Zombies taking on the IDF, featuring Brad Pitt

World War Z
Paramount Pictures
116 minutes

This post contains minor spoilers.

World War Z, also known as Run, Brad Pitt, Run, is a thoughtful and hugely exciting culmination of producer Brad Pitt's campaign to create his very own Bourne-type action franchise starring zombies and Brad Pitt. The film, directed by Marc Forster and based on Max Brooks' beloved 2006 oral history (a novel in which Howard Dean and Colin Powell analogs are the leaders of the post-apocalyptic free world), is set at the dawn of a worldwide zombie takeover. The president of the United States is dead, major cities fall within hours, and a single bite from one of those ravenous creatures can turn you into one in a little more than 10 seconds. At the behest of surviving politicians and military commanders, retired UN inspector Gerry Lane (played by Pitt) bolts around the globe in search of a cure for the rapidly spreading zombie virus.

Beyond that I enjoyed World War Z's big-screen adaptation (I will leave the griping about the movie being a faithless adaptation of the novel to others), there are a few factors that stood out to me. First of all, World War Z: The Brad Pitt Saga is by far the best free advertising the United Nations has gotten in years: A courageous, loving, sex-appeal-gushing family man/UN employee—who has seen action in Liberia and Bosnia—is quite possibly humanity's only hope for survival.

But the aspect of the film I found most interesting is that World War Z completely resolves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Across the Pond

Across the Pond: An Englishman's View of America

By Terry Eagleton


In his Tocqueville-meets-Hodgman essays, British literary theorist Terry Eagleton throws a mostly kindhearted, if predictable, roast of America, taking apart, for instance, our obsessive positivity, puritan insistence on waking up early, and belief that "anything is possible" so long as you try hard enough. In darker moments, he observes that "societies like the United States which insist on success are bound to produce large amounts of human wreckage"—which we then manage with everything from yoga to psychotherapy to prisons. Eagleton's examples frequently miss the mark; his contention that American tourists will "explore the dullest landmarks, listen attentively to the most tedious of guides, and labour their way up and down the most unforgiving flights of stairs," while not inaccurate, might just as well apply to his own countrymen—or pretty much anyone with a fanny pack and a camera.


September 10 at the Empty Bottle, Chicago.

Track 4: "Turiya"
From Bitchin Bajas' Bitchitronics
Drag City

Liner notes: Looking for a safe, legal head trip? Take a journey through the canyons of your mind on this mesmerizing 16-minute epic, which finds surprising variety in oozing synthesizer sounds.

Behind the music: Originally a solo side venture of Cooper Crain from the rowdier Chicago band Cave, Bitchin Bajas became a duo with the addition of Mahjongg's Dan Quinlivan. With four tracks spanning 44 minutes, Bitchitronics was recorded primarily in a house in Fennville, Michigan.

Check it out if you like: Brain-melting electronic pioneers such as Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, and Can.

Armando Iannucci, with his Order of the British Empire medal at Buckingham Palace.

Armando Iannucci, the acclaimed satirist and creator of the HBO comedy Veep, is a self-described longtime politics geek. When he was growing up in a Scottish-Italian household in Glasgow, he stayed up late to watch American election results—the first US presidential election he watched with a budding fascination was in 1976, when Carter trumped Ford. His childhood attraction to observing UK and US politics evidently carried over into adulthood. The 49-year-old writer/director has a number of well-regarded political satires under his belt, and he's influenced such comic darlings as Sacha Baron Cohen, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Ricky Gervais.

Since the mid-1990s, Iannucci has been noted for a patented mold of rollicking commentary—a brand of comedy that takes mischievous deromanticization of political elites, and filters it through his rapid-fire sardonicism. (Prime examples are his work in British television including The Day Today and The Thick of It, and the latter's brilliant 2009 spin-off film In the Loop.) Many of his scripts are famous for their blitzes of carefully constructed, linguistically acrobatic profanity that's acidic enough to qualify as minor human rights abuses.

Man of Steel (Warner Bros., 143 minutes) is a commendable, if patently flawed, summer blockbuster. The highly anticipated Superman reboot, starring Henry Cavill and Amy Adams, merges the strengths and styles of its director Zack Snyder and its producer Christopher Nolan with mixed results. But the parts of the film that are exhilarating roundly compensate for the many parts of the film that are boring as all hell (dulled passion, bland dialogue, blander interactions).

Putting all that aside, one of the most fascinating things about this movie is how blatantly littered with product placement it is—roughly $160 million in product placement and promotions went into its makers' coffers. Man of Steel has over 100 global marketing partners, surpassing Universal's 2012 animated flick The Lorax, which reportedly had 70 partners. So if you have forgotten recently to eat at IHOP or shop at Sears, this film will remind you to do so in big letters.

But the film also doubles as advertisement for an employer arguably more noble than IHOP: The National Guard of the United States.

Here's behind-the-scenes footage released in May by the National Guard regarding their work with Snyder and Warner Bros.

Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center published results of a public survey of gay tolerance in 39 countries worldwide. The numbers are fairly unsurprising: While a high proportion of respondents in Western Europe and North America answered "yes" to the question "Should society accept homosexuality?" few respondents in the Middle East and Africa agreed with them.  

Levels of gay tolerance in 39 countries
The Washington Post / Pew

Among the least tolerant nations surveyed was Pakistan, where only 2 percent of those surveyed said society should accept homosexuality. That statistic might be unsurprising, considering that gay sex is illegal under the Pakistani penal code. But what is surprising is how those views compare to Pakistani search traffic around gay-porn-related terms.

As of this writing, Pakistan is by volume the world leader for Google searches of the terms "shemale sex," "teen anal sex," and "man fucking man," according to Google Trends. Pakistan also ranks second in the world (after similarly gay-intolerant Kenya) for volume of searches for the search term "gay sex pics."  

In its report, Pew noted that countries exhibiting the highest levels of gay tolerance are largely secular, whereas nations where religion is central to public lifesuch as Egypt, Nigeria, and Pakistantend to reject homosexuality. But in Pakistan, what's even more peculiar is that the highest number of hits for some of these terms, including "shemale sex," come not from Pakistan's cosmopolitan centers, but from Peshawar, a bastion of conservative Islam, lately known in the West as a counterterrorism frontline

Farahnaz Ispahani, an expert in Pakistani minorities at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former member of Pakistan's parliament, says that homosexuality is a taboo subject throughout the country. In major cities such as Lahore and Karachi, gays can develop a network of allies outside their tribe or family, but in conservative Peshawar, gay identity is more complicated. Part of the popularity of gay porn could stem from the fact that even highly observant Muslim males often have physical relationships with men without considering themselves gay, she says.  

"The real love they can have that most of us find with a partner, they find with men," Ispahani says. "They mostly see their wives as the mother of their children."  

At the same time, she says, persecution of minorities, including gays, has reached an all-time high in Pakistan, and discussing homosexuality openly in public is virtually forbidden. "Religious extremism is at a height today," she says. "Hindus are being forced to convert, Christians are being burned alive—there's very little personal safety for those seen as 'the other.' So what do [gay Pakistanis] do? They turn to pornography because they can't live their lives openly."  

Shereen El Feki, author of the recent book Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World, says the discrepancy between perceptions around homosexuality and its apparent reality in Pakistan is consistent with her own findings in the Middle East, where, in recent years, the dialogue around sexual identity has been co-opted by fundamentalist clerics.

"Islamic conservatives, whether they're actually in power or the governments in power are trying to placate them, they will tend to go to very narrow definitions of Islam," she says. "One of the easiest ways to do this is to come down hard on the role of women, and particularly around sex and homosexuality."

Long before the rise of Islamic conservatism, El Feki says, the Middle East and India had a literary tradition that celebrated gay love, but in recent years, that openness has been forgotten.

"You find in most civilizations in the Global South a much more open approach to homosexuality—irrespective of its status in religious and theological doctrine—than you find today," she says. "So very often, any attempt to open a dialogue in the Arab region is branded as some 'Western conspiracy' to undermine traditional Arab and Muslim values. The reality is that long before the West was talking openly about homosexuality, Arabs in particular were writing about this very frankly. Our history has come to be rewritten by Islamic conservatives."

Left to right: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride.

This Is the End
Columbia Pictures
85 minutes

You remember Left Behind, don't you? It's the Christian-apocalypse film series (based on the books) starring conservative activist and former Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron. The three film adaptations are critically panned train wrecks that portray the Rapture by casting a fictional United Nations secretary general as the Antichrist.

There is quite literally no fathomable reason for you to watch the Left Behind movies. But do go see This Is the End, which is essentially the same thing, only instead of bizarre and awful politics, there's Emma Watson brandishing a gigantic ax.

Sonny Smith is now officially awake.

Sonny & the Sunsets
Antenna to the Afterworld 

San Francisco native Sonny Smith, who sings like he's just woken up from a long nap, deserves more than cult acclaim. The captivating Antenna to the Afterworld adds a scruffy techno-sheen to his down-home garage rock, but lucky fans who already know his work will recognize Smith's usual inventive blend of rueful humor, absurdist detours and aching undercurrents of longing and existential dread. "I come from a planet of dogs," he murmurs placidly on "Dark Corners," only to conclude, "I see dark corners in your weird world," while "Void" finds him observing, "When I look into your eyes / I see the void," adding, "It's a funny kind of sad joy," which neatly sums up Smith's intriguing style.

For more Sonny, check out the recent 100 Records Vol. 3 (Polyvinyl), a fake various artists compilation, where he portrays such varied fictional performers as soul providers Little Antoine & the Sparrows, The Wayward Youth, a reggae band, and rockers Zig Speck & the Specktones. It's irresistible.

ZZ Top
The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990
Warner Bros.

Anybody who knows ZZ Top mainly for snazzy '80s hits such as "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man" is only getting part of the story. Long before the bearded trio became an MTV staple via exuberant, cartoonish videos and a crackling fusion of synth-pop and bar-room boogie, "That Little Ol' Band from Texas" (as they call themselves) was a premier blues-rock outfit, devoted curators of the legacy of Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker, but never slavish imitators.

This greasy 10-disc set, touted as featuring the original album mixes (for you record geeks), offers a terrific excuse to binge, ranging from sleazy early favorites like "Cheap Sunglasses" and "Tush" to their improbable mainstream success. Billy Gibbons and company continue to make tasty albums—most recently, 2012's La Futura—though today they sound as anachronistic as the artists who inspired them.

Murderous, poor-people-hating teenagers in "The Purge" (2013)

The Purge
Universal Pictures
85 minutes

The Purge, a bloody horror movie starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, has as much to say about income inequality in 21st-century America as it does about triumphantly swinging an ax into the spine of an amoral, wealthy college kid who's trying to kill your family.

The film takes place in 2022. An unseen cabal known as the "New Founding Fathers" rules over America. The main plank in their party platform is the institutionalization of "The Purge," an annual night during which all illegal activity—murder, rape, robbery, jaywalking, you name it—is legal for a 12-hour stretch. The Purge was made official policy by the New Founders following a quadruple-dip recession that led to skyrocketing levels of crime and poverty. The idea was to give naturally violent human beings one night to vent their bloodlust and wrath. Cable TV talking heads claim that the annual nationwide orgy of violence and lawlessness has indeed brought down crime for the other 364 days of the year, and the New Founders brag of a flourishing economy and record low unemployment.