2012 - %3, July

Exposing Major League Baseball's Seamy Side in the Dominican Republic

| Fri Jul. 13, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Ballplayer: Pelotero
Strand
73 minutes

In the riveting new documentary film Ballplayer: Pelotero, there's an early scene in which four Dominican teens are sitting in a spartan dorm room, shooting the shit about the future they anticipate as professional players in the United States. They joke about how their countrymen play with more flair than Americans and venture that Dominicans are harder workers and more talented than their northern counterparts. Then one of them gets serious. "A lot of us have pulled off tricks so we can sign," he says. "People change their ages and all that. But that's just what you have to do." 

For years, that sentiment—you do what you gotta do—has pervaded baseball in the Dominican Republic, home to 11 percent of major-leaguers, 24 percent of minor-leaguers, and a not-insignificant percentage of the game's recent scandals. Baseball is seen by many young men and their families in the Dominican as a way out; nearly 3.5 million people live in poverty (including some 1 million who subsist on less than $2 a day), and that sense of desperation has helped contribute to steroid abuse and widespread age and identification fraud among would-be players, often with the help of exploitative talent brokers known as buscones.

In the film, directors Ross Finkel, Travor Martin, and Jon Paley zoom in on two players, highly coveted Miguel Ángel Sanó and under-the-radar Jean Carlos Batista, as they train in advance for the big day: July 2, the first day that Dominican 16-year-olds can sign a contract with a big-league club. They go behind the scenes à la Hoop Dreams to illustrate just how shady the recruiting process can get in Major League Baseball's favorite feeding ground.

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The Dirty Projectors' New Harmony

| Mon Jul. 9, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
The Dirty Projectors.

The Dirty Projectors
Swing Lo Magellan
Domino Records

I think it's important to note that while digging up some background for my review of the Dirty Projectors' latest, out this week, I ended up transfixed by Nicki Minaj's very pastel and vaguely schizophrenic video for "Stupid Hoe." I didn't travel down this rabbit hole via run-of-the mill internet procrastination. David Longstreth—singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and notorious "musical overachiever" from the Dirty Projectors—has described it as the best music video he's ever seen, and I decided I had to re-watch it. You know, for research. 

Minaj, who turns the mirror on pop music by caricaturing all of its multiple personalities at once, thrives in complexity. Whatever Longstreth is channeling in the Dirty Projectors is too idiosyncratic for anyone to successfully pin down, and the "sounds like" descriptor thus summons up artists as bafflingly disparate as Steve Reich, Beyoncé, Phish, and Talking Heads. But this makes sense; ever since 2002, when Longstreth recorded his first album, The Graceful Fallen Mango, as a freshman at Yale, his meticulously orchestrated music has (like Minaj's)  always paid special reverence to the complexity of art.

Quick Read: "Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?" by Jesse Bering

| Sat Jul. 7, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?...and Other Reflections on Being Human

By Jesse Bering

FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX

I don't buy the notion that couples have especially vigorous sex following a woman's infidelity so that the guy's penis can scoop out his reproductive rival's sperm. Then again, author-psychologist Jesse Bering predicted I wouldn't. But even skeptics of evolutionary psychology will find much to appreciate in this collection of Bering's Scientific American and Slate essays on human behavior. With a frank, funny, and open-minded approach, he asks burning questions: Why do we grow pubic hair? Can a person have a genuine sexual preference for animals? If nothing else, they make great cocktail-party icebreakers: "So, did you know semen might have antidepressant qualities?"

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

"Savages": Oliver Stone Gets His Groove Back

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 2:37 PM EDT
"Savages" (2012).

Savages
Universal Pictures
127 minutes

Let's be real for a minute: Oliver Stone has been going through a rough dry-spell that began in the late '90s. Since his foray into neo-noir with 1997's U-Turn, his work has reflected a severe shortfall of mojo. Any Given Sunday was a letdown. World Trade Center was a passionless ode. W., though unfairly maligned, couldn't hold a glim to Stone's past political offerings. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was a solid "meh." And Alexander—along with its two director's cuts—was maybe one of the worst things to happen to anyone, anywhere, ever. And when he wasn't helming regrettable dramas, Stone could be found crafting facepalm-worthy love letters to Hugo Chavez, and working on a 10-hour, $5 million documentary for Showtime. (The documentary, titled The Untold History of the United States, will take an empathetic look at Mao, Stalin, and Hitler—and it all sounds so gruelingly Oliver Stone-y.)

But with Savages, Stone snaps out of his slump, long enough to make one intoxicating, gory, gut-punch of a movie.

The film, an adaptation of Don Winslow's best-selling novel of the same name, takes place in the medicinal-marijuana haven of Southern California, against a backdrop of seductive indolence. The plot is your average love story: Boy meets girl. Boy's best friend, too, meets girl. Boys and girl enter into a luscious three-way relationship, while boys operate a popular cannabis outlet under the protection of a crooked DEA agent. Powerful Mexican drug lords get angry with boys, kidnap girl, abscond with girl across the border. Boys go after cartel with assault rifles blazing, aiming to rescue girl so that they may return to the normalcy of their loving, polyandrous freakshow. Sadistic bloodletting ensues.

Short Takes: "The Queen of Versailles"

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

The Queen of Versailles

MAGNOLIA PICTURES

101 minutes

The queen is Jacqueline Siegel, an IBM engineer cum Mrs. Florida. Her decades-older husband is America's "timeshare king." Together they're building a 90,000-square-foot mansion dubbed Versailles. The film starts out as a better-than-fiction peek at the foibles of the 0.01 percent, but as the subprime crisis hits, it becomes a meditation on the collapse of a lifestyle built on debt. The Siegels struggle to save their kingdom, but just when you start feeling for them, Jackie opens another tin of caviar, and the title becomes all too apt.

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

The Mountain Goats Rule the Interwebs

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 6:01 AM EDT
John Darnielle (center) with drummer Jon Wurster (left) and multi-instrumentalist Peter Hughes (right).

I consider myself a pretty big Mountain Goats fan. That said, going to see them perform is always a very humbling experience for my fan ego. It’s not just the band's staggering 14-album discography, which frontman John Darnielle insists even he can't keep track of. It's how you can look around you at their shows and see a room full of wide-eyed, almost tearful, fans who live and bleed the Mountain Goats, or at least quite possibly listen only to them.

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The Men's Campfire Songs

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
The Men

It's a Sunday night at San Francisco's Bottom of the Hill—a glowing, dimly lit stakeout of a rock venue—and I've never seen anything quite like it: A guy in the audience who'd hobbled into the crowded room on crutches is now standing near the front of the stage, bouncing up and down, holding those crutches over his head.

The band that apparently has the power to heal the sick—or at least make him forget about the pain until after the show—is post-punk foursome the Men, and the song is a track off their latest album, Open Your Heart. Lanky bassist/producer Ben Greenberg also bounces; guitarists/vocalists Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi lunge their instruments at negative space; drummer Rich Samis rolls and flicks his head in furious rhythm. A third of the room is a mosh pit. I desperately fish around in my bag for the earplugs I've left at home, then realize that tinnitus is inevitable.

It's okay—I've made my peace. Back in Brooklyn, the Men enjoyed a reputation for two things: First, being one of the loudest yet most versatile bands around. Second: Not giving a fart about how anyone (i.e. bloggers) tried to pigeonhole their sound according to one of many noise, psychedelic, or classic rock reference points. The result, maybe, is the rare energy of shows like these, and albums that can slap an indie listener out of background-music worship. The lost frequencies are worth it.

Adventures in Sexist Pork Industry Pamphlets

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

With July 4th approaching, perhaps you're planning for the cornerstone of patriotic party-making: the barbeque. An Americana standard, this is the sacred time when friends and family gather round the grill. Dad flips burgers, and Mom, well, she sets out the lemonade or fusses over the napkins or something.

Well ladies, behold the post-feminist era's gift to you: Now you can turn the tables on your unsuspecting spouse/lover/friend/dad with "Girl Grill Power!" a guide to help ladies navigate the open pit, presented by "The Other White Meat" campaign.

Pork Information BureauPork Information Bureau

According to the Pork Information Bureau, here's what you need to know to become a lady-grillmaster:

1) Confused? Just pretend your grill is a man you're trying to romance.

PIB

This pamphlet is your staple "little black dress" to ensure you look good on your "first date with the grate." Just "work it," and your first hangout with Mr. Char-Broil will be a smashing success!

2) Grilling meat will make you "one hot mamma."

PIBAnd another thing that will make you the most fetching of grill-ladies? Absolutely no risk-taking at all when it comes to your homecooking. Heaven forbid you should gamble on your family's taste buds! Just make "certain they're satisfied," and you'll "light up the night."

3) You'll probably better understand how to prepare meat for the grill if the directions are couched in a sexual metaphor.

PIB

The Pork Information Bureau recommends that, when prepping your grub, you "rub it right" with the "Spicy Girl's Dry Rub," which you can use a little or a lot of, "depending on your mood." Really?

4) But don't forget about gender equity!

PIBWouldn't want to make your man feel like you're treading his territory, i.e. "the grilling throne". And of course your partner is a man, because meat grilling is something only heterosexual couples do.

5) Everything should be perfect. Always and forever.

PIBIf your table is absolutely flawless, all your female friends will be double-floored by your gender-bending grill antics.

6) Grilling is empowerment!

PIB

Yeah, enough with the booze already. Think of the calories! And speaking of: You might not know what "loin" means—tough word, I know—but just be sure it's on your meat label. That means it's healthy! And another vocab tip: "Loin" is two words. No, really:

 

Review: Magic Trick's 'Ruler of the Night'

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 5:59 AM EDT
Magic Trick.

The city that spawned the original psych-rock scene is at it again with a burgeoning group of bands and artists playing psych-pop, weird rock, and all manner of arty, eccentric takes on classic song structures and themes. Tim Cohen is one of the mainstays of this new scene: In addition to playing with the Fresh & Onlys, he started Magic Trick, initially a solo project in his apartment studio that gradually expanded to include San Francisco musicians James Kim, Alicia Vanden Heuvel, and Noelle Cahill. The band's new album, Ruler of the Night, is its second full-fledged effort after a couple of Cohen-only records.

As magic tricks go, this is a sleight of hand rather than a grand illusion—that is, one that enchants and delights in small, subtle ways, but only occasionally gives cause for outright marvel. The album is anchored by Cohen’s deep, resonant voice, often distant and washed in reverb, while tambourines, washboards, and multi-part harmonies take songs in unexpected directions. Sometimes the experimentation doesn't quite work—the quiet, twanging song "Next to Nothing," for example, is sprinkled with a distractingly obtrusive sound effect—but usually it adds a welcome note of the uncanny to catchy but otherwise straightforward pop-folk tunes.