The new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Americanclassic/required high school reading The Great Gatsby is exactly how I remember the book: With a hip-hop-tinged drunken pillow fight in 3-D starring sweaty Tobey Maguire.
As an elevator pitch, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Baz Luhrmann's ultra-modern take on The Great Gatsby. His thoroughly modern update of Shakespeare—which, like Gatsby, stars Leonardo DiCaprio—is a joy. Plus, the timelessness of the 1925 novel makes any playful anachronisms (rap and rock music in the soundtrack, grinding dancing, and so forth) all the less suspicious.
But the result is almost unforgivably terrible, gratingly earnest in a way that the novel never was. When classic lines of narration from the beloved book start floating directly at your face as a 3-D special effects gimmick, it's a challenge not to groan audibly in your seat.
Liner notes: Joined by White Life's Jon Ehrens, Jenn Wasner reinvents herself as a dance floor diva, with creamy keyboards, yearning voices, and pumping beats evoking a neon mirage of ecstatic rapture.
Behind the music: Besides singing alt-folk in the duo Wye Oak, the versatile Wasner also performs solo as the poppier Flock of Dimes, while her venture with fellow Baltimorean Ehrens harks back to '90s R&B.
Check it out if you like: The latest from Cat Power and Tegan and Sara, other indie faves who underwent a musical facelift.
Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson of the Flamin' Groovies. Photos by Mark Murrman
Following a quick romp through Japan and Australia, San Francisco legends the Flamin' Groovies played a hastily arranged show in their hometown this past weekend—the first time this version of the band has played locally since 1981.
The mid-'70s era Flamin' Groovies, with founder Cyril Jordan, George Alexander (bass), Chris Wilson (also of UK band the Barracudas), and Victor Penalosa (drums) tore through a tight set of their near-hits, kicking off with the slow-burning "Yeah My Baby," before running through their power-pop classics, "You Tore Me Down," "I Can't Hide," and of course, "Shake Some Action."
While the jury is out over whether guitar rock is enjoying a renaissance or fading from relevance, the guitar's little brother, the ukulele, has entered the zeitgeist in a big way. With it's small body, four strings, and a range of just two octaves, the uke is among the humblest of instruments. But in the past few years, the uke has popped up in the hands of artists from Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz to Paul McCartney and Jack Johnson. In 2011, Eddie Vedder put out an entire album of quavering love songs that sound like the brooding inner monolog of a heartbroken surfer. With Zooey Deschanel as their queen, the cutie-girl set has made the ukulele nearly as ubiquitous as bird tattoos.
Much its recent popularity, though, is owed to Japanese-American virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro who in several ways resembles the instrument he has mastered: charming, unassuming, Hawaiian. But in Shimabukuro's hands, as he breaks out experimental jazz, lays down a steady blues train, or shreds on rock anthems, this little jumping flea becomes a melodic monster.
Through the late-'90s and early aughts, Shimabukuro carved out a respectable living as a touring artist, but his career exploded in 2006 after a video of him performing While My Guitar Gently Weeps became one of the first YouTube videos to go viral. Forget what the internet says about the overuse of the word "epic." This performance defines it:
Soon after, late night TV shows began knocking on his doors. He was invited to play duets with the likes of Bette Midler and Jimmy Buffett. And now his existence is the subject of Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings, a documentary airing May 10 on PBS. Through intimate conversations and inspiring performances, the film offers of portrait of the man and his instrument. I caught up with Shimabukuro recently to talk about his dream collaboration, meeting the Queen of England, and what it's like to go viral.
"There's no politics here; it's just good old-fashioned revenge," Tony Stark (a.k.a., Iron Man) declares to a swarm of TV news reporters, following a terrorist attack that leaves a good friend of his in a coma. "There's no Pentagon, it's just you and me," Stark says to his latest nemesis.
This statement also applies to the film itself.
The third installment in Marvel's Iron Man series is the first in the franchise that wasn't directed by Jon Favreau. The man at the helm this time around is writer/director Shane Black, who is famous for penning Hollywood action flicks like 1987's Lethal Weapon, and for directing 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also starring Robert Downey, Jr. The first two films portrayed Tony Stark/Iron Man as he was intended to be depicted: as a suave, hard-partying, right-wing billionaire who battles America's enemies, foreign and domestic. In the DVD commentary of the first Iron Man, Marvel frontman Stan Lee discusses why he created the character in the first place. He wanted to piss off some hippies:
It was the height of the Cold War. The readers—the young readers—if there was one thing they hated it was war, it was the military, or, as Eisenhower called it, the military-industrial complex. So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer. He was providing weapons for the army. He was rich. He was an industrialist. But he was good-looking guy and he was courageous…I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like—that none of our readers would like—and shove him down their throats and make them like him.
Though no one should ever accuse the Iron Man movies of pulling for any particular political agenda, the first two films did preserve the comic books' gleefully rightward lean. (After all, Favreau identified Elon Musk, the libertarian billionaire who co-founded the galactic transport company SpaceX, as the inspiration for the on-screen version of Tony Stark; Musk also had a cameo in Iron Man 2.)
In the first Iron Man, Stark's bad-boy charisma is defined by his belief in a Peace-Through-Strength-on-steroids mindset:
Although he undergoes something of a personal and political makeover later in the film, the beginning of Iron Man 2 shows Stark in familiar form. When he's called to a hearing on Capitol Hill, lawmakers pressure him to turn over his terrorism-fighting toys to the US government and military. In response, a defiant Stark denies the government his property, cockily mocks the panel of lawmakers, and brags that he "successfully privatized world peace." This is met with wild cheers from the gallery.
There are no politics to Iron Man 3, beyond the political assertion that lethal and indiscriminate terrorism is bad. Director Shane Black, who co-wrote the screenplay, is far more concerned with the slam-bang fight scenes and the romance between Stark and his live-in girlfriend Virginia "Pepper" Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). So much of the film focuses on Stark, once the consummate care-free playboy, settling down with the love of his life. It's a genuinely interesting and tender part of the story—and the best and most convincing romance in the modern comic-books-as-film cannon. Their relationship demonstrates just how softened and vulnerable (touchingly so) Tony Stark can get.
With his single life, goes his ideology.
Check out the trailer for Iron Man 3:
Iron Man 3 gets a wide US release on Friday, May 3. The film is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content.Click here for local showtimes and tickets.
Click here for more movie and TV coverage from Mother Jones.
Quaid plays Henry Whipple (no, not that Henry Whipple), an adulterous farmer and salesman entrenched in the ruthless, multimillion-dollar rivalry between Iowa's big-business farmers. Henry becomes the target of a corporate investigation after illegally washing and reselling patented genetically modified seeds. Efron plays Dean, a local stock car racing champion who dreams of ditching the family business and making a name for himself as a NASCAR driver.
The pair's disenchantment and bitterness result in a wave of betrayal, anger, and violence in their otherwise peaceful Midwestern town. The filmis a quietly disturbing little picture, and features some magnificent acting, especially by Quaid.
The film is not (as Bahrani is quick to point out) in any way political, even though the story prominently involves GMOs, a controversial and extremelypolitical topic these days. The origin of this apolitical film, however, is indeed rooted in Bahrani's very political interests. In a conversation I had with Bahrani and Quaid, the 38-year-old director explained how he went about writing At Any Price:
I was curious where my food was coming from. I was reading authors like Michael Pollan...And I started realizing that farms aren't romantic places anymore—they're big businesses. So Michael Pollan and I became email friends, and I asked him to introduce me to George Naylor, who's a farmer in Iowa who was featured in [Pollan's 2006 book] The Omnivore's Dilemma. So I went out and I lived with George for many months, and when I went out there, all the farmers kept telling me, "expand or die, get big or get out." And I met a seed salesman, [and] I never knew there was such an occupation as "GMO seed salesman"...And [he] made me think ofArthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. And I thought combining these things would be a way to tell a human and emotional story...When you have a lot of race cars and infidelity, it's hard to be an "agenda film."
(So there you have it: You can thank Michael Pollan for indirectly causing the development of Zac Efron's newest movie.)
Bahrani pulled from John Steinbeck, John Ford, and Peter Bogdanovich for narrative and stylistic influences. He also shadowed several Iowa farmers, incorporating their sentiments and commentary into his screenplay. One day, Bahrani noticed that a customer of one of the farmers owned a stock car for figure 8 racing—an observation he used to craft Efron's character. "I YouTube'd [figure 8 racing] that night, and I made a point to keep going to Iowa to go see races," Bahrani says. "I thought it would be a good contrast [for the two characters]...It had a different pace, and a different energy, and a different adrenaline."
Dennis Quaid didn't have time to conduct anything close to this level of research for his role. His learning experiences were all in the midst of production: "We shot it on a real farm," Quaid says. "I didn't have a trailer for this; it was my car or the living-room couch of the Hermans, the family [whose] farm we were shooting on... I spent my time with them, trying to soak up the atmosphere."
Check out the trailer for this tense and surprising drama:
At Any Price gets a wider release on Friday, May 3. The film is rated R for sexual content including a strong graphic image, and for language.Click here for local showtimes and tickets.
Click here for more movie and TV coverage from Mother Jones.
Forget Zero Dark Thirty. Instead, check out director Greg Barker's intimate look at the dogged nerds and tough-guy CIA officials who spent decades on Osama bin Laden's trail. This doc (based on Peter Bergen's 2012 book) has the pulse of a Michael Mann thriller, tracing the hunt from long before Al Qaeda became a household name. It offers a fascinating glimpse at "the Sisterhood," a crew of female CIA analysts who were "borderline obsessed" with nailing bin Laden in the 1990s. Details of their vital desk work are contrasted with interviews with former CIA higher-up (and torture advocate) Marty Martin, who refers to his "gangsta"-like role harvesting intel overseas.
NBA center Jason Collins.Harry E. Walker/MCT/ZUMAPress
Jason Collins began his coming out essay in Sports Illustrated with the words, "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."
There's a reason Collins chose to mention he was black and gay—as though those two things were in as much tension as being the first openly gay male athlete active in one of America's favorite sports—but it deserves a more thoughtful examination than the one offered by Charles P. Pierce in Grantland. Pierce, feigning a familiarity with the history of the civil rights movement and the black church belied by the weakness of the evidence he's able to provide, writes:
His explanation for his decision to come out is rich with the historical "dual identity" forced on black Americans under Jim Crow, and the similar dynamic within which he lived as a gay man. Homophobia in the black community—indeed, even among the leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s—was some of the most virulent and stubborn of all, and there are still some who resent the equation of the gay rights movement with their struggle. In his announcement in Sports Illustrated, then, Collins gave every indication that he's fully aware of the historic and cultural dimensions of his decision, and of the sacrifices made elsewhere so that he would be free to make it now.
Look, man: It's called "double consciousness," not "dual identity," and it's an intellectual concept applicable to black existence in America prior to Jim Crow and after its demise. "Dual identity" is what Batman has. And Pierce's mangling of W.E.B. DuBois is the least of the problems with this paragraph.
There was certainly homophobia in the civil rights movement—but in the 1950s and '60s, American society was homophobic, and Pierce offers no evidence that the civil rights movement was more homophobic than any other American institution during that period. Given that one of the architects of the civil rights movement's nonviolent strategy was Bayard Rustin, it was arguably less homophobic than much of society at the time. With a few notable exceptions, surviving leaders of the movement—from Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) to Rev. James Lawson to Jesse Jackson to Julian Bond—are all in favor of gay and lesbian rights.
There's also little evidence for the proposition that black homophobia is "the most virulent and stubborn of all." Black folks, who were disenfranchised for centuries, didn't put any of those old anti-sodomy laws on the books. The legal architecture of discrimination based on sexual orientation is one of the few things in America that dates back to colonial times that wasn't built by black people.
Worst of all, the only evidence Pierce offers for the idea that "the leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s" were the "most virulent and stubborn" homophobes of all (a description that doesn't even fit Marion Barry) is a link to an article about Rev. William Owens, a Tennessee pastor bankrolled by the National Organization for Marriage as part of their (failed) racial-wedge strategy in 2012 who claims he was a leader of the Nashville sit-in movement.
You know that college friend, the big, boisterous, obstinate one who was always up to party, quick to fight, said the most regrettable things, and embarrassed you—but for some reason you just couldn't drop? Well, if Texas were a person, it would be that guy. In this folksy read, Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder explores her home state and its idiosyncrasies, from its fiercely independent streak to its zany characters to its deep distrust of government. While the "Texas Model"—low taxes, low services—isn't perfect, Grieder argues that the state remains an economic powerhouse with low unemployment. And if the rest of the country would quit rolling its eyes, it might just learn a thing or two.
Left to right: Nets teammates Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Jason Collins in 2006
In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, the NBA's Jason Collins became the first active player in any of the big four sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) to announce he was gay. His opening paragraph: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."
Toward the end of his must-read story, Collins, a 7-foot, 255-pounder who has played for six teams in his 12-year pro career, ponders the fallout from his announcement:
I've been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I'm a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I've taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn't an issue before, and it won't be one now. My conduct won't change. I still abide by the adage, "What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room." I'm still a model of discretion.
Here's what President Obama had to say about Collins when asked at his Tuesday press conference:
And here's a look at what some people—some NBA players, some not—tweeted on Monday: