2012 - %3, December

11 Killer Albums Brought to You by Brian Eno

| Mon Dec. 31, 2012 12:22 PM PST

In addition to his solo work, the musician, artist, and producer Brian Eno—profiled by Andrew Marantz for our January/February print issue—has produced and collaborated on dozens of albums, both iconic and obscure, since the 1970s. Here's a small sampling of 11 albums to demonstrate how his unique musical sensibilities have touched our world. Why 11 and not 10? Because Eno would probably prefer it that way.

1977: Eno played a key role in Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" of Low, Heroes, and Lodger.
 
1977: Eno coproduced the first album by this seminal British electro-pop combo.
 
1978: Eno was the genius behind Devo's weird and wonderful debut.
 
1980: An amazing followup to 1979's Fear of Music, which Eno also produced.
 
1981: Oliver Stone's Wall Street opened on a track from this iconic Byrne-Eno collaboration.
 
1984: The beginning of Eno's long and fruitful collaboration with U2.

 

1998: Eno coproduced this fusion album by Senegalese pop star Baaba Maal.
 
2000: Eno coproduced O'Connor's fifth album.
 
2006: Eno worked closely with Paul Simon on Simon's 11th studio album.
 

 

2008: Following this acclaimed release, Eno would go on to produce Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto.

 

2011: Eno coproduced this album by the youngest son of Afrobeat icon Fela Kuti.
 
Also read Andrew Marantz's profile and complete interview with Eno. And click here for more music coverage from Mother Jones.

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What "Happy Feet Two" Star Matt Damon Taught Me About Fracking

| Fri Dec. 28, 2012 4:06 AM PST

And a fine singer to boot.

Promised Land
Focus Features
106 minutes

If Matt Damon & Co. really wanted to make a movie that would scare American audiences off of fracking for good, they should have just made a movie dramatizing fracking's potential threat to America's beer. Instead, what we get is a quaint love story wrapped in a conspiracy movie, draped in a toothless political polemic, festooned with mawkish aimlessness.

It didn't have to be this way. Promised Land's script was originally developed with Dave Eggers, the acclaimed, award-winning author. The film offers the considerable acting skills of Damon, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, Hal Holbrook, John Krasinski, and Scoot McNairy. And, due to the hotly controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, the movie has had the honor of being slammed by the Heritage Foundation and petroleum lobbyists.

Promised Land is also directed by Gus Van Sant, a man who has a keen artist's eye for both mainstream fare and indie grit. (Yes, Van Sant and Damon are reunited, so beware of the lame and painfully obvious Good Will Fracking headlines.)

See? Nothing but good résumés and intriguing publicity behind this movie. And yet it putters out into both embarrassment and creative lethargy, fueled (if that's the term I want) by an acute lack of focus and commitment. Promised Land struggles to compel just as much as it fails to inform. By the film's end, Matt Damon will have taught you precisely two things about fracking: That it's bad for cows, and even worse for heartfelt dramatic monologues delivered by Matt Damon.

Mormon Money, Scientology's Hollywood Apostate, and a Freshman Priest

| Sat Dec. 22, 2012 4:11 AM PST

clouds parting

Extra Medium / flickr
longreads logo

This week, many Americans are braving holiday travel to spend time with family and loved ones. Here are five great longreads on religion to make for interesting travel fare. 

For more MoJo staffers' long-form favorites, visit our longreads.com page. Take a look at some of our own reporters' longreads here and be sure to follow@longreads and @motherjones on Twitter for the latest.


“Resurrection” | Patrick Doyle | Boston Magazine | November 2012

Reeling from sex abuse scandals, the Archdiocese of Boston struggles to rebuild its image and recruit its next generation of clergy. Doyle tells the story of a young Harvard graduate, Eric Cadin, who decided to become a priest in the midst of it all:

For all of these reasons, smart, principled, stable, and devout young men were already in high demand by the Church when Eric Cadin started thinking about becoming a priest. And then, in the middle of Cadin’s junior year at Harvard, came the sex abuse scandal. The ugly revelations—and the uglier fallout from them—sent St. John’s Seminary into a spiral. “We were in survival mode,” recalls Father Chris O’Connor, the vice rector. “How do we keep the ship afloat?” The dire situation might have driven some prospective priests away. For Cadin, it had the opposite effect. The scandal was a challenge to be overcome, an opportunity to prove his faith.

"Movie & An Argument" Podcast: Judd Apatow's "This Is 40" & Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained"

| Fri Dec. 21, 2012 8:39 PM PST

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa Rosenberg & Asawin Suebsaeng, we discuss (scroll down for audio):

  • This Is 40, Judd Apatow's "sort-of sequel" to 2007's Knocked Up, starring Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd.
  • Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti-western revenge flick, set in the pre-Civil War Deep South.

Listen:

Each week, I'll be sitting down to chat with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg (who also does killer work at The Atlantic and Slate's "Double X"). We'll talk, argue, and laugh about the latest movies, television shows, and pop-cultural nonsense—with some politics thrown in just for the hell of it.

Alyssa describes herself as being "equally devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe and Barbara Stanwyck, to Better Off Ted and Deadwood." I (everyone calls me Swin) am a devoted lover of low-brow dark humor, Yuengling, and movies with high body counts. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and tune in during the weeks to come.

We'll be featuring guests on the program, and also taking listeners' questions, so feel free to Tweet them at me here, and we'll see if we can get to them during a show.

Thank you for listening!

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones. To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To find more episodes of this podcast, click here.

To check out Alyssa's Bloggingheads show, click here.

What Does the "Les Misérables" Movie Have to Do With the Newtown Shooting?

| Thu Dec. 20, 2012 2:41 PM PST
Daniel Huttlestone, right, who plays the child Gavroche in the new "Les Miz" movie

In the days following the horrific Newtown massacre—in which 20 schoolchildren were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary—the folks in entertainment media were especially careful not to offend. Violent and death-related content was suddenly (and quite transparently) deemed bad for business or in poor taste: The Pittsburgh premiere of the Tom Cruise action movie Jack Reacher was postponed, for example, and the LA premiere of Quentin Tarantino's brutally violent Django Unchained was canceled (with Django star Jamie Foxx himself cautioning against gratuitous violence in film). In TV land, the debut of the reality TV special Best Funeral Ever was delayed, Ted Nugent's celebration of gun culture was nixed from the Discovery Channel's schedule, a Blake Shelton Christmas special that features a reindeer assassination was pulled, and the recent season finales of Dexter and Homeland opened with disclaimers. On commercial radio, pop songs like Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" and Ke$ha's "Die Young" received substantially reduced airplay. And let's not forget that Barry Manilow postponed a concert out of respect and concern for the affected families.

This is how the entertainment industry generally reacts when a national trauma occurs. There's no reason to think that altering, delaying, or refusing to air violent television and film scenes will help heal national wounds. But considering the immediate outpouring of PR gestures from across the American entertainment industry, it's curious that the only new movie that prominently features a child being shot to death seems to have gotten a pass. 

The movie is Les Misérables, the big-budget adaptation of the beloved musical set in post-revolutionary France. It's directed by acclaimed filmmaker Tom Hooper, has a star-studded cast, and is slated to be released in the United States on Christmas Day. (Spoiler to follow.)

Anyone familiar with the stage musical or Victor Hugo's book on which it is based knows how this goes: During the June Rebellion in 1832, armed republicans set up barricades in the streets of Paris in an attempt to spark an overthrow of the monarchy. Among the rebels is Gavroche (played by Daniel Huttlestone in the 2012 film version), a prepubescent, singing street child. In a moment of tragic heroism, the boy sneaks out from behind the barricade and is repeatedly shot by royal troops.

Here's the scene, from a stage production of Les Miz that featured Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers as Gavroche:

Out of all the major motion pictures released at the end of this year, Les Miz bears the clearest and most potentially upsetting parallel to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary; Django Unchained and Jack Reacher do not have any direct likeness to the Newtown mass shooting, beyond the mere fact that they contain violent images. And yet the sensitivity and courtesy shown by the PR teams of other violent movies released this month is nowhere to be found with Les Miz.

Short Takes: The Central Park Five

| Thu Dec. 20, 2012 4:06 AM PST

The Central Park Five

Sundance Selects

119 minutes

Out of the 3,254 rapes reported in New York City in 1989, it was a brutal attack on a Central Park jogger that gripped the populace and helped create the notion of the "superpredator." Here, a team including Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah tells the story of five Harlem teens wrongfully convicted of raping and beating a white woman to near death—then exonerated after years in prison by DNA evidence and the confession of a serial culprit. The men, all under 16 at the time of the rape, recount their helplessness in the face of police intimidation and a vengeful public. Perhaps the film's most haunting aspect is the refusal, by police and prosecutors who ignored exonerating evidence and sent five boys upriver, to offer the filmmakers a word of remorse.

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Bill Murray Is Far and Away the Best Franklin D. Roosevelt in Movie History

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 9:58 AM PST

When I spoke with director Roger Michell (Changing Lanes, Venus) about casting Bill Murray to play Franklin D. Roosevelt in his new film Hyde Park on Hudson, Michell was emphatic in defending his pick to portray the 32nd president of the United States.

"I've read that some consider it 'stunt casting,' but in fact the reverse is the case," Michell said. "I ended up realizing that I wasn't interested in making the film without Bill Murray. There are other actors who you'd think would be great in the role, but nobody seemed to have that Wizard of Oz-ness about them, that kind of glorious mischief that Bill has."

The reason Michell's decision might strike some as "stunt casting" is because Bill Murray has (despite his more serious roles) an on- and off-screen persona that many would say is too awesome to seem presidential. I mean, have you seen Stripes? His stint on SNL? How about this photo of him co-hosting Eric Clapton's blues-rock festival in 2007?:

bill murray eric clapton
Truejustice/Wikimedia Commons

Or this scene in which he attacks Robert De Niro:

bill muray robert de niro mad dog and glory
Via Universal Studios

Or this photo of Murray at this year's Cannes Film Festival, clearly shunning any sense of stuffy decorum:

bill murray cannes film festival
Via Getty

See? Bill Murray is probably too awesome and entirely too party to play Franklin Roosevelt. And yet Murray knocks it completely out of the park.

"Movie & An Argument" Podcast: "The Hobbit," Bill Murray, and the Golden Globes

| Sat Dec. 15, 2012 7:35 PM PST

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa Rosenberg & Asawin Suebsaeng, we discuss (scroll down for audio):

Listen:

Each week, I'll be sitting down to chat with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg (who also does killer work at The Atlantic and Slate's "Double X"). We'll talk, argue, and laugh about the latest movies, television shows, and pop-cultural nonsense—with some politics thrown in just for the hell of it.

Alyssa describes herself as being "equally devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe and Barbara Stanwyck, to Better Off Ted and Deadwood." I (everyone calls me Swin) am a devoted lover of low-brow dark humor, Yuengling, and movies with high body counts. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and tune in during the weeks to come.

We'll be featuring guests on the program, and also taking listeners' questions, so feel free to Tweet them at me here, and we'll see if we can get to them during a show.

Thank you for listening!

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones. To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To find more episodes of this podcast in the iTunes store, click here.

To check out Alyssa's Bloggingheads show, click here.

Will the New Osama bin Laden Film "Zero Dark Thirty" Rehabilitate Torture?

| Mon Dec. 10, 2012 9:27 AM PST

Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal want their cinematic portrayal of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, to be seen as more than just a movie. "What we were attempting is almost a journalistic approach to film," Bigelow told The New Yorker's Dexter Filkins. The film is a "hybrid of the filmic and the journalistic," writer Mark Boal told New York. Speaking to Matt Lauer on NBC's Today, Bigelow said, "I think the film doesn't have an agenda. I think it just shows the story as, you know, the story of the greatest manhunt in history. And that's part of that history." But the film, according to those who have seen it, shows torture as central to the discovery of bin Laden's location, and this departs from what is publicly known about the raid on Abbottabad. So is Bigelow rehabilitating torture?

According to the New York Daily News, the film, which opens next month, "includes graphic torture scenes, including depictions of waterboarding and sexual humiliation, used to obtain information from detainees which ultimately help pinpoint bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan." Bigelow is no fan of torture, but she says she had to stick with the facts: "I wish that it wasn't a part of history, but it is and was." Not accurate history.

Filkins' fawning piece on Bigelow—he writes that "she feels a little like what she imagines the men and women who chased bin Laden must feel: elated"—points out that the Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) explained that the original information that led to bin Laden didn't come from a CIA detainee. Feinstein's letter was unequivocal: "The suggestion that the operation was carried out based on information gained through the harsh treatment of CIA detainees is not only inaccurate, it trivializes the work of individuals across multiple U.S. agencies that led to UBL and the eventual operation." Nor was Feinstein the only one to say so; a letter from the then-CIA director Leon Panetta sent to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) echoed the same findings

Defenders of Bush-era enhanced interrogation waged a fierce public relations campaign to rehabilitate torture in the aftermath of the bin Laden killing, in part to award Bush credit for the raid. But the facts kept getting in the way. Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official responsible for the destruction of videos recording the (ineffectual) torture of detainee Abu Zubayda, went on 60 Minutes and was unable to rebut the fact that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed lied when questioned about bin Laden's courier, despite being tortured. The CIA inspector general found that "you could not in good conscience reach a definitive conclusion about whether any specific technique was especially effective, or [whether] the enhanced techniques in the aggregate really worked." Republicans are currently attempting to block a Senate intelligence committee investigation of the efficacy of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Someone attempting to make a "journalistic" feature film on the hunt for Osama bin Laden could be expected to be aware of all this. When Filkins asked Boal about the portrayal of torture departing from the known facts, he replied, "It's a movie, not a documentary." Bigelow and Boal want their film to be seen as a contribution to the historical record, not as mere entertainment. So far they are winning over influential film critics. If you're thinking of giving them an award, Zero Dark Thirty is "history"; if you're a journalist asking a question about a factual error in the film, it's just a movie. 

The critical acclaim Zero Dark Thirty is already receiving suggests that it may do what Karl Rove could not have done with all the money in the world: embed in the popular imagination the efficacy, even the necessity, of torture, despite available evidence to the contrary. Whatever the artistic merits of the film, that will be its moral legacy. That's quite an accomplishment, but not a journalistic one. 

Correction: This post initially stated Bigelow said the film was "not a documentary," it was Boal.

A 6-Word Review of "Playing for Keeps," the New Gerard Butler Rom-Com

| Fri Dec. 7, 2012 2:55 PM PST

Make it stop.

Playing for Keeps
Open Road Films
106 minutes

 

It has Gerard Butler in it.

 

Playing for Keeps gets a wide release Friday, December 7. The film is rated PG-13 for some sexual situations and for being a flailing excuse for anything. Click here for showtimes and tickets.

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

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

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