2012 - %3, June

I Would Very Much Like To Murder This TV Show Savagely, Please

| Thu Jun. 28, 2012 7:45 AM EDT
President Bartlet's son, mind you.

It was difficult for me to finish writing my review of Anger Management because every time I think about the show I see a hot flash of red, the veins in my neck tighten, and I wake up hours later, covered in entrails, in a location I've never been to before.

Anger Management (premiering Thursday, June 28 at 9 p.m. EST on FX) is a loose adaptation of the 2003 Jack Nicholson/Adam Sandler comedy of the same name—a film that precisely no one was asking to be adapted into a TV show. The new laugh-track-laden sitcom stars Charlie Sheen. Remember? Sheen? Charlie? Hot Shots! Part Deux? Charlie Sheen?

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Short Takes: "Granito: How to Nail a Dictator"

| Wed Jun. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Granito: How to Nail a Dictator
SKYLIGHT PICTURES
103 minutes

Filmmaker Pamela Yates, who previously embedded with Guatemalan government forces and left-wing insurgents to document the dictatorship's genocide against indigenous Mayans, now chronicles efforts to build a case against Efraín Ríos Montt, the former general and de facto president whose death squads allegedly tortured and murdered tens of thousands. While Yates shies away from the fraught history of the conflict, her interviews with survivors and regime troops strike an emotional chord. All told, Granito, which airs June 28 on PBS, offers a taste of the slog that inevitably results when people try to hold a tyrant accountable. Trailer below:

This review originally appeared in the July/August issue of Mother Jones. 

LISTEN: Mexico's Media Predicament

| Tue Jun. 26, 2012 5:48 PM EDT

A student in the "Yo Soy 132" movement protests media manipulation on a Mexico City metro in mid-June.

"The fact that you can make jokes about extremely tragic subjects is something that people are experts at here in Mexico," says Greg Berger, known as "gringoyo," a contributor to the website Narco News. An expat who says he learned everything about satire from his Mexican friends, Berger spins out political parodies based on archetypes of figures spotted in the country, like "the revolutionary tourist," "the greedy businessman," and "the misinformed reporter." By making fun of foreigners, those in power, and also of himself, Berger engages viewers in conversations about democracy and culture. Reporting in a country where drug cartels are thriving and where the media are in many ways crippled, he's found an audience eager for his lampoons. 

And the absurdity seems at an all-time high as Mexico nears its presidential election. Berger is just one of the figures encountered in On the Media's episode "Mexican Media: Es Muy Complicado," in which reporters Brooke Gladstone and Marianne McCune take the temperature of our southern vecino, interviewing reporters, students, and activists from Juarez to Veracruz. 

Berger's political theater seems paralleled in the country's actual electoral politics. Gladstone spoke to Benito Nacif, general counsel to Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute (the Mexican version of the FEC), who referenced a recent law that bans candidates from directly buying ads, mandating that the FEI pay for the ads and regulate them instead. The lengthy vetting process the institute requires has in turn opened a space for TV commentators, often paid off by rival candidates in the editorial "black market," to jump in and characterize politicians before they have the chance to respond. "You're making these TV channels more powerful than they were in the past," Nacif says. "It's completely the opposite" of what the FEI intended.  

"Mexican Media" also explores mural-painting as rebellion, traces the steps of las mujeres desaparecidas, and zooms in on the student political protests (including the "Yo Soy 132" movement, pictured above) now buzzing in Mexico City. You can listen to the full episode below. 

Road Tripping Nuns Take on the Ryan Budget

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 4:54 PM EDT
Photo courtesy of Nuns on the Bus

Back in April, Congressman Paul Ryan trotted out his Catholicism to justify a budget plan that carves deeply into social welfare programs. Then the Vatican slammed nuns for spending too much time fighting poverty (instead of hating on gays). Rather than cave to the Pope's agenda, a bunch of Sisters in the US decided to affirm their commitment to the poor through a two-week-long, nine state bus tour meant to highlight how federal budget cuts hurt those on the margins.

The campaign kicked off in Ames, Iowa with a "rotating cast" of 14 nuns from all over the country, and will conclude in Washington, DC on July 2. The group's big blue rig, emblazoned with "Nuns on the Bus," is making stops at the district offices of Ryan and other GOP lawmakers to speak out against Ryan's Ayn Randian budget proposal, which would slash food stamps, Medicare, and other social programs, while cutting taxes for the rich. They'll also be visiting Catholic social service agencies to speak with the poor. 

Mother Jones caught up with the sassy, exuberant Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, the Washington, DC-based Catholic social justice lobby that is sponsoring the trip, as the bus headed to Chicago. Campbell talks about the nuns' rock star reception in Iowa and Wisconsin, "friend-raising," the "pull-up-the-drawbridge" mentality, and the secret American hunger for solidarity.

Review: Sonny Smith Goes a Little Bit Country

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 12:30 PM EDT

Sonny & the Sunsets
Longtime Companion
Polyvinyl

Breakups inspire change. For some people, that means a haircut. For Sonny Smith, the prolific Bay Area-based troubadour and playwright behind infectious folk-pop outfit Sonny & the Sunsets, it was a country album.

Before Longtime Companion, the Sunsets enjoyed a reputation for easily digestible quirk and ineffably satisfying pop songs. Their last full-length album, Hit After Hit, gathered praise within the critical indie bubble for the sweet, unadorned straightforwardness at which Smith is a seasoned pro. In addition to a decade of creative residencies, work on short films, and musical collaborations with the likes of Miranda July, Neko Case, Jolie Holland, and Wilco's Leroy Bach, one of Smith's most ambitious projects was to create 100 fictional bands and 100 fictional 7" records—for which he then wrote the music. All 200 songs ended up on a jukebox at the gallery show displaying the 100 works of album art. 

When Smith emailed the Sunsets' old record label with a pained country album that he had written over the end of a decade-long relationship, however, the label said "no, thanks."

Rock Out With Your Vagina Out (Happy B-Day, Title IX!)

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Aretha Franklin belts it out at President Obama's inauguration.

As of Saturday, Title IX, the anti-discrimination law that isn't just about sports, is officially over the hill. Over the past 40 years, women have surpassed men in college degrees. Women's participation in college athletics (check out these cool charts) has more than septupled (!); world-class boxers like Marlen Esparza, Claressa Shields, and Queen Underwood (check out these great photos) will be competing for Olympic gold this summer; and boob bounce has sharply diminished thanks to two women runners and a pair of jimmied-up jockstraps. Sure, disparities of all stripes still exist—here's the most recent Sports Illustrated with a woman on the cover—but no one ever said equal opportunity would be easy.

To celebrate four decades of government-mandated gender equality in schools and yes, federally funded sports—no matter what the asshats on TV say about women's athletics—we put together this roundup of eviscerating "grrl" power anthems, hair-whippin' dance jams, and breathless ballads. So this one's for you, girls. Whether you're a diva, rebel girl, or teenage whore, bossy, nasty, or just wannabe, shake yer dix, put a ring on it, and call memaybe?

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Quick Reads: "Little America" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

| Sun Jun. 24, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Courtesy of Knopf PublishersLittle America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran

ALFRED A. KNOPF

Before turning his attention to our other military misadventure, Washington Post associate editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran wrote Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a damning Iraq War exposé that became the basis for Green Zone, that Matt Damon flick you probably missed. Here he returns with a highly readable chronicle of Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan. Little America offers a window into the thinking of our key decision makers, along with the requisite political and cultural context; his apt portrayal of the Afghan perspective and on-the-ground tensions—as when Richard Holbrooke, the late US envoy, backed a Karzai rival for president—makes the book a must for policy shapers and voters alike.

21 Adjectives (and 4 Adverbs) to Describe Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom"

| Sat Jun. 23, 2012 6:25 PM EDT

Whiny, sententious, stale, tedious, rambling, unamusing, flat, ho-hum, childish, embarrassing, jejune, twitchy-eyed, daffy, obvious, frustrating, self-congratulatory, left-leaning, emotionally manipulative, alarmingly candy-ass, maddeningly idealistic, and arduously quirky.

The Newsroom (premiering Sunday, June 24 at 10 p.m. EST on HBO) is a regrettable homecoming to television for writer Aaron Sorkin, the noted wit-and-quotable-monologue maestro behind Sports Night, The West Wing, Charlie Wilson's War, A Few Good Men, and a whole bunch of other plays and movies. After tanking so severely with NBC's one-season Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, you'd think that taking five years off from TV—and winning an Oscar in that interim—would have heralded a rebirth of Sorkin's small-screen touch; the kind of flair and insight that gave us the triumphant second and third seasons of the Bartlet administration.

Verdict: It is now clearer than ever that Aaron Sorkin should stick to churning out scripts for profitable and critically hailed Oscar bait, and stop trying to revisit the brief era when he was considered by many to be the best thing to happen to television since RCA color.

Quick Reads: "The Receptionist" by Janet Groth

| Sat Jun. 23, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker

By Janet Groth

ALGONQUIN BOOKS

In 1957, New Yorker staffer E.B. White hired 19-year-old Janet Groth, a doe-eyed Midwesterner, as the magazine's receptionist. For 21 years, Groth was gatekeeper to the literati hub, rubbing elbows with J.D. Salinger, Calvin Trillin, and Jamaica Kincaid while dreaming of publishing her own stuff. In the Mad Men-esque meantime, she marshaled staffers' wives and their philandering husbands, minded kids and empty houses, and sorted rejected cartoons. For all its intrigue, her graceful memoir aptly portrays the lot of the aspiring writer: self-loathing, loneliness, and a desperate desire to inhabit the literary world.

This review originally appeared in our July/August issue of Mother Jones. 

Steve Carell: Serial Young Lady Sexer?

| Fri Jun. 22, 2012 7:00 AM EDT
Ahh, yeeeeeaaahh.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Focus Features
101 minutes

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a lovely little film—one that's painfully funny, and drenched in rich metaphor. The premise is admirably gimmicky: With an Armageddon-size asteroid barrelling towards earth, human civilization is coming to an end in a few weeks. As expected, people the world over start panicking like wild animals. They loot, riot, and of course surrender themselves to nihilistic hedonism (feeding martinis to their toddler kids, injecting heroin at will, drunken orgies daily—basically, partying like they all just got back to Berlin after the Great War).

Dodge (played by Steve Carell), on the other hand, gets sedated and very, very mopey. So does Penny (Keira Knightley), Dodge's neighbor. In the midst of all the oh-shit-the-world's-coming-to-an-end commotion, the two strangers forge an unlikely bond, flee the city in Penny's Prius, and go on an adventure looking for Dodge's old flame. Thus kicks off their surprising road trip, set against the darkly humorous backdrop of imminent apocalypse.