The new season of Arrested Development has a sharp political edge that should feel familiar to fans of the show. The series' original three-season run on Fox, which aired between 2003 and 2006, contained some of the richest TV satire of the Iraq War and Bush years (bad WMD intel, "Mission Accomplished," "preemptive strike," AbuGhraib, CIA dysfunction, war protests, and so on). The fourth season, which debuted on Netflix in late May, depicts the infamous Bluth family in the context of a new political era, one defined by the American housing crisis, economic collapse, and out-of-control drone warfare. But of all the political elements of this long-awaited season, arguably the most important—or at least most visible—real-world inspiration for this new batch of episodes is Herman Cain, the one-time 2012 GOP presidential front-runner and former pizzabaron.
One of the fourth season's central story arcs involves an illicit sexual relationship between Lindsay Bluth Fünke (played by Portia de Rossi) and Herbert Love (played by Arrested newcomer Terry Crews), a charismatic, philandering California Republican congressional candidate explicitly modeled after Cain. Both are black, bespectacled, and intensely conservative and anti-Obama, and Love's "low-high" economic prescription sounds an awful lot like Cain's widelyblasted 9-9-9 tax plan. (Furthermore, both men use Krista Branch's song "I Am America" in their campaigns, and Love's campaign manager looks, acts, and smokes like Cain's 2012 chief of staff Mark Block.)
Cain is well aware of this satirical, comic rendering of his 2012 "Cain Train"—he just couldn't care less about it. "I heard about it, haven't seen it, and I'm unfazed by it," Cain said in a statement sent to Mother Jones. "In the vernacular of my grandfather, 'I does not care.'"
While high school math teachers go to great lengths to explain why their class is useful, college math professors don't even try. That because college-level math isn't useful—to me, at least. Once math progressed from numbers to letters to Greek letters, I no longer had any hope of applying it to my everyday problems. So I was a little surprised when my college linear algebra class came in handy here at work.
As a fact-checker at Mother Jones, I get to be very precise and a bit too literal and sometimes annoying. That's why, when we started plotting political scandals and Major League Baseball owners in the style of New York magazine's Approval Matrix, I started feeling uncomfortable. Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it: This is not a matrix. It's a Cartesian coordinate plane!
(I helped produce this last graphic and actually wrote "matrix" into the slug, so I'm not coming off clean here.)
So, if you remember back to your own algebra class, matrices are an array of mathematical elements such as numbers, expression, or symbols. They look something like this:
Both our and New York's "matrices" are actually Cartesian coordinate planes, which you may also remember from algebra. The x and y axes represent different values that increase as you move away from the center. Simple, really.
But don't take it from me. Linear algebra is the reason I spent hours drawing matrices back in the day, so I decided to email my college professor. Once the youngest tenured professor at Harvard, Noam Elkies is a pretty brilliant mathematician. (Far too brilliant to be teaching the standard linear algebra class I took for my major.) He confirmed that, yes, this was certainly not a matrix you'd encounter in linear algebra, and could more accurately be called Cartesian. However, he added, "You can think of it as a mathematical matrix in the trivial bookkeeping sense that any spreadsheet is a matrix, even though hardly any of the mathematical structure of matrices is relevant. It hardly seems worth making a fuss over this."
Scotland's Tracyanne Campbell has a voice that could break your heart. Sad, sweet and serene at once, she's in peak form on the enthralling Desire Lines, Camera Obscura's fifth album and first in four years.
While her elegant pop melodies could be repurposed as '60s girl-group sounds or '50s doo-wop, Campbell's deceptively complex lyrics offer a more nuanced look at relationships than traditional mainstream melodramas usually provide. "You say honesty has made me cruel," she sings gently in the tender "William’s Heart," adding, "I say you're soft and made of wool." On "This Is Love (Feels Alright)" Campbell exclaims, "When I found your girlfriend crying / I could have slapped you in the face," in sharp contrast to the song's comforting textures.
For those who care about such things, Neko Case and My Morning Jacket's Jim James show support by adding backing vocals, but Desire Lines is its own nonguilty pleasure, soaked in romanticism—yet bracingly smart.
If you're surprised to hear that M. Night Shyamalan has a new movie out this week and wonder why you hadn't heard about his return to the director's chair, it's because that was precisely the idea. His new film After Earth (released on Friday) is a soul-smushingly boring sci-fi flick about a monster-infested future Earth that stars Will and Jaden Smith. The fact that the marketing department of the project took great pains to downplay Shyamalan's role is the only interesting part about it.
There was a time at the tail end of the '90s that gun-jumping critics and fans hailed Shyamalan as the "next Hitchcock." 1999's The Sixth Sense was borderline classic. Unbreakable andSigns also showed his promise as a director who could deliver thrills and dark drama. But beginning with 2004's The Village, Shyamalan embarked on a road to acute mediocrity, which then merged onto a highway of insipid aimlessness, which then plummeted off an unfinished overpass of "Why Are You Still Here?"
This rapid degeneration has made him into a critical and pop-cultural punchline, which was apparently not lost on the the people marketing his new film. The AP reports:
While Shyamalan's name is the first to pop up in the credits at the conclusion of the Sony Pictures film, it's been notably missing from trailers, TV commercials and marketing signage—a stark contrast to his previous films like Unbreakable and Lady in the Water, which were prominently billed as being "from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan."
Much in the same way that a marketing campaign will go out of its way not to use the word "gay" when promoting a film about two despondent gay cowboys, the marketing campaign for After Earth has gone out of its way not to mention the words "M. Night Shyamalan." That sort of tells you everything you need to know about how highly Sony thinks of the 42-year-old director and his current standing. Ditto the movie.
JesseEisenberg prepares for his roles the same way just about any other responsible actor would: He does his research.
In 2007'sThe Hunting Party, Eisenberg played a TV news reporter and wannabe war correspondent. The film, also starring Richard Gere and Terrence Howard, is loosely based on an Esquire article from October 2000 that tells the true story of how three American and two European journalists accidentally set off an international incident after drunkenly deciding to hunt for a fugitive Serbian war criminal hiding out in Bosnia. To prepare for this role, Eisenberg hung out with members of the real-life "party," which included author and war correspondent Sebastian Junger (whom Eisenberg calls a "total badass").
His latest film, released on Friday, is action director Louis Leterrier's Now You See Me (Summit Entertainment, 116 minutes). Eisenberg plays J. Daniel Atlas, a cocky Vegas illusionist who steals from the wealthy and wicked and then literally showers the money onto his working-class audiences. Eisenberg teams up with Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco as a band of Robin Hood-like criminals who routinely outsmart and mystify an FBI agent played by Mark Ruffalo and an Interpol officer played by Mélanie Laurent.
To prep for this "intense character," as he put it, the 29-year-old actor became an amateur magician.
The new season of the critically acclaimed cult comedy Arrested Development finally happened (on Netflix in lieu of Fox). And for those who have already made it to the end of the fourth season's 15 episodes, you heard this new, and most likely unfamiliar, pop song play over the final episode's end credits:
The song, released as a single last week, is "Boomerang" by Lucy Schwartz, a 23-year-old Los-Angeles-based pianist and singer/songwriter. The tune will appear on her next album, Timekeeper, which comes out August 6.
Is Britain's Laura Marling the modern Joni Mitchell? Her stellar fourth album underscores the similarities, among them ringing acoustic guitar, insistent vocals that linger on high notes, and cliché-free songwriting rooted in folk-music traditions.
But Marling is nobody's disciple, and the hour-long Once I Was an Eagle takes its own distinctive head trip in the course of 16 bracing tracks. Songs flow from one into the next like movements of a single suite as she reflects on desire, loneliness and the impulse toward self-realization that inevitably reinforces isolation at the expense of connection. "We are so alone / There's nothing we can share / You can get me on the telephone / But you won't keep me there," she sings in "Master Hunter." On "Pray for Me," she declares, "I will not love, I want to be alone."
While such sentiments might seem self-indulgent in lesser hands, she's a reliably stirring chronicler of the heart's colder recesses.
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.")
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.
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, TheNew 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.