2013 - %3, September

Nirvana's Most Honest Work Gets the Deluxe Treatment

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Nirvana

Nirvana
In Utero 20th Anniversary Edition
UMe

In Utero deluxe

Nirvana's third and final studio album, recorded in the wake of the band’s startling rise to the top of the commercial heap, reflected Kurt Cobain’s deep ambivalence about mainstream success. Recruiting iconoclastic producer Steve Albini to shore up their punk cred, the trio turned in a noticeably harsher, more demanding work than Nevermind, the band's chart-busting breakthrough, confronting casual listeners with tracks like "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" and "Rape Me." But there’s still no denying that Cobain had a strong pop sensibility (perhaps to his chagrin). However brusque the production and jagged the arrangement, "Heart Shaped Box" remains a darn catchy tune.

Various configurations of this edition offer additional goodies to savor. While different mixes of the same song may appeal to hardcore fans only, the B-sides are a real plus, notably "Marigold," the first composition by drummer Dave Grohl (who went on to launch Foo Fighters), and Cobain’s regrettably prophetic "I Hate Myself and Want to Die"—and the live tracks seethe with tortured energy.

In any case, the original 12 songs of the album, a stirring, nonstop eruption of frayed nerves, remain required listening. In Utero may not have been Nirvana's most listenable work, but it was probably their most honest. A pity it had to be their last.

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Frankie Rose's Glossy, Gorgeous "Herein Wild"

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Frankie Rose
Herein Wild
Fat Possum

Herein Wild cover

A veteran of Brooklyn's noise-pop scene and an alumna of Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls, the singer and drummer Frankie Rose offered her own take on modern garage-punk as leader of Frankie Rose and the Outs. On last year's Interstellar, however, she abruptly switched gears with a shiny, techno-glazed sound more conducive to dizzy reveries than disruptive excess.

The entrancing Herein Wild backtracks a bit, restoring some tension to the music while preserving the glossy sheen that flatters her sweetly engaging voice. Highlights include the gorgeous "Cliffs as High;" "Heaven," which proves she can still raise a ruckus when the urge strikes; and "The Depths," which mixes propulsive beats and shimmering textures to thrilling effect. On "Minor Times," Rose sings softly, "We don't sleep, we dream/Living in-between," underscoring the otherworldly ambience of this alluring album.

How One of The Biggest Porn Websites Helped Joseph Gordon-Levitt Make "Don Jon"

| Fri Sep. 27, 2013 7:45 PM EDT

Don Jon
Relativity Media
90 minutes

So much of this movie is just Joseph Gordon-Levitt masturbating in front of a computer, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt narrating about masturbating in front of a computer.

And it's a testament to the 32-year-old actor's talents that this film, saddled to this premise, still manages to be charming and wholly enjoyable. Don Jon is Gordon-Levitt's feature directorial debut (he also wrote the picture). It tells the story of Jon "Don Jon" Martello, Jr., a thickly accented New Jersey bartender and ladies' man. He's a nice-enough, church-going womanizer who soon finds the woman he believes is the love of his life: the much-coveted Barbara Sugarman, played with heat and attitude by Scarlett Johansson. The problem? Jon is a porn addict. Sure, he thinks sex with gorgeous young women is okay, and all. But the only sexual activity he truly loves is when he's by himself, drooling over his keyboard, clicking on pornographic websites.

Sounds like a weird, godawful idea for a romantic comedy, right? But the film succeeds as a worthwhile, if forgettable, directing debut for Gordon-Levitt, primarily on the likability of its leads. (The movie also features fine performances from Tony Danza, Julianne Moore, Brie Larson, and Glenne Headly.)

Even prior to his recent years-long streak of critical acclaim, Gordon-Levitt showed himself to be a versatile and promising entertainer (click here to see him as a youngster playing blues guitar and waxing John Lee Hooker on an old clip from the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun). And in the director's chair, he keeps things popping with a hip style and indie spirit. He and his crew apparently also put quite a premium on realism, as evidenced by their depiction of Don Jon's swirling vortex of web porno. Arguably, the film's most prominent co-star isn't a person but a website: Pornhub, which is displayed in virtually every scene in which Jon is vigorously stroking himself. Pornhub is a Montreal-based free porn site started in 2007. It hosts a lot of amateur videos and professionally made content, as well as celebrity sex tapes from time to time. It's one of the biggest porn websites in the world, and made news last year for marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month by pledging to donate one penny to breast cancer research for every 30 page views of its "Small Tits" and "Big Tits" videos. (This fundraising push was met with scorn by some, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure publicly refused to accept Pornhub's donations.) At the end of their "Save The Boobs" campaign, Pornhub reportedly split their donation of $75,000 between several organization, including Cancer Sucks Inc.

And the conspicuous appearance of the website's logo in Don Jon was no accident. It was a carefully coordinated effort by the crew, and one that's certainly boosting the site's profile. A representative for Pornhub has yet to confirm to me whether or not they paid for placement, but Corey Price, a vice president at the company, offered a statement outlining the collaboration: "A producer approached us in March 2012 seeking permission to use our brand in a movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson. The script had already been written and they were in pre-production at the time. After we reviewed the script and discussed the opportunity with the producers we agreed to take part in the movie. We also agreed to help them find adult clips to use in the movie from our content partners like Brazzers, Mofos, Digital Playground and Twistys."

These were clips that Gordon-Levitt and his team judiciously selected from and edited into rapid-fire, sexually explicit montages in order to tell the story.

Now here's a trailer for Don Jon:

Don Jon gets a release on Friday, September 27. The film is rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use. Click here for local showtimes and tickets.

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

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

"Inequality for All": A Must-See Movie For the 99 Percent

| Fri Sep. 27, 2013 3:00 PM EDT

Jacob Kornbluth's new documentary Inequality for All, which stars economist and former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich, is being hyped as a "game changer in our national discussion of income inequality." It probably won't be that, since it's preaching to the choir, but the film is a welcome addition to that discussion.

Inequality for All, which opens Friday, weaves between scenes of Reich lecturing clear-eyed Cal coeds in his Wealth and Inequality class, 1950s-style graphs and charts illustrating growing income disparity, and archival clips of happy white people in the post-World War II age of prosperity. There are also interviews with working-class people left behind by the American Dream, such as a worker at a California power plant that has hired anti-union consultants, and a mom who works at Costco and has $25 in her bank account.

Kornbluth also chats with the odd member of the 1 percent. "The pillow business is quite tough because fewer and fewer people can afford to buy the products that we make," pillow-making millionaire Nick Hanauer explains. "The problem with rising inequality is that a person like me who earns a thousand times as much as the typical worker doesn't buy a thousand times as many pillows every year. Even the richest people only sleep on one or two pillows."

In a comprehensive and digestible way, Reich lays out the stark facts of income inequality (for example, the 400 Americans richest currently earn more than half the country's population combined) and how we got here. He blames the decline of unionization, globalization, and technology for suppressing pay, and enriching the few, who then use their increasing political clout to protect their status. "When the middle class doesn't share the gains, you get into a downward vicious cycle," Reich explains as the film cuts to an Wheel of Fortune-type animation illustrating that cycle: Wages stagnate, consumption drops, companies downsize, tax revenues decrease, government cuts programs, workers become less educated, unemployment rises—and so on.

As Reich notes, he's been "saying the same thing for 30 years" about growing income inequality. He worked to combat it during his stints in the administrations of Presidents Ford, Carter and Clinton, and now he's fighting it from the outside, writing books, recording commentaries, and trying to instill his righteous fire in others. On the last day of class, he gives an inspirational sendoff, telling his students to go out and "change the world."

The ending of Inequality for All is predictable, but that's okay, because Reich is so likable—and he's right.

"Money for Nothing": A Film About the Fed, Funded by the Mortgage Crisis

| Fri Sep. 27, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan in a scene from "Money for Nothing"

Hindsight may be 20/20, but luckily for filmmaker Jim Bruce, so was his foresight into the financial crisis of 2008. Prior to the collapse of the housing market, Bruce was a film editor for movies like X-Men: The Last Stand and The Incredible Hulk. But Bruce also had been reading up on financial news and recognized that many of the biggest banks were over-leveraged and at risk of failing. "I was writing an email newsletter to family and friends starting in late 2006 saying 'watch out'," he recalls. "You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see how bad the mortgages being given out were." Bruce recognized that a small increase in foreclosures would wipe out the over-extended lenders. So while millions of Americans invested in new homes, Bruce was investing in their implosion.

"All I did was short home builders and banks," he explains. His short bets paid off big, as Countrywide tumbled and AIG collapsed, doubling his investment. Now what to do with all that money? The answer: Make a down payment on a documentary about the Federal Reserve, which Bruce believed had not been held accountable for its role in creating the financial crash that made him a bundle.

The product of Bruce's back-handed thank-you is Money for Nothing, a sometimes harsh, sometimes cautious critique of the Fed and its 100-year history. The film includes many candid interviews with current and former members of this immensely powerful financial institution, including active regional governors and current vice chair Janet Yellen (who many suspect will replace current chairman Ben Bernanke to become the first woman to lead the central bank).

"Homeland": The Broadway Musical!

| Thu Sep. 26, 2013 7:29 PM EDT

Homeland, Showtime's Emmy-winning drama, returns for its third season on Sunday. While they're waiting, fans of the series can check out Homeland: The Musical. It's a small production, blending the show's war-on-terrorism thrills with jazz-hands theatricality. "Homeland is such a serious show, a big time drama; it was time for a lighthearted spin on it," says Brendan McMorrow, a producer with Above Average, a NYC-based entertainment platform created by Lorne Michaels' Broadway Video. "There was some on-the-fly choreography, some throwback to Bob Fosse moves in there...Carrie Mathison is like something out of Chicago, and we have a little bit of Guys and Dolls thrown in there, for example."

The musical will not, however, be debuting on Broadway any time soon. The video is a parody—a four-minute promo for a garish and fake musical adaptation. It was posted to this week to the YouTube page of Above Average, which specializes in promoting original comedy shorts. The sketch and lyrics were written and performed by comedian Eliot Glazer, the guy behind "Shit New Yorkers Say."

Homeland: The Musical was intended as both a loving send-up of the Showtime series and as a riff on Broadway's addiction to adapting popular on-screen fare—Legally Blonde, Catch Me If You Can, Billy Elliot, The Wedding Singer—to the stage and pumping them full of song, dance, and artificial cheer. Glazer pitched the idea to McMorrow about six months ago, but shelved the idea until the season-three premiere got closer.

In the past month, they booked their cast of Broadway singers and actors and quickly recorded vocals at a Broadway Video facility. Production and editing then took roughly two weeks. (Scenes were shot in the Producers' Club, a small improv theater in Manhattan.)

McMorrow says that as of this week, there are no plans to extend their short into a full-blown Homeland musical. "Our office sits next to The Book of Mormon [playing at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre], though, so we might be in a good position to do that," he says. Glazer is about as open to the idea. "Could I write a whole Homeland musical? It's definitely a possibility," Glazer told Mashable. "It would be very Sondheim, if Sondheim was lobotomized and hadn't seen a live play since 1988. Sorry, 1978, not '88."

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This Indian Sketch Comedy Group Is Taking on Rape Culture

| Wed Sep. 25, 2013 10:56 AM EDT

The above video—staged as a public service announcement—has a message for women dealing with the trauma of rape and sexual assault: "It's your fault." Two Indian women (played by noted Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin and TV personality Juhi Pande) talks about how women cause rape because "men have eyes" and women often dress in provocative clothing. (The "provocative" clothing includes thick yellow raincoats and spacesuits.) "It's my fault," Pande says, as a stranger drags her away out of the blue. The pair run down a whole list of other ways women can cause rape to happen to them. "Another way women shamelessly propagate rape is by working late into the night," Pande says. "Ladies, why work late and be independent? In fact, why work at all? That's what husbands are for. Fun fact: If he's your husband...it's not rape."

Later in the video, Koechlin is shown bloodied, with gauze on her head. "If you tired of being humiliated by rape, you can always go to the cops and be humiliated by them instead!" she informs female viewers.

The video is, of course, satire. It ends with this simple note:

Posted to YouTube last Thursday, the video was created by All India Bakchod, an Indian sketch and stand-up comedy troupe influenced by comedians such as Louis C.K. and Patrice O'Neal. The video has since gained significant international attention for its blasting of rape culture, victim-blaming, and India's rape epidemic. (The sketch is in English, but there are hopes for a Hindi version.)

"I don't think we even expected much of a national response or for people to get the sarcasm behind it," Gursimran Khamba, an AIB co-founder, tells Mother Jones. "The fact that so many women and men across the world identified with it has been heartening but also made the experience more real because you realize the magnitude of the problem and the kind of attitudes women have to deal with."

Khamba runs All India Bakchod with Tanmay Bhat, Rohan Joshi, and Ashish Shakya. It all began as a podcast, which then evolved into AIB live shows, which then became a comic enterprise that includes creating online sketches. The group's name is play on the country's All India Radio; "Bakchod" is slang for talking trash—because the four eschew political correctness.

AIB's live performances regularly tackle social issues, religion, politics, and taboo topics. In their current live show (titled The Sex Show), they dedicate an hour and a half of sketch comedy and stand-up to the subject of the Indian sexual experience. "It's Your Fault" was inspired by their disgust toward the "hateful remarks" hurled at rape victims in India.

"We had been toying around with the idea of talking about how the police and society say stupid things to blame everyone but the perpetrators and did some live stand-up on the issue...in 2012 in our year-end news comedy special," Khamba says. "Since then the idea kept bouncing around until we started our YouTube sketch show."

The sketch was shot in mid-September, and they spent a few days seeking feedback from family, friends, and professors. Since it was uploaded to YouTube last week, it has gained over a million views.

"At no point have we trivialized rape, at no point have we added any frivolity to it," sketch co-star Pande told NDTV. "It's very dark and it's treated with a certain bit of sarcasm. It's not just education...it's about changing mindset, changing upbringing."

"South Park" Opens Its 17th Season With an Episode on NSA Spying

| Tue Sep. 24, 2013 10:53 AM EDT

On Wednesday night, South Park returns for its 17th season on Comedy Central. The animated comedy series' creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone—and the rest of the South Park writing staff—have a track record of mining major news stories for plot and satirical content. (Each episode is made within a high-pressure six days right before airing, which allows the show to stay relevant in news cycles.) In their latest season premiere, they address the controversy surrounding revelations of the National Security Agency's spying programs.

"I should be careful; Kyle's here and I think he might work for the NSA," says the corpulent, Jew-baiting Eric Cartman.

Cartman then reminds his friends that the US government is capable of monitoring all the their email activity, as well as their Twitter accounts. For this reason, Cartman only uses "Shitter," a new microblogging service that reads his mind and posts his thoughts directly to the Shitter website without the NSA snooping on him. "The government won't respect my privacy," Cartman says. He later admits that that there are so far only two people on Shitter: Cartman and actor/future MSNBC host Alec Baldwin (whom Parker and Stone have lampooned in the past).

Here's a clip from the episode, titled "Let Go, Let Gov":

According to the synopsis, Cartman "wants to hold the government accountable for secretly monitoring all of his personal information" and somehow manages to infiltrate the NSA. (The NSA did not respond to Mother Jones' request for comment regarding South Park.)

South Park is no stranger to exploring or poking fun at hot-button issues. The show and its creators have what could arguably be labeled a libertarian streak. (Author and blogger Andrew Sullivan famously coined the term "South Park Republican" in 2001, and ostensibly right-leaning quotes attributed to Parker and Stone, such as "I hate conservatives, but I really fucking hate liberals," help fuel the series' reputation as a libertarian-friendly haven for politically incorrect humor.) Though Parker and Stone have a soft spot for targeting left orthodoxies, including Hollywood's limousine liberalism to anti-tobacco campaigns, they have a long history of inserting their characters into national political discussions in the name of mocking both the left and right in equal measure. Two years ago, South Park parodied Occupy Wall Street in an episode called "1%." The show has taken on conservative anti-immigration hardliners. The crew has had their fun with Al Gore and his environmental activism. Glenn Beck and insane right-wing talk radio have gotten the South Park treatment. There was that amazing art-imitates-life moment involving Blackwater and hundreds of AK-47s. The series was highly praised and honored for slamming the media coverage of the Terri Schiavo case in 2005.

The South Park team's penchant for controversy, political and otherwise, has made them targets for a diverse array of foes. Not only has a Canadian judge attacked the show's worth and morality, but Parker and Stone were subjected to thinly veiled death threats from Muslim extremists over their depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

So, yes, the series has a rich political history. An episode satirizing domestic spying programs is merely a more recent example.

The Dirtbombs' Return to Glory

| Mon Sep. 23, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The Dirtbombs
Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey
In the Red

 

Detroit's Dirtbombs have been one of the more consistently interesting and unpredictable rock 'n' roll bands since the late-'90s. Fronted by the tireless Mick Collins, previously the leader of the more abrasive Gories, the group has tackled a variety of styles, from punk to glam to soul. Following 2011's slightly underwhelming Party Store, the Dirtbombs' homage to techno, Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey marks a charming return to form.

Though billed as the band's bubblegum album, there's nothing silly or disposable about it, thanks to Collins' tender rasp of a voice and snappy original tunes that evoke "Good Vibrations" and the likes of Tommy James and the Shondells without condescending to their sources. "Sugar on Top" or "Crazy for You" could turn the gloomiest day into a good time.

Tony Joe White's Steamy, Irresistable "Hoodoo"

| Mon Sep. 23, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Doesn't this field have a goddamned outlet?

Tony Joe White
Hoodoo
Yep Roc

Louisiana-born Tony Joe White scored his biggest hit, the stomping "Polk Salad Annie," in 1969, and has been making great swamp rock ever since. Although he's never received the acclaim someone with his talent and originality deserves, White's evocative songs have been recorded by such luminaries as Elvis Presley, Shelby Lynne, Brook Benton, and Tina Turner, and you can hear echoes of his sultry vibe in the work of Mark Knopfler or Eric Clapton.

The steamy and irresistible Hoodoo makes it hard to believe White just turned 70. He still sings like a randy youngster, crooning in a sexy low growl that suggests a tomcat on a night out, and his fluid guitar work gracefully fuses the ethereal and the sensual. Check out the smoldering "Storm Comin'," a vivid tale of bad weather, or the slow-burning "Sweet Tooth" and prepare to break out in a funky sweat.