Briefly Noted Movies, Books, Television, and More

Al Pacino as Jack Kevorkian, art from the Japanese internment camps, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, M.I.A.'s political pop, and more.


Cuddly Angel of Death

Al Pacino manages to make Dr. Death lovably eccentric in You Don't Know Jack, an HBO docudrama about Jack Kevorkian, the retired Michigan pathologist who became nationally notorious in the 1990s as a freelance suicide facilitator. Pacino also portrays Kevorkian's grandiosity and recklessness, which led to eight years in prison for second-degree murder after multiple acquittals for assisting suicide.

The film, though sympathetic to Kevorkian's cause, shows he was not really fighting for individual autonomy in matters of life and death. Instead he advocated laws, similar to those since enacted in Oregon and Washington state, that let people who want to kill themselves enlist the assistance of doctors, but only when their motives pass muster with these state-appointed gatekeepers. As Thomas Szasz argues in Fatal Freedom, such assistance is necessary only because the state blocks access to suicide-suitable drugs or because patients and their families want to disguise a moral decision as a medical one.—Jacob Sullum

Watching the Watchers

As London and New York increasingly head toward a surveillance state, technology is also enabling citizens to watch back. From the haunting cell phone images of the 2009 protests in Iran to the hundreds of police misconduct videos posted on YouTube, the democratization of cell phone and video capture technology is adding a layer of transparency to government that has never before been seen. It is also, thankfully, a transparency that governments might not be able to control. 

The latest user-friendly technology of countersurveillance is handheld computer applications such as UStream and Qik. These are cheap iPhone and Droid apps that enable users to broadcast real-time video streams directly to the Internet. The videos are instantly archived on off-site servers. That means that even if your phone is confiscated and destroyed'"an occupational hazard for freelance videographers of police encounters your traffic stop will be preserved for all the world to see.—Radley Balko

The Art of War

With Executive Order 9066, Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered the internment of 120,000 ethnic Japanese shortly after Pearl Harbor. Third-generation American-born citizens and new immigrants alike were forced to relocate quickly. 

When they arrived in dusty inland camps, they found only cots in bare barracks. Internees gathered scrap wood, metal, and other oddments to create the inkwells, chairs, jewelry, and sketches showcased in The Art of Gaman (roughly "suffering with dignity") at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., through January 30, 2011. 

The exhibit is a reminder of the diversity among these people uniformly classified as "the enemy" by a powerful wartime administration. Most heartbreaking are the items created in support of the American war effort, such as the senninbari silk vest—traditional for Japanese men going off to war—made by a foreign-born mother for her citizen son George Matsushita, who was recruited into the U.S. Army directly from the camps and sent to fight in Italy.—Katherine Mangu-Ward

Revolting Food Revolution

If there's one thing more nauseating than Michelle Obama replacing candy with vegetables at the White House Easter Egg Roll, it's celebrity chef Jamie Oliver hectoring the residents of America's fattest city, Huntington, West Virginia, into eating better. Your eating habits, the Englishman who rose to prominence as "The Naked Chef" tells an obese parent in a typical scene, "are going to kill your children!"

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution airs on ABC Friday evenings and can be found at Each episode is chock full, not simply of basic nutritional truisms (easy on the sweets, hurrah for fresh veggies) but the sort of Manichean bullying that attends contemporary discussions of food and fatness. "You gotta be afraid of me or come with me," Oliver tells a recalcitrant radio host.

The show brilliantly reveals the nanny mindset as only a pro-nanny show could, ignoring the range of safe choices people can make without privileging health above pleasure always.—Nick Gillespie

The Redhead Roundup

The music video may have died out as a vehicle for political protest, but in April the eclectic avant-world-beat artist M.I.A. released a haunting, nine-minute protest against the police state tied to her song "Born Free." The clip sent ripples across the Internet.

The video portrays a squad of police descending on a housing complex, roughing up ordinary-looking people as they're engaged in everyday activities (eating, sleeping, having sex). As the narrative progresses, the twist reveals the reason for the apparently random madness: The government is rounding up redheads. 

M.I.A., daughter of a Sri Lankan Tamil rebel, grew up amid war, and her music is unquestionably political, if not always coherent. She once claimed she wanted to "write songs about something important and make it sound like nothing." The images in the video for "Born Free" are less ambiguous. Coming at a time when government abuses are increasingly captured on video, they're also resonant.—Radley Balko