Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng

Reporter

Asawin Suebsaeng is a reporter at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. He has also written for The American Prospect, the Bangkok Post, and Shoecomics.com.

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A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., Asawin came back to DC with hopes of putting his flimsy Creative Writing major, student newspaper tenure, and interest in human rights and political chicanery to some use. He started cutting his teeth at F&M's student-run weekly, The College Reporter, serving as editor in chief. He has interned at The American Prospect, been a reporter for the Bangkok Post, and scribbled for ShoeComics.com. His favorite movie is either Apocalypse Now or Pirahna 3D, depending on the day or mood.

Brutal War Film "Lone Survivor" Will Survive its Producers' Ties to International Drug Trade, Convicted Murderer

| Fri Jan. 10, 2014 6:38 PM PST

Lone Survivor, written and directed by Peter Berg, has a lot going for it—especially for a film released in January, a month typically reserved by film studios for dumping less than stellar product. The movie (which gets a wide release on Friday) is a gripping, uniquely brutal portrait of warfare that dramatizes Operation Red Wings, the failed mission to capture or kill a militia leader in Afghanistan's Kunar province in 2005.

The film has earned generally positive reviews. It's a riveting story of American, as well as Afghan, courage. It features solid performances, particularly from Mark Wahlberg as Navy SEAL and lone survivor Marcus Luttrell (the film is based on the book he co-wrote). And the film has received its fair share of support from US servicemembers. For instance, the Army provided four helicopters (two Apaches and two Chinooks, along with their crews) shown in a scene where Army Rangers attempt to rescue the SEAL team, and ex-congressman and Iraq War vet Patrick Murphy introduced and praised the film at a special screening at the US Navy Memorial Heritage Center in Washington, DC, in December.

But earlier this month, the people behind Lone Survivor got the kind of publicity that no studio or filmmaker wants to receive right around the time of their film's premiere. On January 2, LA Weekly published their investigation into Remington Chase and Stepan Martirosyan, two Hollywood financiers and Lone Survivor executive producers who just so happen to come with the baggage of separate convictions for cocaine trafficking. Oh, and both have them have worked as federal informants, and have gone by multiple aliases. (The LA Weekly also details an allegation the producers faced from a convicted murder who, imprisoned for a violent robbery plot that he correctly suspected Chase had helped expose, sought to convince police Chase and Markosian had hired him to execute a contract killing in Russia. A spokesman for the local US Attorney later said "justice was best served by dismissing the charges.")  Here's an excerpt from the incredible story, focusing on the pair's drug connections:

In May 1993, [Martirosyan] arranged financing and traveled to Costa Rica to check on suppliers. Unfortunately for him, the DEA had infiltrated the suppliers. Over the course of several meetings with an undercover agent, [he] agreed to help transport 800 kilos to St. Augustine, Fla. They agreed that [Martirosyan] would send $200,000 from L.A. to Colombia, and that the cocaine would be shipped from Colombia to Costa Rica and on to Florida. Instead, in September 1993, he was arrested in a St. Augustine hotel room.

In all, nine people were indicted. In Costa Rica, the head of the federal police held a press conference and announced that the group had controlled much of the Costa Rican drug trade, according to an article in La Nación.

Naturally, the producers went into damage control mode. They hired crisis lawyer Howard Weitzman, whose clientele has included O.J. Simpson, Justin Bieber, Marlon Brando, and the Michael Jackson estate. One of Chase and Martirosyan's pending film projects at the time of this story breaking was the big-screen adaptation of the Hasbro board game Hungry Hungry Hippos.

So this is all terrible news for the producers, and not-so-great news for the movie. Sure, some Hollywood producers have had insane lives, but most of them manage to stay far away from stuff like this. But there's so far no indication that the negative press has yet to hurt Love Survivor, which has earned plaudits for depicting a true story of survival and remarkable heroism. Advance tickets sales have been strong, and the film is predicted to bring in about $15 million during its first weekend in wide release. (Some have estimated closer to $30 million.) Observers are expecting the picture to do particularly well in red states.

Universal, which distributed Lone Survivor, did not respond to a request for comment, but Army personnel weighed in a bit. "[The bad publicity] is not a concern of mine, and not something that I'm even aware of it," Ken Hawes, an Army public-affairs officer who visited the filming of Lone Survivor, said. "Our involvement begins and ends when the Army is on the scene during the act of filming," Lt. Col. Steven Cole, an Army film and television liaison in Los Angeles, says. "We don't deal with the ins and outs of the industry."

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Short Takes: "If You Build It"

| Fri Jan. 10, 2014 4:00 AM PST

If You Build It

LONG SHOT FACTORY

Patrick Creadon, creator of the acclaimed docs Wordplay and I.O.U.S.A., follows TED-talking activist/designer Emily Pilloton and her partner, Matt Miller, as they put rural North Carolina high-schoolers through a "design boot camp." Their curriculum teaches the essentials of construction and citizenship via real-world projects­—the kids design and build a market pavilion the people of their town had always coveted. If You Build It explores the notion that planting the seeds for creative problem-solving could one day help revitalize even America's most hardscrabble communities. "After you design something," one student explains, "it builds your confidence so much that you just want to keep doing it."

This review originally appeared in our January/February issue of Mother Jones.

"The Spoils of Babylon": An Incredibly Funny, Star-Studded Send-Up of the 1980s Miniseries

| Thu Jan. 9, 2014 6:45 PM PST
Kristen Wiig, left, and Tobey Maguire, bathing in melodrama.

The Spoils of Babylon, a six-part series which premieres Thursday on IFC, is a hilarious send-up of the cheesy, overwrought miniseries of the 1970s and 1980s. (Think The Thorn Birds and Rich Man, Poor Man.) Starring Tobey Maguire as a World War II hero who lusts after his adoptive sister against the backdrop of his family's oil empire, this Funny or Die-produced mock epic has intentionally low production values and lovably dumb humor. It also has an impressive cast (Tim Robbins, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Alba, Val Kilmer, Michael Sheen, Haley Joel Osment, Will Ferrell, and Carey Mulligan) and a political edge, with nods to modern economic crises.

In one scene, a gathering of mega-rich, cigar-chomping businessmen criticize current US president Franklin D. Roosevelt as a "socialist" and a "Russian Jew!" Jonas Morehouse (played by Robbins), a self-made oilman and Morehouse patriarch, speaks up in FDR's defense, saying that the wealthy deserve to be taxed into oblivion for their role in causing the Great Depression. In another scene, Jonas presents his adopted son Devon (Maguire) with a new invention—a steam-powered carburetor that gets 200 miles a gallon. It's an invention that would revolutionize transportation and "destroy the oil industry," Devon observes in awe.

Inside "The Act of Killing's" Guerrilla Distribution Campaign in Indonesia

| Wed Jan. 8, 2014 4:00 AM PST

The Act of Killing is that rare documentary—one that might actually change things. The film (released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday) examines the anti-communist, death-squad-abetted purge in Indonesia carried out in 1965 and 1966. The horrific slaughter claimed hundreds of thousands of alleged and committed communists (possibly a million tortured and executed souls) and led to the jailing of another million. It is a chapter in the Southeast Asian and Oceanian republic's history that its government is too often reluctant to address.

The documentarians interview some proud death-squad alumni and focus on Anwar Congo, one of the founding fathers of the right-wing paramilitary group Pancasila Youth, which participated in the carnage. (The bloodletting, conducted by the Indonesian Army and gangster-filled death squads, was instrumental in crushing the Indonesian Communist Party and securing the presidency for Suharto, a genocidal dictator and US ally in the Cold War.) Anwar—who is shown walking as a free man, beloved by many Indonesians—recounts murdering as many as 1,000 people, his preferred method being garroting enemies of the state with wire. And the filmmakers don't just convince the killers to brag about their grisly crimes; they persuade them to reenact them, in a series of often bizarre segments inspired by gangster films and musicals.

The Act of Killing has enjoyed wide international praise and is considered by many to be a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature (nominees are set to be announced on January 16). But inside Indonesia, distribution of the film has been a trickier issue. Under Indonesian law, only films that have cleared a state censorship body can be commercially distributed.

"The whole strategy of releasing the film in Indonesia is to avoid it being banned in Indonesia," Joshua Oppenheimer, one of the film's directors, tells Mother Jones. "We knew that if we released it in theaters [in Indonesia], the film would be banned, and it would become a crime to watch the film...It is not safe for me to return to Indonesia, or for my Indonesian crew to come out of anonymity."

SNL Finally Casts a Black Woman. Watch Her Take on "Go the Fuck to Sleep" as Michelle Obama

| Tue Jan. 7, 2014 8:20 AM PST

The search is over. Following controversy last year over Saturday Night Live's lack of on-camera diversity, the NBC sketch comedy series held an audition for black female comedians. On Monday, SNL revealed their newest cast member: Sasheer Zamata. The comedian and improv veteran will make her SNL debut on January 18, in an episode hosted by Canadian rapper Drake.

Zamata, who trained at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City, is the first black female cast member since Maya Rudolph departed the show in 2007, and only the fifth in SNL history. To get a taste of what you can expect from her, here's her impression of First Lady Michelle Obama reading an updated version of "Go the Fuck to Sleep":

UPDATE: The video is now listed as private. Here's a screenshot of Zamata as Obama, though:

Sasheer Zamata as Michelle Obama

(The video also includes Zamata as Nicki Minaj reading Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham.")

Zamata's star has been rising for a few years now. She was praised by Jezebel in 2012, and was named one of Cosmopolitan's "13 Funny Women to Watch in 2014." Her credits include Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer, FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, and her web series "Pursuit of Sexiness."

In an interview with "Man Cave Daily" last October, Zamata described how she got into acting: "I knew I wanted to come to [New York], and I knew I wanted to perform, but I didn't know how," she said. "I studied theater in college. Before I got to college I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I just wanted to be in front of people, but I didn't know how. Then I got to college and I didn't want to study journalism anymore, I wanted to do plays...[After college], I was auditioning for off-Broadway plays, but I kept going to [Upright Citizens Brigade]. I knew of UCB because they came to my school to perform. I was watching them and thinking, man, wherever they came from that's where I want to go. Bobby Moynihan was one of the performers and someone asked him, 'How to get a career in comedy?' Bobby replied, 'Go to NYC, go to UCB, and work really, really hard.'"

And on January 18, Zamata will join her now fellow SNL cast member Moynihan on national television.

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