This didn't have to be Park Chan-wook's first English-language film. Years ago, the South Korean director (famous for films, like Lady Vengeance and Oldboy, that are equal parts gruesome and poetic) was approached by Sam Raimi to helm the Evil Dead remake. Park graciously turned him down. Later on, he was offered the chance to direct the Cold War flick Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth. He turned that down too and it went on to snag Oscar nominations in acting, writing, and music.
Instead Park opted for Stoker, a gorgeously insane family drama written by the star of the defunct Fox series Prison Break, and produced by the late action-film maestro Tony Scott and his brother Ridley.
So why this one? According to the 49-year-old director, the decision was based on a mix of love and fear. "It wasn't a matter of not being drawn to those particular genres—it's completely the opposite," Park told me. "It was purely a matter of loving to bits these two films. With Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I loved John le Carré's original novel so much. And Sam Raimi's original Evil Dead is a film I completely adore. That is why I didn't want to touch them: Out of the fear that I would not do the original justice, that I might ruin them."
It's a shame we won't get to see what his riff on Raimi or le Carré would look like. But the English-language debut we are getting from him is potent, frightening, and darkly seductive—all hallmarks of a Park Chan-wook joint.
Much of Park's filmography is composed of deliriously twisted and graphic tales—rapturously shot, uniquely stylish—imbued with the passion of a Greek tragedy. Park has already excelled in a number of genres: He directed the single best movie involving the DMZ between South and North Korea. But with Stoker, Park is squarely at home: A small, modern-day story about extraordinarily screwed-up people. Park turns the Hitchcock up to 11 while showcasing his abilities to elevate the grisly and deeply perverse to the level of macabre elegy.
Stoker takes place in a wealthy rural town straight out of gothic America. Bullied emo-teen India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska, formerly Alice in Wonderland, and featured in last year's terrific Lawless) loses her father (Dermot Mulroney) to a supposed car accident on, as luck would have it, her 18th birthday. On the day of her dad's funeral, long-lost Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode, in top eldritch form) shows up and decides to move into the Stoker estate. Charlie's icy charisma and proficiency in gourmet cooking is enough to literally charm the pants off India's newly widowed mom Evelyn (Nicole Kidman, last seen urinating on Zac Efron with a Southern accent in a Lee Daniels art film). And from there, dour India and mysterious Uncle Charlie start doing a bunch of bleak and unforgivable stuff in a murder-drenched coming-of-age saga.
I won't spoil any of the film's surprises, but here's its trailer to supplement the requisite summary:
Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts
By Emily Anthes
Advances in biotech range from the frivolous GloFish—America's first neon-glowing pet—to goats genetically modified to produce a human enzyme that may ward off the global childhood scourge of diarrhea. In a fascinating romp through laboratories, barns, and pet stores, science journo Emily Anthes interviews the innovators pushing biological limits, and offers elegant explanations of neuroscience and genetics. But though she touches on ethical considerations, Anthes puts a bit too much faith in her subjects' ability to make the right calls.
If there's one thing that the new film Greedy, Lying Bastards succeeds at is making the viewer want to shout expletives at the screen. But it's not always for the reasons filmmaker Craig Scott Rosebraugh intended.
The documentary, which opened in theaters last Friday, looks at the money flowing between energy Goliaths like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, their PR agencies, and the politicians who, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of calamitous man-made climate change, have managed to block carbon emission regulations. It demonstrates that for more than 20 years, these titans of Texas tea and their lackeys have systematically derailed the discourse on climate change, employing the politics of subterfuge to keep major environmental regulations off the table.
If you are a person who listens to music, I have to imagine your reaction to the news that David Bowie would be releasing his first new album in a decade was something along the lines of "OMG! OMG! OMG!" with strong undertones of "Oh God, please let it be decent enough not to retroactively ruin Ziggy Stardust."
The British rock legend faces the classic predicament of artists described as such: how to continue a creative career when everyone secretly just wants to see you back in face paint and six-inch platforms? (Okay, maybe that's just a predicament of being David Bowie.) To his credit, he hasn't shied away from the challenge, but rather confronted it head-on with an album title and cover that hint, not too subtly: "Let's move on."
The last year has been a pretty triumphant one for women, particularly in politics: Single women were key to Obama winning a second term (apparently "binders full of women" voted for him rather than the other guy); a record number of women got elected to Congress, free birth control kicked in, and the electorate made clear that comments about "legitimate," "emergency," and divinely-ordained rape will almost definitely lose you elections. Hell yes.
In honor of International Women's Day 2013, we've gathered some of our favorite Mother Jones coverage of women's issues from the past year, in politics and beyond. We've covered some intriguing history, built some fun interactives and charts, and, of course, been all over the serious policy stories, too:
Women in Congress: After the 2012 election, we charted the record-breaking gains made by women of the 113th Congress, including four states that elected their first female senators, and New Hampshire's all-female congressional delegation—a national first.
Women in sports: Politics wasn't the only area where women have been on a roll. Forty years after Title IX, women have made extraordinary gains in athletics, with participation at the college level increasing by over 600 percent. And while the playing field is still far from level, as our Title IX charts showed, female Olympians kicked some serious ass in the 2012 games.
Birth control: When Rick Santorum and some of his GOP colleagues claimed that birth control basically grows on trees, we made a birth control calculator showing just how much contraceptives can cost (pre-Obamacare) over the span of a woman's child-bearing years. Not pretty, even with insurance.
Just a month later, Rush Limbaugh spent three days railing on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, starting "the national conversation about sluts of 2012" and raising a burning question: Who, exactly, qualifies as a "slut"? We gave inquiring women the chance to find out for themselves, with this handy slut flowchart.
Recalling the dark ages: After Todd Akin-gate, Mother Jones documented the age-old tradition of men defining rape, from the dudes behind the Code of Hammurabi to tough guys at the FBI. We also traced some intriguing theories about female "hysteria" and some of the toys and bulky contraptions used to "treat" it. A lot less amusing was the look we took back at a not-so-distant time when women, lacking proper access or knowledge of birth control, used Lysol to stay baby-free.
Abortion: Recently, MoJo reporter Kate Sheppard met some of the country's most fervent abortion supporters and foes. She wrote about the small, tireless team operating Mississippi's last abortion clinic, and interviewed the late Dr. George Tiller's assistant, Julie Burkhart, as she readied his old Wichita clinic for reopening this spring. Earlier last year, Sheppard profiled Americans United for Life, which is quickly becoming one of the most successful pro-life organizations in the country.
"You would get a far better understanding," former NRA exec J. Warren Cassidy toldTimein 2001, "if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions." InGun Guys, author Dan Baum embeds with the flock. A Jewish Democrat from suburban New Jersey, he has been hooked on guns since childhood. Packing a sidearm and an NRA cap, Baum embarks on a pre-Newtown tour of shooting ranges, gun shows, and gun shops, tracing the rise of the AR-15, unpacking crime stats, and challenging the notion that America suffers from an "epidemic of gun violence." He tackles this polarizing subject with an anthropologist's eye, and in the end wonders if the left's anti-gun sentiment distracts from a progressive agenda that working-class gun guys might support—if only they didn't think Obama was coming for their arsenal.
It's possible that a concert lineup actually discriminates against the headlining act. By the time these bands saunter onstage, folks in the audience have been standing for hours, shifting weight from their bruised heels, and dealing with the fact that they are slowly, involuntarily being pressed into a malodorous neighbor as the venue fills. We're cranky, we're impatient, and our personal space has probably been violated. It's part of the reason why headlining bands have a responsibility to be better than their openers. Sometimes they aren't worth the wait.
While Noise Pop 2013 offered an expertly curated lineup, we found that some of the headliners fell flat. Toro y Moi's anticlimactic experimentation lost the crowd, and new material from Rogue Wave was charming but boilerplate. Some of the festival's most pleasant surprises were found off the beaten path (in a warehouse on a dead-end block), or opening for the larger acts. Here's our abridged roundup of festival highlights (and frustrations).
Tiny Telephone Anniversary Party
Thursday, 2/28, Tiny Telephone studio
Approaching the address typed into a phone, past the empty playground and toward a cluster of darkened warehouses on a dead-end street, you can't help but wonder if your GPS is trying to get you killed. But tonight, the faint beats from a DJ set signaled that it was the right place: Tucked away at the southeastern edge of the Mission District is Tiny Telephone, the recording studio responsible for recording Death Cab For Cutie, the Magnetic Fields, Spoon, and countless other projects from indie royalty.
Owned by California music legend John Vanderslice, the studio celebrated 15 years in business last week, inviting friends and band members to come hang out around the keg and sound boards. With his vast collection of digital and analog equipment and his cadre of highly trained, not to mention super friendly, engineers, Vanderslice, or JV as his friends and clients know him, has cultivated a reputation for helping artists achieve exactly the sound they seek. On Thursday, Tiny Telephone pilgrims got to see the inside of that operation, mingling in hallways lined with vintage recording gear and reading love letters from musicians posted on the kitchen fridge. For its first-ever open house, Tiny Telephone hit just the right note. —Maggie Caldwell
Shmoozing over a Tiny Telephone soundboard. Maggie Caldwell
Thursday, 2/28, Great American Music Hall
"Like I give a fuck!" belted out Nic Offer, the frontman of Sacramento based dance-punk group !!! (pronounced chk-chk-chk), Thursday night at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. (Read our Q&A with Offer here.) But perhaps that's what makes his performances stand out. Dressed in shorts and a simple white tee, Offer danced on top of speakers, waded into the crowd, and leaped off the stage, effectively catalyzing the audience into a massive rave. !!! rewarded the crowd for its enthusiasm, playing the new track "Slyd" live for the first time. Like !!!'s other songs, "Slyd" drilled the crowd with a repetitive beat and acid-house grooves, while strobe lights stoked the dance party. But odds are that concert-goers weren't playing close or critical attention to the introduction of new material—everyone seemed content to dance and drink until the show ended, going home soaked in sweat and beer. —Mitchell Grummon
Nic Offer fronts !!! at the Great American last Thursday night. Mitchell Grummon
Friday, 3/01, Bottom of the Hill
Roughly halfway through his set at the Bottom of the Hill late last Friday night, lead singer Zach Rogue leaned into the mic and asked, with complete earnestness, "Are you guys comfortable?" Despite the fact that the band has played just one show in two years (and had three new members along with a bevy of new songs to test out during the set), Rogue definitely seemed comfortable; like a kid at the first pool party of the summer, Rogue was back on old turf, looking for familiar faces and a chance to get his feet in the water. This palpable giddiness was arguably the most enjoyable thing about the show, which consisted mostly of simple, straight renditions of crowd-pleasers like "Lake Michigan" that earned them indie fame in the mid-2000's. The new songs harken back to the band's early Guided by Voices-meets-Springsteen style, a feel that has been thoroughly mined by other indie rock bands in recent years, though the audience didn't seem to mind. —Maggie Severns
Toro Y Moi
Friday, 3/01, The Independent
Fresh off the cover of SF Weekly and consecutive nights of sold-out shows, I came to The Independent on Friday filled with hope about Toro y Moi, a.k.a. Chaz Bundick. The show started with promise. Opening with "Rose Quartz" off his new album Anything in Return, Bundick slowly began to build layers of sound, combining synth, keyboard, and a sparse beat culminating in a chorus: "Don’t lie to me/ Because I feel weak." But that's about where my hope ended. I felt as if the song never reached its full potential, seemingly unsure of what it wanted to be.
Josh Ritter The Beast in its Tracks Pytheas Recordings
When one of the best living songwriters gets divorced, it's hard to know what to expect: Josh Ritter isn't one for "angry, over-the-top, knee-jerk breakup songs," as NPR puts it, but The Beast in its Tracks, out this week, is such a clean, joyful trip across the Americana landscape that you'd be forgiven for thinking that Ritter just got hitched to a new bride, wearing tweed. It's a little deceiving—like if your best friend got dumped, showed up to your birthday party insisting that everything was just peachy, God damn it, and then wandered off into the woods with a handle of whiskey.
Don't let that stop you from acquiring the album when it comes out on Tuesday. (NPR is streaming it in full, but don't be lame; artists need to eat, too.) Ritter's album convincingly recalls everyone from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen to Paul Simon, and I already have at least three favorite songs looping on my stereo ("A Certain Light," "New Lover," and "Hopeful").