of a terrible song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The New York Mets hugged the Florida Marlins since a Cuban pitcher on Saturday night rammed his 30 foot boat into a jetty, travelling at a speed of 60 miles per hour. His body and those of his friends were destroyed on impact. It sounded like a word problem.

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It takes great skill to make complicated things into simple things, and this is the reason that I think we never give our politicians enough credit. Hillary Clinton was brilliant enough to gain entry to Yale Law School. I don’t understand why she doesn’t show it. Barack Obama never lets you forget that he is a lawyer and a professor. What would we do if we ever realized who Hillary Clinton actually is?

Jose Fernandez, the Cuban pitcher I mentioned, was scheduled to pitch on Sunday afternoon at one o’clock, in a game that will never be played. “Jose was supposed to pitch tonight,” explained a Marlins radio broadcaster, but this was not really true. The team had moved his appearance to Monday so that he could throw against the Mets; the owner of the Marlins, art dealer Jeffrey Loria, is a native New Yorker who always loves sticking it to his hometown. Because he did not have to pitch Sunday, Jose had a free Saturday night. It was his last night of any kind.

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By percentage, Tulsa has half as many African-Americans as Charlotte. Both candidates expressed their regret at the various shootings that occurred this week. There were no questions about any other shootings, or any other communities. Hillary made sure to explain that there were a lot of positive things happening in low-income areas and it would be poor form to lose sight of that. Okay.

After the debate, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told Chris Matthews that perhaps Trump would want to back out of the next two debates, the first of which is scheduled for St. Louis, the same county where Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. Brian Williams interjected almost immediately, asking Podesta where he has heard that Trump was not interested in participating in another debate. Podesta cackled like a rabid hen; he looks like the Grim Reaper and is quite literally desiccating in front of our eyes. You have to understand one thing about all these people: winning is the only thing they care about. They would love to be the president of anything.

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News of the separation of Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts hit me the hardest, if I am being honest. I always imagined that his dick was huge and he gave it to her a lot. A couple in their late forties is the most important type of couple that we have. When Lynne and I were in our late forties, I was so attentive to her every need. I brought her a glass of milk every morning. She never drank the fucking thing, but I liked her knowing it was there.

In my wildest dream, I imagine Hillary Clinton falling in love. I know she does not love her husband, he pats her on the back like I stroke my iPad in bed. How long has it been since she has felt the embrace of a man who is committed to her and no other? Even if she does not always desire this intimacy, it is reassuring to know it is possible. Liev Schreiber just wanted a woman who was happy to be with him in New York; their first date was at Magnolia Bakery. Hillary could have someone who loves being with her, anywhere, anytime.

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Sometimes Liev Schreiber gets upset. When he feels angry, he is at his most lonely. I would love to hear two people debate that in front of the world, because it is probably as important as a trade agreement. I love the idea of renegotiating everything we know about each other for a more favorable deal. But I suppose on some level when we hear Donald Trump say that, we know it could be so much worse.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Bring Honor To North Texas Psychology

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Butter and Toast

by ETHAN PETERSON

Bull
creators Paul Attanasio & Phil McGraw
CBS

There is a great tradition in the performing arts of gaining or losing muscle for a particular role. De Niro, Clooney and Russell Crowe all put on about fifty pounds to look like a boxer and two CIA agents. What the point was of Phil McGraw finding a handsome actor (Michael Weatherly) to play him and then making him like a slovenly mess wearing those glasses and oversized sweaters, I’ll never know. On Bull, Weatherly looks like he showed up at a Halloween Party dressed as Jonah Hill.

In 1990, McGraw was deep in thought about how he could use his PhD in psychology from the University of North Texas to accomplish his major life goal: making a shit ton of money. Bull is based on those heady years when he started CSI, a jury consulting company. Few of the techniques employed by Dr. Joseph Bull could feasibly have been utilized in 1990, since Dr. Bull’s staff includes a hacker (daughter of the show’s executive producer Paul Attanasio), a stylist hired away from Vogue, and an ex-police officer.

The hacker in question is named Cable McCrory, which should be indicative of the level of realism we are approaching in this depiction of Phil McGraw’s life. Paul Attanasio is most famous for making a lot of money by torpedoing the show House into the ground. I’m genuinely sorry if you liked this show, but it was utter garbage completely carried by Hugh Laurie mugging in every scene and half the plots were identical. Also, it was misogynistic and gross, elements that would probably be a lot more faithful to Phil McGraw’s real life in Texas than this Bull.

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There are a few things you should know about Dr. Joseph Bull. During every episode of Bull, someone emphasizes how much pain he carries around with him, like his pathway to this questionably moral profession/manipulation of the integrity of the justice system was straight from an orphanage in the Sudan. I’m unclear on what pain Phil McGraw carries with him, the troubled childhood that caused him to ambush Britney Spears in a hospital room and hold a press conference and regularly humiliate people on television.

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Most of focus in Bull concerns the good doctor’s relationship with teenagers. Phil McGraw has always related best to children as subjects, since they are unlikely to question him. Many have never been bullied before, or in so splendid a fashion, and they are a lot more open to his particular brand of babble. McGraw gave up the practice of psychology long ago, if he ever was interested in it at all. He was always more concerned with the application of his training to the field of self-help, which is not only more lucrative, it is filled with charlatans even worse than McGraw himself.

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None of this is what makes Bull so wretched. CBS seems to be using the same soft filter on all its dramas, giving the shows a generic, polished look that instead of obscuring the fact they are all shot on similar-looking sets, emphasizes the generic backgrounds and costumes. It is not necessary to have a big budget to make your show appear like it is actually taking place in a locale. I have no clue where Bull occurs: whenever they show local media coverage, an anchor shouts, “The city is captivated tonight by a major trial!” So I guess Bull lives in the city.

Even though Dr. Bull is consistently disrespectful to his clients in order to establish dominance, he abhors anyone else’s lack of common decency. It is as if by being a villain he is the only one fully qualified to identify fellow shitheads. It genuinely seems to make him feel better than other people have less integrity than he does; it may be the only thing he can truly subsist on besides butter and toast.

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The genius question that Bull asks potential jurors, the one that gives him a personality baseline for his privacy violations into their lives is this: Where do you get a cold? The intimation is that Dr. Bull himself cannot answer this question, or that he never bothers to get one unless it is professionally helpful for him to be a bit under the weather. Dressed in terrible sweaters and wearing glasses that clearly do not fit his face at all, Bull seems incredibly uncomfortable in his own skin.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Disappoint Our Blind Brother

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Like Mute or Deaf, But Without Sight

by ELEANOR MORROW

Screen Shot 2016-09-23 at 10.39.31 AM.pngBill (Nick Kroll) really hates his brother Robbie (Adam Scott). When Robbie starts to become interested in a local Jewish woman Rose (Jenny Slate), Bill begins to weigh his many charms in front of her. They go as follows:

1) He can see.

2) He’s Jewish also, and weirdly, his brother is not. How did this happen? Who knows, it’s a mitzvah.

3) He is also able to watch television and not just listen to audiobooks and exercise. (see 1)

4) He is self-deprecating, which is what every woman wants. “What’s wrong with you?” Rose asks him, and Bill is just like, “Everything.”

5) He knows another blind guy who can secure them weed.

6) He is portrayed by Nick Kroll, whose new Broadway show Oh, Hello where he and John Mulaney play old Jews, commands upwards of $80 a ticket.

7) Nick Kroll dated Amy Poehler for two years. What was that like? It was filled with cute moments of affection, bonding moments with Amy’s two boys with ex-husband Will Arnett.

8) Did I mention he was Jewish and he can see?

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Now Amy Poehler dates some goofball who walks around in an Upright Citizens Brigade t-shirt. She and Adam Scott were a pretty unbelievable couple on Parks & Recreation. It seemed like he spent a lot of time trying to please her and she was never really quite there for him. Then Nick Kroll stepped in. Keeping fiction and real life straight has never been my strong suit. All I know is that Adam Scott is happily married, and that he is quite shockingly 43 years old.

My Blind Brother continues Scott’s desire to recast himself as a dick in every single independent film he does. In a wonderful movie that Jason Sudeikis ruined last year, Sleeping with Other People, Scott played a disturbing and unfaithful doctor. If he were six inches taller, you get the feeling that Scott would be Richard Gere. But he’s just not. Unfortunately, My Blind Brother finds absolutely nothing redeeming about Scott’s character, I guess so you don’t feel bad that Rose is cheating on him with Nick Kroll.

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In one memorable scene, Rose and Bill are having sex on the couch when Robbie walks in full of excitement. He apologizes to both of them for how he has been acting that day, and they slowly put on their clothes. Robbie seems for a moment to catch the scent of sex on the air — how could he not? — but perhaps he prefers to put his suspicions aside. A blind man must make accommodations for the people in his life.

After thinking about it for awhile, My Blind Brother is not very revealing about what it is like to be blind. Despite his lack of sight, Robbie drives a car around in several very dangerous scenes. Somehow he also punches men in the face and knows exactly where Rose’s head is when he wants to kiss it. By the end of the film, you are not entirely sure whether he was blind at any point.

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Rose’s friend Francine (Zoe Kazan) naturally sympathizes with the blind character. Rose tries to get her involved with Bill in order to simplify this messy situation. He is wonderful with Francine, and she takes a liking to him as well. Unfortunately, Francine is only part Jewish, and this is not a very prominent part.

My Blind Brother is not very sensitive to the feelings of any of these people. The film features many prolonged segments where Nick Kroll explains to Jenny Slate how deeply in love she is with him and how they are destined to be together. What exactly does this phenomenal pseudo-couple have in common? Nothing really — it’s like this problem where two funny people meet. They think they should be together, because they have such a great time. And why wouldn’t they? They’re both hilarious.

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Unfortunately, the quality of jokes you can make in someone’s presence has very little to do with compatibility. My Blind Brother could easily have focused on physical comedy considering the circumstances, but instead director Sophie Goodhart opts for a more mopey, serious vibe. The resulting film is pleasant if a bit slight when it could take on more dramatic weight.

But perhaps that was the right choice: comedians are terrible together. Even the chemistry Slate and Kroll developed during their reality show parodies on Comedy Central’s Kroll Show can’t save the lack of romance here. Watching them rub their bodies against each other is like watching a woman cuddle with her best gay friend.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which The Only People Concerned Know Nothing

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Bad People

by ETHAN PETERSON

The Good Place
creator Michael Schur
NBC

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-8-49-02-amThere is a moment in NBC’s new sitcom The Good Place where Ted Danson lists a bunch of things which are good and bad, and the numerical positive or negative value he has assigned to each. The first positive thing he shows is “eating a sandwich” and the first negative thing he shows is “buys a trashy magazine.” That is the initial troubling sign that the people behind The Good Place have as little idea what it means to be a good person as the show’s central character, Eleanor (Kristen Bell).

Kristen Bell is undoubtedly a good person, since you would have to be extremely virtuous to marry or even have sex once with Dax Shepard. (His face looks like the protagonist of Ratatouille.) Then she brought joy to so many young people by voicing that girl in Frozen who was absolutely boy crazy until her sexuality was thawed by leaving the chaste castle in which her parents kept her.

Maybe the creators of The Good Place could have just asked Kristen Bell what it means to be good. Everyone in this version of heaven has dedicated their lives to helping others, except for her soulmate Chidi (William Jackson Harper). Chidi speaks French, although it is translated as English to Eleanor since she does not understand the French language. Chidi was a professor of ethics and moral philosophy, although evidently he was so terrible at academia that he has to remind himself of the basics by reading Kant.

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The idea of training Eleanor to be good is repulsive to Chidi, which I suppose also makes him a sort of bad person. Even though Eleanor is the only white person except for a pair of homosexuals who, somewhat inappropriately, enjoy picking up trash (this was not thought out well), she never makes notice of it. Her soulmate is from Senegal, her next-door neighbors are from different parts of Asia and Europe, and Ted Danson is really the only other genuinely white person there.

The Good Place becomes a weird hymn to white privilege, since Eleanor is transported to these environs without any actual virtue: so it must just be because of her skin color, and maybe her general complexion and appeal. Bell’s handsome looks are no longer childlike, and she has become very expressive and soulful as she matures into her thirties. So far, few of her acting opportunities have utilized this new dimension, and The Good Place mainly writes jokes for her that revolve around her not being able to curse.

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Sometimes we flash back to Eleanor’s live in Phoenix, Arizona. You see, Hollywood writers look down on Arizona because it is nearby and thus an easy target. In Phoenix, Eleanor sold a nasal product that was composed of chalk, even though the FDA would never allow such a thing. This makes Eleanor’s real life just as fanciful as her afterlife — it is a clue that you should not think about The Good Place too seriously. Creator Michael Schur emphasizes this when he recently stated in an interview that he started researching religion but gave up because it was too hard and cut into his golf time.

It is not enough that people like Schur not believe in God or any religious concepts: they cannot even be bothered to find out where they come for. Just as valid, they think, is whatever concept for the afterlife that come up with offhand during a pitch meeting. Well, atheists should be allowed their ideas too: what Schur and company have up with is basically hell — an unfunny mess of cliches, jokes stolen from Albert Brooks and physical comedy involving Ted Danson licking the sweat from his armpits. Who would willingly watch such a thing?

The aspect of The Good Place that is most insulting to its viewers is that it has no conception of how racist its ideas even are. The ethnic characters that surround Kristen Bell’s Eleanor have no agency or will of their own: they simply exist to make her feel worse or better as the episode demands. The only time these empty shells ever show the slightest bit of agency is when Tahani (Jameela Jamil) decides that she and her Buddhist husband should try to cheer Ted Danson up. Why would he be sad? Danson has more hair now that he did twenty years ago.

Even Bell is afforded nothing but a basic perplexity. She becomes unsympathetic so quickly — she has no other function except to drink and enjoy her time in this new world. She is essentially uncurious and she avoids love or caring as if it these emotions were anathema to her new existence. She and her neighbors cannot be destroyed or harmed by anything in this new place, and yet they run around screaming when they see a group of giraffes stampeding down their streets. The only thing worse than a bad deed is a bad idea.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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