2012 - %3, November

"Killing Them Softly": A Hitman Movie—That's Actually About the Financial Crash

| Fri Nov. 30, 2012 10:44 AM EST

Killing Them Softly
The Weinstein Company
97 minutes

Along with Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike, Killing Them Softly is so far the best Great Recession movie to emerge out of the film industry. (Sorry, Margin Call.)

The story is set in a decayed corner of New Orleans in 2008, at the dawn of the financial crisis. Toward the beginning of the movie, two amateur crooks—both wearing yellow dishwashing gloves, one brandishing a sawed-off shotgun—knock over a small mob-operated casino. As the pair raid the safe and force gamblers to empty their pockets and shoes, a televised address by George W. Bush echoes in the background. The president speaks calmly but deliberately about public panic and market meltdown, as hardened gangsters sit quietly while their wallets are emptied at gunpoint. The thieves then abscond with their bag stuffed with grime-smeared cash. And just like that, they trigger a total "economic collapse" of the local illicit-gambling/mobster economy.

Get it?

If the parallel isn't coming into astoundingly clear focus just yet, here's Aussie writer/director Andrew Dominik, talking about adapting George V. Higgins' 1974 novel Cogan's Trade into the screenplay for Killing Them Softly:

As I started adapting [the novel], it was the story of an economic crisis, and it was an economic crisis in an economy that was funded by gambling—and the crisis occurred due to a failure in regulation. It just seemed to have something that you couldn’t ignore. I always feel that crime films are about capitalism...

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Quick Reads: "Twentysomething" by Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig

| Fri Nov. 30, 2012 7:08 AM EST

Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?

By Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig

HUDSON STREET PRESS

In one of the New York Times Magazine's most-shared articles of 2010, science writer Robin Marantz Henig examined the research on "emerging adulthood"—the notion that young adults are taking longer and longer to grow up. In this follow-up she collaborates with her 27-year-old daughter, Samantha (the Times Mag's online editor), to explore the myriad social factors—the student-loan crisis, the social-media revolution, the mainstreaming of fertility services—that make this slow-maturation process unique to millennials. The obvious critique, which the Henigs acknowledge but can't quite dispel, is that this falls into the category of a nice problem to have. Extended adolescence, after all, tends to be limited to those who can afford it.

This review originally appeared in our November/December issue of Mother Jones.

Quick Reads: "The Injustice System" by Clive Stafford Smith

| Thu Nov. 29, 2012 7:08 AM EST

The Injustice System: A Murder in Miami and a Trial Gone Wrong

By Clive Stafford Smith

VIKING

Accused of a sensational double murder in 1986 Miami, Trinidadian millionaire Kris Maharaj seemed destined for death row, and ended up there thanks to a conviction-hungry prosecutor and a hapless defense attorney (now a circuit court judge). This memoir, which reads like a true-crime thriller, describes how defense lawyer Clive Stafford Smith got his client off death row by uncovering brazen misconduct, both judicial (one judge actually solicited a bribe from the defendant) and prosecutorial (withholding evidence). It also turned out that the murder victims, presented in court as upright businessmen, had been laundering cash for a drug cartel, and skimming off the top. Smith's account leaves us utterly convinced of his client's innocence and delivers a powerful indictment of the system we rely on for justice.

This review originally appeared in our November/December issue of Mother Jones.

Short Takes: "Bidder 70"

| Thu Nov. 29, 2012 7:08 AM EST

Bidder 70

GAGE AND GAGE PRODUCTIONS

73 minutes

In the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, Utah college student Tim DeChristopher was angry about the ravaging of public lands by drilling companies, so he monkey-wrenched a federal oil lease auction, bidding $1.8 million for drilling rights with no intention of paying. Facing 10 years in federal prison (and ultimately receiving 2), DeChristopher became an overnight cause célèbre. In Bidder 70, a husband-and-wife documentary team delves into DeChristopher's personal history and taps a roster of activists, scientists, lawyers, and politicians to explore how civil disobedience plays into the modern environmental movement.

This review originally appeared in our November/December issue of Mother Jones.

Quick Reads: "What's a Dog For?" by John Homans

| Wed Nov. 28, 2012 7:03 AM EST

What's a Dog For?

By John Homans

PENGUIN PRESS

The spayed and shampooed apartment-dwelling puppy has come a long way from its wolf ancestors. John Homans, a dog lover and executive editor of New York magazine, retraces that journey from Darwin's study of canine emotions to puppy mills to a canine-science conclave in Vienna. The book covers doggie consciousness and evolution, but Homans hits his stride on topics like the red-state (pro)/blue-state (con) divide over euthanasia and the aristocratic origins of canine pedigree. Sprinkled throughout are charming anecdotes that will delight dog lovers and even likely appeal to die-hard cat people.

This review originally appeared in our November/December issue of Mother Jones.

Why It Sucks to Be a Woman in the Video Game Industry

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 4:11 PM EST

Update: The folks at Kotaku rounded up the best of #1reasontobe, notes from women in gaming on why they put up with this crap. "Because writers from other mediums treat me like I’ve come from Narnia," says award-winning video game writer Rhianna Pratchett, "full of wisdom and insight about a strange new land." Go check it out.

Thousands of women working in the video game industry are coming forward with stories of vicious sexism they've faced on the job. The Twitter hashtag #1reasonwhy sprang up overnight seemingly in response to Luke Crane, a fantasy role-playing gamer, who asked, "Why are there so few lady game creators?"

It's a good question: While women make up 47 percent of the gaming audience, a 2005 study (the most recent comprehensive survey) revealed that more than 88 percent of the industry's employees are male. Female game devs—and their male supporters—have some theories. To wit:

There are stories of being mistaken for a "real" developer's girlfriend at conferences, getting passed over by mentors in favor of male colleagues with less talent, and the tedium of working on female game characters who exist to wear sexy outfits and sleep with the badass male hero. Romana Ramzan claimed she was told that a networking event during the Game Developers Conference would be "a good place for a woman to pick up a husband."

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Short Takes: "Inventing David Geffen"

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 7:08 AM EST

Inventing David Geffen

PBS

114 minutes

If nothing else, this film reminds us just how ubiquitous David Geffen is. "The music culture, a show-biz culture, the motion picture culture," says Tom Hanks. "He built it." This funny, fast-paced documentary uses interviews with old friends, A-list stars, and Geffen, 69, to chart how a Jewish kid from a modest Brooklyn household became a media magnate adored and reviled for his relentless cultivation of talent from Dylan to Nirvana—a man who produced films like Beetlejuice and Risky Business, helped launch Broadway's Dreamgirls, and still found time to schmooze with presidents, date Cher (even though he's gay), and sue Neil Young. Highlight: Geffen describing his early career at the William Morris talent agency, where he honed his talent for spewing "bullshit on the phone" and essentially conned and lied his way to the top.

This review originally appeared in our November/December issue of Mother Jones.

Quick Reads: "Oddly Normal" by John Schwartz

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 7:08 AM EST

Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality

By John Schwartz

GOTHAM BOOKS

Joe, the youngest son of New York Times reporter John Schwartz, grew up playing with Barbies, BeDazzling his toys, and ransacking his big sister's jewelry box. Schwartz knew his "fabulous five-year-old," sashaying around the house in pink light-up shoes, was different, but was he gay? Eight years later, when Joe came out, his schoolmates took the news in typical middle-school fashion—horribly. It wasn't long before the boy tried to kill himself with a Benadryl overdose. Equal parts memoir and reportage, Oddly Normal chronicles the Schwartz family's mistakes, heartaches, and triumphs in raising a child coming to grips with his sexuality.

This review originally appeared in our November/December issue of Mother Jones.

Holiday Movies That Don't Suck

| Thu Nov. 22, 2012 7:08 AM EST
"OMG, honey, I'm so glad we rented 'Die Hard!'"

We're officially in the holiday season—which means there's secular Christmas pop music on every radio station, families hugging, good food being made (hopefully), weeping elf-slaves meeting the demands of online shopping, and, of course, holiday movies on every TV channel.

For family viewing, there are the obvious staples: Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life basically gets all the airtime in the world as Christmas approaches. Animated Disney and Pixar movies do well on TV this time of year. Charlie Brown, Kevin McCallister, and National Lampoon are also ubiquitous options.

Here are six family movies for the holidays that you might have overlooked—and another five holiday-ready flicks that you might want to watch without the kids:

Fantastic Mr. Fox: In 2009, director Wes Anderson took a critically acclaimed stab at stop-motion animation, and adapted Roald Dahl's (Scarlett Johansson-endorsed) children's book from 1970. George Clooney and Meryl Streep voice a married fox couple who go up against three mean-spirited farmers. The film's soundtrack also includes the Bobby Fuller Four, the Beach Boys, and "Street Fighting Man" by The Rolling Stones:

Meet Me in St. Louis: The 1944 classic, with Judy Garland being Judy Garland:

The Muppets: This came out last year, and featured a bunch of new original songs by Flight of the Conchords member Bret McKenzie. It is arguably the best Muppet movie ever. The film also provoked a depressingly hilarious conservative backlash. (Muppets have a long-running left-wing bias.)

Bolt: This 2008 computer-animated film is easy to write off as a Pixar knock-off. But it's actually got a lot of heart and visual oomph. Also, one of the main characters is a lovably delusional and insane hamster named Rhino, who does things like suggest snapping a security guard's neck:

The Last Waltz: It's never too early to introduce your small children to amazing music. Martin Scorsese's documentary captures The Band's star-studded farewell concert, which took place on Thanksgiving 1976. The film is rated PG and it's family-friendly, mostly because all the cocaine involved in the concert was edited-out. Here's a clip, this one of Eric Clapton jamming with The Band before a giddy audience:

The Absent-Minded Professor: This 1961 Disney picture provided the basis for the 1997 Robin Williams comedy Flubber. Here's the film in its entirety:

Thanksgiving Longreads: What Lab Creation Are You Eating?

| Wed Nov. 21, 2012 7:17 PM EST

1947 Spam ad featuring pineapple and BBQ sauce. Yum?1947 Spam ad featuring pineapple and BBQ sauce. Yum? James Vaughan /Flickr

longreadsFor the past hundred years or so, the food industry has used the laws of chemistry to beat nature into submission. Apples that don't brown! Bread that rises to ethereal heights! Twinkies that last forever!

But Twinkie-makers do not last forever, and while feats of laboratory science were once hailed as progress, foodie culture has since turned against convenience and long shelf lives. These longreads explore how science and marketing have shaped our perceptions of what we eat. Tuck in.

For more long stories from Mother Jones check out our longreads archive. And, of course, if you're not following @longreads and @motherjones on Twitter yet, get on that.


Twelve Easy Pieces (Apples)| Jon Mooallem | New York Times Magazine | February 2006

As the famous mind behind a different type of Apple product once said, "People don't know what they want until you show it to them." So while it may seem preposterous that a simple apple is too inconvenient to eat, makers of pre-sliced apples think they're onto something.

 

For years, suspicion has been growing in the orchards of the Wenatchee Valley in Washington State and in the food industry at large that fruit, nature's original hand-held convenience food, is simply too poorly designed for today's busy eater. The apple, for instance: whatever it has meant to Americans over the years—from mom's pie to the little red schoolhouse—getting our mouths around one has also apparently meant some unspoken aggravation. Next to a banana or a grape, it's a daunting strongbox of a fruit, prohibitively so for anyone with braces or dentures; and even if you can break in, there's no guarantee a given apple will eat as sweet as it looks.