2014 - %3, February

Film Review: Lunch Hour

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 7:00 AM EST

Lunch Hour

BIRDSTREET PRODUCTIONS

"I know that I don't wanna eat it, and that I don't think it's healthy, but yet I'm serving it to 600 kids," a frustrated school official tells director James Costa, whose easily digestible 75-minute doc takes a hard look at the National School Lunch Program. Politicians, doctors, and administrators line up to discuss their war on artery-clogging meals, the obesity epidemic, heart disease, and the crap that ends up on kids' lunch trays. Lunch Hour doesn't deliver the wallop of, say, Fast Food Nation, but it packs enough outrage to make you dread your child's daily trip to the cafeteria.

This review originally appeared in our March/April 2014 issue of Mother Jones.

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WATCH: The Arizona Legislature Just Issued You a Discrimination License [Fiore Cartoon]

| Thu Feb. 27, 2014 7:00 PM EST

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

This Map Does Not Show What Your State's Favorite Band Is

| Wed Feb. 26, 2014 5:56 PM EST

Hello. Good day.

This map has been going around the internet. You've probably seen it posted with a headline like "Here Is Your State's Favorite Band."

But this map does not show what your state's favorite band is. It does not purport to show what your state's favorite band is. This map shows what band or musical artist people in your state like to listen to more than people in other states. The man behind the map, Paul Lamere, gathered streaming data by zip code and then built an app that lets you compare the most distinct tastes by region. Pretty cool!

For example, according to the map, people in Idaho are way more likely to listen to Tegan and Sara than people in the rest of the United States. This does not mean, however, that Tegan and Sara is the most popular band in Idaho. What is the most popular band/musical artist in Idaho? I have no idea. Tom Petty was pretty popular when I was growing up there, but that was years ago. Who knows?

These misleading headlines are not the map's fault. The map is good. The map is cool. The map shows where in the country you are most likely to run into someone with the same somewhat peculiar music taste as you.

Let's say the mob is after you. You've stolen some money and they are going to kill you. You've been tipped off by a friend, who saw one of the enforcers asking for you at the local watering hole. You've got to get out of town, and I mean fast. You head to the airport and everything is looking aces, but then the mob sees you and a car chase ensues. You're just trying to get to the airport but bang bang bang—wow, this is cinematic—right turn, left turn, over the bridge, and through the tunnel. By the time you pull up to the airport, half the city is in ruins. The streets flow with the blood of fallen mob soldiers. You're going to be okay—or are you? The mafia boss's psychotic son is down but not out. You see him making his way toward the ticket counter. You tell the ticket agent that you need a flight. "A flight to where?" she asks. That's when it hits you: You don't even know where you're going. "Jesus Christ, I don't know! I don't have time for this! You see that guy drenched in blood? He's going to KILL ME! GIVE ME A TICKET!" "Let me ask you this," she goes on. "How important is it that wherever you go, you're able to have a conversation about the band Tegan and Sara?" "Oh, very important, obviously." "Well, you're far more likely to be able to have that conversation in Idaho than anywhere else." "How could you possibly know that?" "Let me show you this map." "Boise it is!" Then she gives you the ticket, winks, and floats off into the clouds.

Anyway, that's what this map shows you. What this map does not show you is what your state's favorite band is. Headline writers, please stop saying it does. It's really driving me crazy.

UPDATE, February 27,2014: In response to the confusion over mapgate 2014, Mr. Lamere has made a second map that actually shows what is, in fact, your state's favorite band. Or at least what is the most streamed musical artist in your state in the last year.

Paul Lamere

 

The New Bryan Cranston "Godzilla" Trailer is Awesome—and Explicitly Calls Out US Nuclear Testing

| Tue Feb. 25, 2014 9:55 PM EST

The upcoming Godzilla reboot (set for a May release) will offer its own modern take on the origin of the famous city-squashing monster. It's directed by Gareth Edwards, and stars Bryan CranstonElizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The new trailer is out, and it's pretty great:

At about the minute mark, you hear characters explaining how mankind created its own colossal nightmare. Their explanation seems to call out actual American nuclear testing, specifically Operation Castle. Here are some lines of dialogue narrating images in the trailer:

In 1954, we awakened something.

With those nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Not tests...

They were trying to kill it.

And thus Godzilla comes back as a radioactive beast to destroy and rampage.

The nuclear "tests" mentioned in the trailer (and presumably the film) likely refer to Operation Castle, a series of nuclear tests conducted by the United States in early 1954 at Bikini Atoll. The original Godzilla film (Gojira) premiered that same year, and was cleverly critical of that kind of testing. (The critically maligned 1998 Godzilla, directed by Roland Emmerich, blamed Godzilla's wrath on nuclear tests in French Polynesia.)

Here's a declassified video on Operation Castle:

Here's Comedy Legend Harold Ramis' Advice to Young Filmmakers

| Mon Feb. 24, 2014 4:03 PM EST

Harold Ramis, the influential comedy filmmaker, died on Monday in his hometown of Chicago from complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. He was 69.

Ramis is best known for directing acclaimed comedies such as Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, and Analyze This, and for cowriting and starring in Ghostbusters. His work has had a huge impact on American comedy over the past 30-plus years. "The simple idiot's advice I give to screenwriters who say they want to sell a screenplay is, 'Write good,'" Ramis said during an interview for American Storytellers in 2002. "Nothing sells like a good screenplay."

Here's more advice for young filmmakers from Ramis' American Storytellers interview. It's worth taking to heart:

You have to live your life with a certain blind confidence that if it's your destiny to succeed at these things, it will happen, if you just continue to follow a straight path, to do you work as conscientiously and as creatively as you can, and to just stay open to all opportunity and experience. There's a performing motto at Second City...to say yes instead of no. It's actually an improvisational rule…It's about supporting the other person. And the corollary to that is if you concentrate on making other people look good, then we all have the potential to look good. If you're just worried about yourself—How am I doing? How am I doing?—which is kind of a refrain in Hollywood, you know, people are desperately trying to make their careers in isolation, independent of everyone around them.

And I've always found that my career happened as a result of a tremendous synergy of all the talented people I've worked with, all helping each other, all connecting, and reconnecting in different combinations. So…identify talented people around you and then instead of going into competition with them, or trying to wipe them out, make alliances, make creative friendships that allow you and your friends to grow together, because someday your friend is going to be sitting across a desk from you running a movie studio.

Watch the full video below:

The Stone Foxes' "Goodnight Moon Project" Humanizes the Homeless

| Mon Feb. 24, 2014 7:00 AM EST
Shannon Keihlor of Stone Foxes.

The sun is setting over the San Francisco skyline. Business suits blend with just-purchased city sweatshirts as tourists navigate around the denizens of the financial district into the Montgomery MUNI station. Hurriedly and expressionless, they step past the cardboard signs and bundles of blankets—makeshift concrete bedrooms to protect against another cold night.

After eight years living and performing in the city with his locally based rock band, The Stone Foxes, singer Shannon Koehler has seen this scene many times. "It's totally unbelievable how many folks are out there who spent the night on the streets," he says, adding, "They are still there in the morning seeing if you'll loan them a dime."

Koehler says he was shocked to see so many homeless when he first arrived in SF from his tiny hometown near the Sierra National Forest. But he was even more taken aback when it eventually occurred to him that he no longer noticed them. "I would walk by the same people everyday and I realized that I don't know them and all they have been trying to do is say hi. They aren't even asking for money," he says. "At some point you start to feel disgusted about how you are seeing the world. Maybe then you need to wake up a little bit."

This was the inspiration for the Stone Foxes' "The Goodnight Moon Project." Playing off the best-selling book for toddlers, Koehler wrote a song from the perspective of someone looking for answers as they fall asleep outside in the cold. The band recruited homeless participants from local shelters and tour stops to perform the song and share their stories. The result was the video below, produced with the help of a grant from the Bay Area company Clif Bar. (They also began collecting canned goods at their shows to donate to shelters.) The band's aim is to destigmatize homelessness. "The whole idea," Koehler says, "is to give a face to our fans, so they know: this is who you are helping, and this is what homelessness looks like."

Marta, an older homeless woman who participated in the project, was warm and open and insisted upon being called "Captain Marta." There was Count Zee Bop, who played djembe on the song. "He's a better drummer than I am," Koehler says laughing. But perhaps the most memorable was Walter, an older African American man whose low singing voice lent itself perfectly to the blues-inspired music. After performing, he approached Koehler to voice his appreciation. He had braved many cold nights under bridges and said the song hit home. He tells stories of police breaking up homeless encampments, and of friends he says froze to death as a result.

Koehler's lyrics tell the often unspoken story of homelessness from the perspective of those who have experienced it. Yet as the voices come together over the band's unique brand of bluesy rock, the song lends positivity and optimism to a sad situation. It's a reflection of Koehler himself, who smiles as he speaks amiably about serious social-justice issues and how important they are to him. He wears the duality well. "My mom calls me a crude Garrisson Keilor—which is actually really close," he says, laughing.

Shannon Koehler outside Montgomery MUNI station. Gabrielle Canon

He credits this outlook, and his desire to make a difference, to his upbringing. Raised Mennonite in a rural town East of Fresno he and his brother Spence were taught to value pacifism and community. The band's sound, too, was influenced by music his listened to as a kid. "The first record that we had was mom's Led Zeppelin IV, and we had to listen to that on a Fisher-Price turntable," he says. "It just kept going from there." He and Spence were 12 and 14 respectively when they started playing together. Without much else to do on 40 acres of land, Spence picked up guitar and Shannon followed suit, playing drums and harmonica.

When they moved to San Francisco for college they were joined by Aaron Mort, (bass, guitar, vocals), and Elliott Peltzman (Rhodes, organ, piano) and began blowing out speakers in small venues throughout San Francisco as The Stone Foxes. By 2010 they were known in the city and were touring around the US, opening for bands like The Black Keys, Cage the Elephant, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Through it all they remained committed to their style along with the intention to make their music meaningful.

But they're not here to preach. "I like lowercase truths" Koehler explains. They want their music to make people feel good. "Our lyrics might be a little more on the political side but [at shows] it is time to party, and there is no other reason to go to a show than to have a good time."

The Stone Foxes released their third album, Small Fires in 2013, and are gearing up for some "secret" social-media announced shows around San Francisco and festival appearances this Spring and Summer. Attendees should be ready for doctor-defying crowdsurfing—Koehler says his last crowd-surfing injury won't stop him—and the occasional bra thrown onstage.

And keep bringing your canned goods to the merch booth. The Goodnight Moon Project is permanent, Koehler says. "The easiest thing for anybody to do, is if you are going to go to a Stone Foxes show, just look in your pantry and if you have a little something extra, bring it. We will give you a poster, and you will feel happy."

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Lost in the Trees' "Past Life" Will Creep You Out (in a Good Way)

| Mon Feb. 24, 2014 7:00 AM EST

Lost in the Trees
Past Life
Anti-

Enthralling and more than a little spooky, the third Lost in the Trees album features a downsized lineup (from six to four members), but the band's ethereal essence remains the same. Leader Ari Picker's elegant orchestral pop is the perfect vehicle for his sweetly melancholy voice, echoing John Vanderslice's best work in its effortless embrace of profound unease and deep yearning.

While 2012's A Church That Fits Our Needs was a response to the suicide of Picker's mother, Past Life is a fever dream of free-association lyrics reflecting on relationships and marked by recurring images of stairs, light and dark, and water. Whether you try to decipher his poetry or simply absorb the unsettled vibe, misty tunes such as "Daunting Friend" and "Night Walking" get under the skin like an exotic itch.

Is "House of Cards'" Most Principled New Character Also a War Criminal?

| Fri Feb. 21, 2014 7:00 AM EST

Democratic congresswoman and war vet Jacqueline Sharp (played by Molly Parker) is one of the most sympathetic characters on the Netflix political drama House of Cards. In a series populated by dark, purely self-interested, and/or corrupt characters, Sharp is something of a refreshing outlier. She is smart and strong, particularly when in a room of cynical, powerful old men. She is generally a kind and upfront person. She demonstrates an aversion to unethical deal-making. And she isn't a heartless mass-manipulator on the scale of Vice President Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey).

"I don't think that this character is a sociopath. I think that she has a conscience," Parker said of her character. "I think that she's a principled woman in terms of her point of view, her perspective as a soldier."

However likeable or principled she may be, could she also be the show's first war criminal?

In the first episode of season two, Underwood informs Sharp that he wishes to have her succeed him as House Majority Whip. When she asks why he is so adamant, the morally bankrupt Underwood reveals that he picked her because of her "ruthless pragmatism" in wartime. He asks her about the number of missile strikes she ordered during the war, and how she ordered them knowing many innocent women and children would perish in the attacks. "I had orders to eliminate the enemy," she says, rationalizing the civilian casualties. "I watched apartment buildings, entire villages, gone, like they were never there."

Her actions clearly haunt her. In a subsequent episode, when she is in bed with her lover, she confesses in sorrow that she "killed a lot of people," before she tells him to continue bringing her to climax.

Charts: Hollywood's White Dude Problem

| Fri Feb. 21, 2014 7:00 AM EST

It's 2014, yet women and people of color still are vastly underrepresented in the United States media landscape. A report published Wednesday by the Women's Media Center found that, while some progress toward equality has been made, journalism and entertainment still lack a diversity of voices and a variety in representation. If the US media were a person, he'd be an old white guy.

This post has been updated

Obama Lookalike Satan Character Axed From Jesus Movie "Son of God"

| Tue Feb. 18, 2014 4:30 PM EST

Last March, when the 10-hour miniseries The Bible premiered on History channel, many observers (including Glenn Beck) noted that Satan (played by Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni):

...resembled Barack Obama:

Barack Obama
Elizabeth Cromwell/Wikimedia Commons

The internet had some fun with this, and the meme was especially funny when you considered the insane theories already out there that Obama was put on earth to do Satan's bidding. Anyway, History, Ouazanni, and producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett all rolled their eyes at the Obama comparisons. "Both Mark and I have nothing but respect and love [for] our president, who is a fellow Christian," Downey said in March. "False statements such as these are just designed as a foolish distraction to try and discredit the beauty of the story of The Bible."

But in the abridged film version of The Bible (titled Son of God), which hits theaters next week, Satan won't be getting any screen time. "Someone made a comment that the actor who played the devil vaguely resembled our president, and suddenly the media went nuts," Downey, who also plays Mother Mary, told the Hollywood Reporter on Monday. Downey elaborated on this in a USA Today op-ed published later that day: "The next day, when I was sure everyone would only be talking about Jesus, they were talking about Satan instead," she wrote. "For our movie, Son of God, I wanted all of the focus to be on Jesus...It gives me great pleasure to tell you that the devil is on the cutting-room floor."

The White House did not respond to a request for comment regarding Devil Obama being dropped from the movie. Here is a clip, via THR, of Jesus (played by Diogo Morgado) meeting the allegedly presidential Satan in last year's miniseries: