Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng

Reporter

Asawin Suebsaeng is a reporter at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. He has also written for The American Prospect, the Bangkok Post, and Shoecomics.com.

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A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., Asawin came back to DC with hopes of putting his flimsy Creative Writing major, student newspaper tenure, and interest in human rights and political chicanery to some use. He started cutting his teeth at F&M's student-run weekly, The College Reporter, serving as editor in chief. He has interned at The American Prospect, been a reporter for the Bangkok Post, and scribbled for ShoeComics.com. His favorite movie is either Apocalypse Now or Pirahna 3D, depending on the day or mood.

Mother of God, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson Made a Movie About Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws...

| Fri Feb. 22, 2013 10:19 PM PST

Snitch
Summit Entertainment
95 minutes

This may come as a huge shock to you: The movie industry frequently markets their product in dishonest ways in their efforts to make money. For instance, if you watched the trailer or any of the TV spots for the newly released Snitch, you'd think it was just another action movie with cars and guns starring The Rock:

In reality, there's roughly ten cumulative minutes of killing in the movie. Snitch, directed and co-written by ex-stuntman Ric Roman Waugh, is a family drama about a father (played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) who reunites with his estranged son after the kid is thrown in prison due to Draconian mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The dad then does everything he can—including becoming a top informant for a federal prosecutor and the DEA—to get his first-time-offender son's sentence reduced from ten years to zero. (The AARP has declared that this Dwayne Johnson movie is "really about good parenting.") Things get even bleaker when his good-natured and once college-bound son starts getting routinely harassed and, as the film implies, raped by the tougher and larger inmates.

Snitch features a lot of somber music and family members, understandably, in tears. It's hyper critical of the War on Drugs and the real-life mandatory minimum penalties that foster a counterproductive culture of "snitching." When the promotional materials read that the film is "inspired by true events," what that means is the script was based on a 1999 episode of PBS' Frontline titled, "Snitch: How Informants Have Become a Key Part of Prosecutorial Strategy in the Drug War." The episode examines two cases in which minor offenders got severe sentences based on the testimony of "snitches" who received sentence reductions in return for cooperating with authorities. Unlike the movie, the episode of PBS' acclaimed investigative news program does not feature a climactic car chase involving a 9mm submachine gun and a big rig.

So just to recap: Dwayne Johnson—a man most famous for pantomime wrestling, acting next to massive explosions, and knowing about the outcome of the Bin Laden raid pretty much before the rest of the world did—just made a movie slamming mandatory minimums that serves as a $35-million companion piece to a PBS documentary.

This is something that happened.

But in all seriousness, Johnson is an adept actor who handles the heavier emotions and grittier sequences here with ease and gravity. And Snitch is The Rock's best critique of the War on Drugs since the satirical press-conference scene at the beginning of the 2010 Will Ferrell comedy The Other Guys—where New York cops played by The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson heartily defend inflicting $12 million worth of property damage in order to bust criminals carrying only a quarter-pound of weed.

Now check out this clip from the original Frontline documentary "Snitch":

Watch "It Tore the Whole Family Up" on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Snitch gets a wide release on Friday, February 22. The film is rated PG-13 for drug content and sequences of violence. Click here for local showtimes and tickets.

Click here for more movie and TV coverage from Mother Jones.

To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To listen to the weekly movie and pop-culture podcast that Asawin co-hosts with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg, click here.

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In "The Gatekeepers," Israeli Security Chiefs Say What US Leaders Can't

| Fri Feb. 22, 2013 4:06 AM PST

The Gatekeepers
Sony Pictures Classics
97 minutes

"What's unnatural is the power you have to take three people, terrorists, and take their lives in an instant," says Yuval Diskin, the 12th director of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, during the opening sequence of The Gatekeepers. His blunt testimony sets the grave and mournful tone that defines the rest of this illuminating and devastating film.

The Oscar-nominated documentary, directed by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh, uses interviews with all six living ex-directors of the Shin Bet to paint a stark portrait of the agency and how it figures into the Jewish state's past, present, and future. For those who haven't heard of this security service, here are a couple lines from my crib sheet: Imagine the FBI, only tremendously more efficient, brutal, and terrifying. Now, imagine if the war on terror were half a century old, and if we had drone strikes and black sites in Florida and Montana.

That's what the Shin Bet is like for Israelis.

It's a juggernaut of counterterrorism and intel gathering. Shin Bet directors answer directly to the prime minister. The agency's greatest blunder was their failure to protect Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli leader who came closest to making peace with the Palestinians, from being murdered by a right-wing Israeli terrorist.

#LiberalTips2AvoidRape: The Most Horrible Hashtag of the Week Thus Far, Explained

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 2:08 PM PST

There's this new hashtag #LiberalTips2AvoidRape that's now on its second day of trending on Twitter: A really, really great expression of our shared humanity, and of the possibilities of feel-good, thoughtful conservative satire... this is not:

For the uninitiated, this isn't an example of right-wingers deciding out-of-the-blue to be insensitive to rape victims. They have their reason, and his name is Joe Salazar, a first-term Democratic state representative in Colorado. On Friday, Salazar spoke on the state House floor in support of House Bill 13-1226, which would eliminate "the authority of a concealed handgun permit holder to possess a concealed handgun on the campus of an institution of high education." In other words, the bill would ban concealed firearms on college campuses in Colorado. Opponents of the proposed legislation maintain that banning concealed carry on campuses would make it harder for students to protect themselves against mass shooters and rapists on school grounds.

Expert: Movie Based on a Bill O'Reilly Book Is More Accurate Than Spielberg's "Lincoln"

| Sat Feb. 16, 2013 1:19 PM PST

In late August, action-film maestro Tony Scott took his own life, jumping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge into the Los Angeles Harbor. One of the director's final projects was a made-for-TV movie that he co-executive produced with his brother Ridley: An adaptation of the nonfiction thriller Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever, a best-selling book written by Martin Dugard and TV host Bill O'Reilly. The film (premiering  on National Geographic Channel on Sunday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. ET/PT) stars Billy Campbell as President Abraham Lincoln and son of Don Johnson Jesse Johnson as stage-actor/assassin John Wilkes Booth. The movie is narrated by Tom Hanks' soothing timbre.

The made-for-cable Killing Lincoln continues Nat Geo's recent habit of debuting an original film right around the time a more high-profile movie with similar content is making the rounds in movie theaters and the awards circuit. (In November, the channel released its Bin Laden assassination movie starring William Fichtner—a project that might have reminded some viewers of this.)

Killing Lincoln never rises above marginally passable entertainment. It is a generally clunky and flavorless exercise weakly mimicking prestige filmmaking. It is also the latest in a months-long deluge of Lincoln movies that includes Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Steven Spielberg's massive Oscar-bait Lincoln, Saving Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, and Army of Frankensteins. Yet Killing Lincoln has one distinction among this bunch: It just might be the most historically accurate.

This may seem odd, given that the movie is based on a mediocre book that Bill O'Reilly wrote in his spare time in between creatively reinterpreting reality at Fox News. Furthermore, it's a book that history buffs have flagged for being pocked with factual errors.

For Valentine's Day Weekend 2013: Witches, Zombies, Nicholas Sparks, and "Die Hard"

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 3:42 PM PST
Love Free or Die Hard.

It's Valentine's/Presidents Day Weekend 2013, and your lover or spouse wants you to spend money on a night on the town. For some, that might involve a couple of hours together in a crowded air-conditioned chain movie theater, gorging yourself on pails of butter-slathered junk food.

If that's your reality, here are the options, three of which were released on Valentine's Day.

The first is Beautiful Creatures (Warner Brothers, 124 min.), a new romantic fantasy about a young human boy falling head over heels for a young female witch in rural South Carolina. (In the Beautiful Creatures universe, good witches prefer the more politically correct term "caster.") The film is a irreverent and genuinely interesting entry into the ever-bloated "Teen-Human-Falls-In-Forbidden-Love-With-Teen-Supernatural-Being" subgenre, so comparisons to the über-profitable Twilight franchise are inevitable, and the studio's ad campaign predictably tries to make Beautiful Creatures look like as much like Twilight as possible.

Such comparisons are bunk. Unlike any of the five movies in the Twilight saga, Beautiful Creatures is funny, sexy, and not a heaving pile of savage unbearability. And unlike any of the various Twilights, the cast here is uniformly excellent (Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons, Zoey Deutch, and the two romantic leads Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert).

It's more fitting to compare Beautiful Creatures to two other films also now in theaters. The newly released (and quite lovely) Warm Bodies—a romantic zombie comedy that includes the best use of Bruce Springsteen music in recent cinema—is essentially the same movie as Beautiful Creatures, if you swap the latter's witches for zombies. Both films are human/non-human teen romances, are based on a novel, are helmed by a talented writer/director, have an Australian actress in the lead female role, and were released within a few weeks of each other. You could also appropriately compare Beautiful Creatures to the new 3D action flick Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, seeing as how both films prominently feature a Bloodlusting Witch Hitler -type character (Emma Thompson plays the genocidal witch character in the former, Famke Janssen in the latter).

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