Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng


Asawin Suebsaeng is a reporter at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. He has also written for The American Prospect, the Bangkok Post, and

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A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., Asawin came back to DC with hopes of putting his flimsy Creative Writing major, student newspaper tenure, and interest in human rights and political chicanery to some use. He started cutting his teeth at F&M's student-run weekly, The College Reporter, serving as editor in chief. He has interned at The American Prospect, been a reporter for the Bangkok Post, and scribbled for His favorite movie is either Apocalypse Now or Pirahna 3D, depending on the day or mood.

Press Release of the Day: Downton Abbey’s Mrs. Patmore Visits Chinese Moon Bears

| Tue May 28, 2013 4:40 PM EDT

And the winner for today's greatest press release:

English actress Lesley Nicol, star of international hit TV show Downton Abbey, has completed a visit to Animals Asia's China Bear Rescue Centre (CBRC) in Chengdu, China.

Nicol—who plays the "highly-strung and quick-tempered" cook Mrs. Patmore—has previously tweeted her love for the Chinese bears:

bears china downton abbey patmore

Animals Asia, headquartered in Hong Kong, is an organization dedicated to protecting "moon bears" in China; here's an example of moon-bear abuse.

Lesley Nicol isn't even the first actor in the acclaimed British period drama to go rescue tortured bears in China. That honor belongs to Peter Egan, who earlier this year traveled to Chengdu, a city in southwest China, to work with Animals Asia. Egan played the Duke of Argyll in a Downton Abbey Christmas special.

On a related note, there was that one episode of Downton Abbey in which under-butler Thomas Barrow teaches kitchen maid Daisy Mason an old dance move called "the Grizzly Bear"; Mrs. Patmore shows up in that scene near the end.

So now you know.

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Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra" Is on HBO and Not in Theaters Because It's Too Gay

| Sun May 26, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Michael Douglas, left, and Matt Damon, playing lovers in the '70s and '80s.

Behind the Candelabra
HBO Films
118 minutes

Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra (which premieres Sunday, May 26 at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO) is as good as you've heard. It's a moving and beautifully made film that traces the clandestine half-decade romance between Vegas showman and pianist Liberace and his much, much younger live-in boyfriend Scott Thorson, who cowrote the 1988 memoir on which the film is based. (My colleague Maggie Caldwell has a good reflection on, among other things, meeting the flashy and famous entertainment icon when she was a baby here.)

The whole cast does a superb job; as Liberace, Michael Douglas crafts a portrait of celebrity isolation and capriciousness worthy of an Oscar nomination—if only he were eligible.

The reason he is not eligible is because Behind the Candelabra, despite competing in the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, will not be released in US theaters. And the reason you will be watching this film (which could very well be Soderbergh's last before he retires from movies and moves on to making TV shows full time) on cable television instead of at your local multiplex is because of its conspicuous gayness.

During a press tour in January, Soderbergh explained how he was turned down by every studio he approached with his Liberace project because executives deemed it "too gay" to turn an acceptable profit:

Nobody would make it. We went to everybody in town. We needed $5 million. Nobody would do it…They said it was too gay. Everybody. This was after Brokeback Mountain, by the way. Which is not as funny as this movie. I was stunned. It made no sense to any of us…[The people at HBO are] great and they're really good at what they do, and ultimately I think more people will see it, and that's all you care about. Studios were going, "We don't know how to sell it." They were scared.

This is the same Hollywood that still hasn't come to terms with showing a black man and a white woman having passionate sex on-screen.

The film does indeed have its share of gay love and intercourse, including a sweaty, grunting sequence in which Scott (played by Matt Damon) is taking Liberace from behind while the aging performer offers him drugs to take during sex. But the Hollywood rejection shouldn't have been all that shocking to Soderbergh and company. Hollywood and mainstream cinema have a long and well-documented history of not "knowing" how to "sell" and market movies featuring explicit gay sex to a wide audience.

Films starring big names that also deal with gay sexual content—such as the sweet 2009 comedy I Love You Phillip Morris starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as prison lovers—typically do not fare too well at the box office. (It's worth noting that Brokeback Mountain, the 2005 Oscar-winner that Soderbergh referenced on his press tour, included a marketing and publicity strategy that went out of its way not to mention even the word "gay.")

Again, nobody should be too surprised. This is the same Hollywood and big-money film industry that still hasn't come to terms with showing a black man and a white woman having passionate sex or dating on-screen.

But if you personally are cool with watching a very good movie that is also supposedly "too gay," then Behind the Candelabra is definitely one to check out. Here's its trailer:

Click here for more movie and TV coverage from Mother Jones.

To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To listen to the movie and pop-culture podcast that Asawin cohosts with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg, click here.

The Canary Islands Government Allowed "Fast & Furious 6" To Destroy Their Highway With a Tank

| Fri May 24, 2013 6:43 PM EDT

All the Oscars.

Fast & Furious 6
Universal Pictures
130 minutes

Hands down, Fast & Furious 6 is by far the best movie ever made to feature Ludacris and Tyrese trapped in a Jeep dangling inches off the ground from an imperiled cargo plane.

And there is so, so much more to cherish about the film.

The Fast & Furious franchise has become genuinely fascinating over the last couple of years. One of the most fascinating things about the series is the addition of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the ultra-brawny Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs, a character who seemingly cannot go ten minutes without torturing somebody for information. Another fascinating thing is that after a long stretch of churning out barely passable B-movies, the series somehow managed to produce critically acclaimed entertainment, starting with 2011's Fast Five. (The sixth film has received similarly high marks.) Credit for the newfound critic-and-crowd-pleasing goes to Taiwanese-born American filmmaker Justin Lin, who initially demonstrated the full extent of his directorial talents with the stereotype-subverting independent film Better Luck Tomorrow in 2002.

But the single most fascinating thing about the series so far is the enormous tank in Fast & Furious 6. The tank is arguably the main character in the movie.

NASA: We've Made Progress on Obama's Asteroid-Lasso Initiative

| Fri May 24, 2013 1:35 PM EDT

In April, the Obama administration unveiled its 2014 budget proposal, which included $145.8 billion for agriculture, $520 million for the International Trade Administration, and a bunch of other stuff. It also included a $105-million initiative to lasso an asteroid, tow it toward Earth, place it into the moon's orbit, and claim the space rock for the United States of America. The idea is to eventually have astronauts travel to the asteroid to conduct mining operations, test technology for missions to Mars, and research strategies for deflecting future world-ending asteroids.

On Thursday, NASA chief Charles Bolden got a good look at the progress being made. The Associated Press reports (emphasis mine):

Bolden checked on...the mission, which may eventually cost more than $2.6 billion. Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and Glenn Research Center in Ohio are developing a thruster that relies on ion propulsion instead of conventional chemical fuel...NASA is under White House orders to fly humans to an asteroid as a stepping stone to Mars. Instead of sending astronauts to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, as originally planned, the space agency came up with a quicker, cheaper idea: Haul the asteroid close to the moon and visit it there..."If you can't get to the asteroid, bring the asteroid to you," Bolden said.

President Obama had previously established a goal of landing astronauts on a near-Earth asteroid by 2025. This plan bumps the date up to 2021. Last month, an administration official with knowledge of the mission filled in some of the details. For one thing, the ambitious lasso-the-asteroid proposal would not increase NASA's budget; the agency would simply redirect existing funds to the project. And if the audacious-sounding mission goes through, NASA would make a point to only drag small asteroids toward Earth and into lunar orbit. That way, if something does go horribly wrong, the relatively small size of the target asteroid would ensure that the rock is harmless to our planet. Lest there be any confusion: Barack Obama is not going to accidentally throw a killer asteroid at mankind.

Asteroids have enjoyed some time in the political spotlight lately. In March, a Senate panel grilled scientists about the consequences of an asteroid striking earth and the best ways to fight back against ruinous asteroid aggression. That was in response to two high-profile events—an asteroid the size of a city block coming sorta, kinda, maybe close to smashing into Earth, and a truck-sized meteor exploding over Russia's Chelyabinsk region and injuring roughly 1,500 people.

On a related note, here's the trailer for Asteroid, a 1997 NBC miniseries about the president of the United States and a FEMA director scrambling to stop asteroids from destroying America:

"Arrested Development" Was the Best TV Satire of the Bush Era

| Fri May 24, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Arrested Development is finally (for real this time) coming back. On May 26 at exactly 12:01 a.m. PDT, the series' fourth season will debut exclusively on Netflix, the on-demand streaming service that on any given weeknight accounts for nearly a third of internet traffic in North America. It's a hotly anticipated premiere that fans are praying will not crash the website.

This TV series—about a spoiled family wading through a glut of personal, financial, and international scandal—occupies a place in popular culture that few other shows have managed to reach. Fans have even witnessed Arrested Development burrow itself into Western politics. In March 2011, before NATO forces launched an air war that would help topple Moammar Qaddafi's mass-murdering regime in Libya, The New Republic ran a fantastic slideshow comparing the notorious Qaddafi family to Arrested Development's Bluth clan. During a speech this month in the House of Commons of Canada, opposition leader Thomas Mulcair quoted a famous episode of Arrested Development while criticizing the prime minister for over $3 billion in unaccounted anti-terrorism funding. And as the series revival neared, Republicans started dropping Arrested Development references to ridicule the Affordable Care Act, Democratic leadership, and the Obama administration.

The series has also found its way into the syllabi of college courses, and onto the pages of academic essays. "The writers worked miracles addressing philosophical and social issues," says J. Jeremy Wisnewski, an associate professor of philosophy at Hartwick College who served as a volume editor on the book Arrested Development and Philosophy. "To see the way race, gender, sexual orientation, and class are handled in the show is to witness genius at work."

There's something else the show handled so well that's often taken for granted: During its original run on Fox from 2003 to 2006, the series delivered what was arguably the sharpest satire of the Bush era and the Iraq War that has been broadcast on television.

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