2013 - %3, August

How the Newtown School Shooting Altered the Marketing and Publicity for "Kick-Ass 2"

| Fri Aug. 16, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Jim Carrey.

Kick-Ass 2
Universal Pictures
103 minutes

Following the December massacre in Newtown, Connecticut—in which 20 schoolchildren were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary—there were a lot of well-intentioned but shallow efforts by the entertainment industry to strike a chord of sensitivity. As everybody knows, violent movies mean big bucks for major movie studios. But in the wake of widely publicized tragedies, Hollywood stars and executives generally don't want to be seen as callous.

After Newtown, the LA premiere of Quentin Tarantino's brutally violent Django Unchained was canceled, and Django star Jamie Foxx even cautioned against gratuitous violence in cinema. On television, the debut of reality TV special Best Funeral Ever was postponed, and Ted Nugent's celebration of gun culture was nixed from the Discovery Channel. And on commercial radio, Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" and Ke$ha's "Die Young" received substantially reduced airplay, due to lyrics involving children and death. It's the standard outpouring of PR gestures, however meaningless they turn out to be.

One entertainer, however, took things further than a simple one-off gesture. Actor Jim Carrey saw this as his cue to wage an offensive on gun culture in America. In February, Carrey tweeted that anyone "who would run out to buy an assault rifle after the Newtown massacre has very little left in their body or soul worth protecting." In March, he starred in a somewhat controversial Funny or Die music video that was harshly critical of gun owners and actor and NRA president Charlton Heston. He remained vocal on the matter, and in June he announced that he would not be promoting his next movie: the bullets-and-blood-filled superhero movie Kick-Ass 2, the sequel to the critically acclaimed 2010 Kick-Ass. "I did Kickass a month [before] Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence," the actor wrote. "[M]y apologies to others involve[d] with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart."

In the film, Carrey plays Colonel Stars and Stripes, a former mob enforcer who became a born-again Christian/tough-as-nails vigilante hero. "Family living in the street deserves a hot meal; inebriated college girl deserves to make it home safe at night," the Colonel tells his crew of superheroes, reminding them why they do what they do. Although the Colonel enacts brutal justice against human traffickers and murderers, he maintains a personal policy of not firing guns. (That fact was actually one of the things that initially intrigued Carrey about the role.) 

But yes, the movie is very violent, and those offended by gratuitous cop-killing will probably get turned off by the film's gratuitous cop-killing.

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Quick Reads: "The Distraction Addiction" by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

| Fri Aug. 16, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

 

The Distraction Addiction

The Distraction Addiction

By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY

In this rumination on our shrinking digital-era attention spans, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang reminds us that our brains are still capable of feats far beyond the reach of computers. We may be afflicted with "monkey mind," he concludes, but rather than fight our compulsions with web-blocking software like Freedom, we're better off embracing technology as an extension of self, wielding it as unthinkingly as we would a bionic arm.

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

 

How Agribusiness Keeps Us "Betting on Famine"

| Wed Aug. 14, 2013 4:58 PM EDT
Courtesy of The New Press

By Jean Ziegler, translated from the French by Christopher Caines

THE NEW PRESS

Jean Ziegler, the former Special Rapporteur for Food for the United Nations, begins his new book with two disturbing statistics. "In its current state, the global agricultural system would in fact, without any difficulty, be capable of feeding 12 billion people, or twice the world's current population," he writes. And yet, "every five seconds, a child under the age of ten dies of hunger."

In Betting on Famine: Why the World Still Goes Hungry, out on August 6, Ziegler explores the disconnect between resources and the people in need of them. He tours readers around indebted countries that have transformed their agricultural base into export industries, forfeiting the ability to feed themselves. Haiti, for instance, could thirty years ago grow enough rice to feed its people, but after lowering barriers to imported rice at the behest of the International Monetary Fund, it wrecked local rice production to the point that now it must spend 80 percent of its revenue on imported food.

Ziegler shows us how starvation in places like Haiti, Ethiopia, and India can be traced back in no small part to those titans of global commerce who insist that freedom of trade is essential, but freedom from hunger is not. As market solutions have been pushed as the cure-all for poverty and hunger, the world's poor now swim in the same tank as predatory sharks: financial speculators who deliberately drive up the price of food to make exponential profits.

And high prices have created perverse markets. Colombia, for example, is a major producer of palm oil, and exports a lot of it to Europe for use in biodiesel. In recent years, the country has stepped up production to feed the world market, but back home, the palm-oil industry has brought about illegal land seizures, displacement, and violence by paramilitary groups in support of agribusiness.

Elsewhere in the world, agribusiness companies like South Korea's Daewoo Logistics and the French conglomerate Vilgrain, sometimes backed by private equity and sovereign wealth funds, have started to acquire their own land in poor countries to grow food and biofuels, often for export. Sometimes these companies simply hold onto the land until they can resell it for a higher price—which can further diminish a country's ability to feed itself.

At the front gate of one massive farm in West Africa, Ziegler describes his encounter with an employee of the foreign company that owns it. As Ziegler recounts, the company's lease was tax-exempt for 99 years. When asked about this arrangement, the young technician became defensive:

"We don't pay taxes? That's not true! We employ young people from the villages. The Senegalese government collects taxes on their incomes."

Ziegler's outrage is hardly reserved for the mid-level employees of agribusiness, however. Throughout the book, he puts his disgust for the leaders of global commerce on full display for the world. Hunger, he says, is "in no way inevitable. Every child who starves to death is murdered."

Still, there are two sides to Ziegler's story, and the disdain he expresses for the World Trade Organization, the US government, and its two "hired guns"the IMF and the World Bankappears to be mutual. Having taken a prominent stand against genetically modified crops in food aid in 2002, he ran afoul not just of the US government but the usually benevolent World Food Program. A letter to Kofi Annan, which found its way to the public by way of the 2010-11 WikiLeaks dump, accused Ziegler of undermining efforts to deliver food to the very people he wished to support by stirring fears around GMO's "without citing any scientific authorities, studies or reports." The World Food Program demanded the Swiss Rapporteur be removed from his position. (With Annan's backing, Ziegler stayed on another six years.)

Betting on Famine offers a series of poignant, if unnerving, vignettes about global agriculture collected from Ziegler's years with the UN. The message is not always cohesive, yet one truth shines through: The biggest problem today is not a dearth of technology, but an overflow greed. 

Watch Werner Herzog's Devastating Documentary on Texting While Driving

| Tue Aug. 13, 2013 4:39 PM EDT

Here's something you should check out now, if you haven't already. "From One Second to the Next" is a 35-minute public service announcement sponsored by AT&T's "It Can Wait" campaign, and directed by German filmmaker Werner Herzog (as in the internationally acclaimed and highly influential director of such films as Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Grizzly Man). It's a thoroughly effective and artfully crafted PSA that examines the easily preventable death toll caused by texting while driving.

Watch:

Screenings of the short documentary are being planned for over 40,000 high schools, as well as hundreds of government agencies and safety groups. "There’s a completely new culture out there," Herzog told The Canadian Press. "I'm not a participant of texting and driving—or texting at all—but I see there's something going on in civilization which is coming with great vehemence at us."

By some estimates, texting-while-driving causes thousands of deaths annually in the US, and states such as Connecticut and New York have passed new laws increasing fines and restrictions. Not too long ago, AT&T stopped lobbying against legislation aimed at cracking down on these types of driver distractions, and has since launched an awareness campaign. For instance, earlier this year, AT&T brought a street-driving simulator (aesthetically similar to what you'd find in a Chuck E. Cheese's) to Capitol Hill to show a bipartisan gathering of lawmakers the dangers of texting behind the wheel.

But PSAs can only go so far. State penalties for texting while driving range from a $20 fine up to a maximum $10,000 fine and a year in jail. Check out which states have the toughest or weakest laws here.

 

Fast Tracks: "I Have No One" from "The South Side of Soul Street: The Minaret Soul Singles 1967-1976"

| Tue Aug. 13, 2013 3:18 PM EDT

Disc 2, Track 3

"I Have No One"

From The South Side of Soul Street: The Minaret Soul Singles 1967-1976

Omnivore

Liner notes: Keep the fire extinguisher handy when Big John Hamilton pours out his heart on this smoldering lament.

Behind the music: Based in a tiny town on the Florida Panhandle, Finley Duncan’s Minaret label released a slew of fine R&B singles in its decade of operation, all included on this two-disc set. Hamilton, Minaret's most prolific artist, worked with Etta James and Hank Ballard before going solo.

Check it out if you like: Southern soul crooners like Joe Simon, Percy Sledge, and James Carr.

A One-Word Review of Disney's "Planes"

| Fri Aug. 9, 2013 6:18 PM EDT

 

Why?

 

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"Elysium": Matt Damon Shoots His Way to Universal Health Care

| Fri Aug. 9, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

#OCCUPY.

Elysium
TriStar Pictures
109 minutes

"Elysium doesn't have a message," Neill Blomkamp, the film's writer/director, told Wired recently. The South African-Canadian filmmaker (famous for Academy Award Best Picture nominee District 9) also discussed how he wasn't a fan of people drawing parallels between the Occupy movement and his new movie.

"It's not just hypocritical to say this movie isn't political, it's hilarious," Dan Gainor of the conservative Media Research Center told Fox News in response. "This is just the latest of several Hollywood movies this year to try and co-opt Occupy Wall Street plotlines into their films." Other right-leaning observers have voiced similar sentiments. Big Hollywood, Breitbart.com's pop-culture wing, has been rooting for the film to fail. Newsmax has dubbed the film, "Matt Damon's Sci-Fi Socialism" and "heavy-handed political propaganda."

Some of the conservative hate directed at Elysium's political content, real and imagined, is (as you can guess) a bit much. However, it's odd that Blomkamp would claim his film does not have a "message." His sci-fi action flick is explicitly and pervasively political. It gets its two cents in on global poverty, immigration, access to health care, and social mobility, all the while affording Matt Damon plenty of room to maim and explode bad guys.

6 Non-Headliners to Check Out at the Outside Lands Festival

| Mon Aug. 5, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Ever since 2008, when Radiohead powered through fog and sound fuck-ups for an adoring, overcapacity crowd in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco's Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival has attracted some of the music world's top talent. With the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nine Inch Nails at the top of the bill along with Paul McCartney (who recently teamed up with the surviving members of Nirvana for a show in Seattle), this year's festival would have the lineup for the ages…if it happened to be 1994.

Sure, RHCP are still putting out albums, but their latest dropped to little acclaim two years ago, and the band hasn't done anything bold or original since 1999's Californication. (Yes, that was a '90s album.) The most recent buzz around the band came when a security guard for the Rolling Stones failed to recognize frontman Anthony Kiedis, mistaking him for a superfan and knocking him to the ground as he tried to enter a Philadelphia hotel.

Trent Reznor has a new NIN album coming in early September featuring a strong first single, "Came Back Haunted," and a David Lynch-directed, seizure-inducing video. But even the video is nostalgic—in a decidedly nightmarish way—featuring a creepy, dark figure that could be the goth sister of the Blind Melon bee girl.

Music Review: "Kiss Me by the Water Cooler" by Hero & Leander

| Mon Aug. 5, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

TRACK 3

"Kiss Me by the Water Cooler"

From Hero & Leander's Tumble

TAPETE RECORDS

Liner notes: "Kiss me while you dry your hair/Kiss me in your underwear," Emily Sills sings in this duet with bandmate Gary Cansell, channeling the exuberance of an old Broadway musical.

Behind the music: The UK sextet is named after a doomed romance from Greek mythology. But its shiny debut is more optimistic.

Check it out if you like: Clever Britpoppers like Pulp, Lily Allen, and Deaf School.

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

Music Review: "Ribbons" by Heliotropes

| Mon Aug. 5, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

TRACK 6

"Ribbons"

From Heliotropes' A Constant Sea

MANIMAL VINYL

Liner notes: Jessica Numsuwankijkul projects eerie calm as fuzzed-out guitars and brutal drums build to a thrilling peak.

Behind the music: This all-woman Brooklyn quartet got early attention for its striking covers of Roky Erickson's "I Walked with a Zombie" and Nirvana's "Negative Creep."

Check it out if you like: Wild Flag, Dinosaur Jr., and Vivian Girls.

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