A Political Study With No Diagnosis, But Plenty Of Access

A new documentary follows the 2013 mayoral campaign of former Rep. Anthony Weiner.

A new documentary follows the 2013 mayoral campaign of former Rep. Anthony Weiner. IFC Films hide caption

toggle caption IFC Films

There’s a moment in Weiner, the documentary about the disgraced ex-congressman’s disastrous run for mayor of New York, in which viewers may actually feel for the guy. Anthony Weiner is in a Jewish bakery when he is challenged by a yarmulke-wearing customer. The candidate reacts with a raw fury that’s as politically self-destructive as his scandalous cellphone self-portraits.

Only later, when directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg revisit the incident, does it all become clear: Weiner was angered because the potential constituent had impugned the Jewish politician’s marriage to “an Arab.”

Weiner’s spouse is, of course, Huma Abedin, known as Hillary Clinton’s closest aide. Her husband’s ardor to defend her and their marriage renders him briefly sympathetic. Yet in the movie, it’s hard to spot anyone or anything — even smirky New York Post headlines — that does more to damage the couple’s union than Weiner himself.

Why? That’s the question Weiner, and Weiner, doesn’t answer. Two years after he resigned from Congress, Weiner was well-positioned in a crowded 2013 primary race. Then more (and more explicit) cellphone photos and texts were revealed, some of them apparently sent after Weiner had already apologized for the ones over which he had resigned in the first place.

Eventually, in the film, Weiner finds himself ducking one of the young women with whom he corresponded. She turns out to be not a student of government but a self-promoting porn star. Given the sort of messages Weiner sent to women he’d never met, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

“I think there is something wrong with you,” MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell tells Weiner in a TV interview. But the pol just won’t employ the psychiatric defense. He never says he is a sexting addict, or offers any other rationalization that might soften the distaste of voters who have struggled with some compulsion of their own.

Instead, he tries to use the exchange to show his steely resolve. He proudly shows the interview to Abedin, who by now appears utterly shell-shocked, and she simply leaves the room.

Remarkably, the filmmakers don’t. In the footage Kriegman, Steinberg and editor-writer Eli B. Despres assembled into this painful portrait, the couple rarely closes the door on the crew.

Kriegman worked for Weiner in the mid-2000s and apparently still has his trust. Weiner once tells him off for being too intrusive to qualify as a “fly on the wall,” but he never pulls the plug. The camera follows the candidate, Abedin and their toddler around their apartment as if the resulting film is a wedding video rather than a political funeral.

Whatever his other addictions, the film shows Weiner to be enslaved to retail politics. He walks in every parade and happily waves the flag of any group whose members are registered to vote in the five boroughs. Colombia, Israel, LGBTQ — he’s there. This need to identify is, presumably, connected to his itch to expose himself in low-res photos.

Weiner never says that. The documentary’s strength is that it doesn’t insist on a diagnosis. “Why have you let me film this?” asks Kriegman at the end, and his former boss has no answer.

Yet the open-endedness is also a weakness, since the movie asks viewers to endure massive quantities of humiliation — especially Abedin’s — without any catharsis. Weiner verges on being the cable-news-era equivalent of a carnival freak show.

That may be appropriate, given political developments since 2013. Early in the movie, a prominent New Yorker piously denounces the would-be mayor as a “pervert.” That man is now the de facto Republican nominee for president of the United States.

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Oklahoma Lawmakers Pass Bill That Makes Performing An Abortion A Felony

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, pictured here in February, has not indicated whether she plans to sign the bill into law.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, pictured here in February, has not indicated whether she plans to sign the bill into law. J Pat Carter/AP hide caption

toggle caption J Pat Carter/AP

Oklahoma lawmakers have passed a bill that makes performing an abortion a felony.

NPR’s Jennifer Ludden told our Newscast unit that the bill is the first of its kind, and an abortion rights group plans to sue if the governor signs the bill into law. Gov. Mary Fallin has not yet indicated what she plans to do. Here’s more from Jennifer:

“Under the bill, doctors who perform an abortion could face three years in prison, and lose their medical license. There are no exceptions for rape or incest — only the mother’s life. Oklahoma lawmakers passed the measure with no debate. The only doctor in the Senate — a Republican — voted no, calling it ‘insane.’ “

That doctor, Sen. Ervin Yen, predicted it would be “declared null and void” should it be signed into law, The Oklahoman reported.

As Jennifer reported, “Abortion rights groups say the bill is unconstitutional, a direct violation of Roe v. Wade” – the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

According to the Associated Press, State Sen. Nathan Dahm, one of the bill’s authors, is hoping that the law will be a step toward overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Since I believe life begins at conception, it should be protected, and I believe it’s a core function of state government to defend that life from the beginning of conception,” Dahm told the wire service.

The Center for Reproductive Rights sent a letter to Fallin, who is a Republican, asking her to veto the bill. “This measure is harmful, discriminatory, clearly unconstitutional, and insulting to Oklahoma women and their families,” the letter reads.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has this recap of Fallin’s history with the issue:

“Since Governor Fallin took office in 2011, she has signed 18 bills restricting access to reproductive health care services, including a Texas-style clinic shutdown law, a ban on the most common method of second trimester abortion, unconstitutional restrictions on medication abortion, and a law that forces abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and display and describe the image. Each of these laws have been blocked by courts; in fact, the Center for Reproductive Rights has challenged unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care in Oklahoma eight times in five years.”

Today, the Senate voted 33-12 in favor of the bill, with three abstentions. Last month, Oklahoma’s House of Representatives voted 59-9 to approve the bill, with 33 abstentions.

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#5DollarChallenge: We Mapped Out The Best Meals You Can Buy Five Bucks Or Less

Check out the #5dollarchallenge map from Youth Radio

toggle caption Youth Radio

Young people want meals that are quick — and also fresh and healthy and interesting.

But can they get all of that for less than five bucks?

Three weeks ago, Youth Radio and NPR asked you to send in pictures of the best meals you can purchase for five bucks or less.

Based on the submissions to the #5dollarchallenge, we’re happy to report that a Lincoln can indeed buy quite a lot of deliciousness.

Check out Youth Radio’s interactive map for some of your favorite meals from every region of the U.S.

While we applaud those of you who sent in photos of meals you prepared at home with ingredients that cost less than $5, for this map, we chose pre-made meals you can pick up on the fly.

These weren’t necessarily healthy meals, though lots of you sent in cheap veggie options — which isn’t surprising. I’m vegetarian, and whether I’m buying a burrito or a burger, I usually end up paying less than my meat-eating friends.

@youthradio My fav cheap lunch! Veggie bagel @ Aroma/Oakland. $4.11 if I don’t do cookie splurge! #5DollarChallenge pic.twitter.com/FO41V4dfUm

— Rebecca Martin (@rebm) May 5, 2016

But people sent in plenty of meaty submissions as well. Alongside all that meat, we also got a lot of burgers, burritos and pizza, which means: bread, bread, bread! Especially since gluten-free meals are a huge trend right now, it was interesting to see so many carb-heavy options.

On the lighter side, many prepared salads came from grocery stores. This illustrates the “groceraunt” trend — more supermarkets are offering meals we typically expect from sit-down eateries.

Hey @youthradio I got this breathtaking Peking duck sandwich at Vanessa’s in NYC Chinatown for $3 #5dollarchallenge pic.twitter.com/Ro4MuFODrT

— Monica Eng (@monicaeng) May 9, 2016

There were a handful of breakfast options, consisting of the usual suspects: eggs, bacon and toast.

Some of the most appetizing-looking submissions were foods with origins outside the U.S.: tacos, tikka masala, sushi, fried rice and bahn mi sandwiches. These were some of the heartiest meals available at reduced costs.

However, very few submissions included a beverage. Five bucks can buy a range of food, but this tight budget may leave some of you thirsty. (Of course, tap water is often free.)

A nice Kale & Broccoli salad kit from #TraderJoes for $2.49. @youthradio #5dollarchallenge @TraderJoesBest pic.twitter.com/1Fz4Kz81uS

— Emily Eldridge (@eldrideg) May 4, 2016

Thanks to all who participated in the #5dollarchallenge! And let us know if we left any of your favorite cheap meals off the map on Twitter — tag @youthradio and @NPRFood.

Kasey Saeturn is a reporter with Youth Radio, which produced this story as part of its series Fast Food Scramble with NPR’s Sonari Glinton.

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Alt.Latino Goes Classical: Orchestral Music From Latin America

José Martinez's mariachi opera Cruzar La Cara De La Luna premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in 2010.

José Martinez’s mariachi opera Cruzar La Cara De La Luna premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in 2010. Felix Sanchez/Houston Grand Opera hide caption

toggle caption Felix Sanchez/Houston Grand Opera

I bet you don’t think of classical works when you think of the catch-all phrase “Latin music.” But this episode of Alt.Latino is here to tell you that you should.

We invited our colleague Tom Huizenga to sit in this week for Jasmine Garsd while she takes a well-deserved vacation. Tom writes NPR Music’s Deceptive Cadence blog about all things classical, and on this episode of Alt.Latino, he offers a concise beginner’s overview of what and whom you should hear in classical music from Latin America.

If you think classical isn’t your thing, consider these highlights from the show: music by a Brazilian composer that dramatically represents a train ride through the Brazilian jungle; newly discovered manuscripts that were locked in a Bolivian cathedral for centuries; an American pianist, this country’s first big-shot music superstar, whose music was heavily influenced by Cuba; and two Mexican composers who put that country on the classical map shortly after the Mexican Revolution, with music celebrating the country’s indigenous people.

And I didn’t even mention the mariachi opera!

There’s more to classical music from Latin America than you think. Listen now and discover that world for yourself.

Hear The Music

Cover for Renaissance Radio


18Missa Pro defunctis II, for 6 voices [Kyrie]


Tomas Luis de Victoria: Requiem — ‘Kyrie’

  • Song: Missa Pro defunctis II, for 6 voices [Kyrie]
  • from Renaissance Radio
  • by The Tallis Scholars
El Nuevo Mundo.

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/478227143/478402112" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Santiago de Murcia: Cumbes

  • Song: Cumbes
  • from El Nuevo Mundo
  • by Jordi Savall
Bolivian Baroque.
12In hoc Mundo, for voice & ensemble [Sonata]

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/478227143/478403734" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Domenico Zipoli: Sonata

  • Song: In hoc Mundo, for voice & ensemble [Sonata]
  • from Bolivian Baroque [includes DVD]
  • by Florilegium
02Bamboula, danse des nègres for piano, Op. 2, D. 13 (RO 20)

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/478227143/478403482" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Bamboula (Danse des nègres)

  • Song: Bamboula, danse des nègres for piano, Op. 2, D. 13 (RO 20)
  • from Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Piano Music
  • by Cecile Licad
07Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2, for orchestra, A. 247 [Toccata – O trenzinho do Caipira (The Peasant’s Little Train)]

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/478227143/478402383" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2, Toccata — ‘Little Train of Caipira’

  • Song: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2, for orchestra, A. 247 [Toccata – O trenzinho do Caipira (The Peasant’s Little Train)]
  • from Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras (Complete)
  • by Nashville Symphony
Heitor Villa-Lobos.
01Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, for voice & 8 cellos, A. 389 [Aria]

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/478227143/478402942" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, ‘Aria’

  • Song: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, for voice & 8 cellos, A. 389 [Aria]
  • from Heitor Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras Nos. 1, 2, 5 & 9
  • by Victoria de los Angeles
Silvestre Revueltas.
05La Noche de los Mayas, suite for orchestra (compiled by José Limantour from the film score) [Noche de encantamiento (Night of Enchantment)]

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/478227143/478404698" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Silvestre Revueltas: La Noche de los Mayas — ‘Noche de encantamiento’

  • Song: La Noche de los Mayas, suite for orchestra (compiled by José Limantour from the film score) [Noche de encantamiento (Night of Enchantment)]
  • from Revueltas: Orchestral Music
  • by Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra, Mexico
Carlos Chavez.
01Xochipilli, an Imagined Aztec Music

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/478227143/478405621" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Carlos Chavez: Xochipilli, an Imagined Aztec Music

  • Song: Xochipilli, an Imagined Aztec Music
  • from Carlos Chavez: Chamber Works
  • by Eduardo Mata
Latin American Classics.

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/478227143/478406603" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Alberto Ginastera: Estancia — ‘Malambo’

  • Song: Malambo
  • from Latin American Classics, Vol. 1
  • by Enrique Bátiz / Festival Orchestra Of Mexico
Cruzar la cara de la luna.
07Cruzar la Cara de la Luna – ‘A Town Without Men’

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/478227143/478408008" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Martinez: Cruzar la Cara de la Luna — ‘A Town Without Men’

  • Song: Cruzar la Cara de la Luna – ‘A Town Without Men’
  • from José “Pepe” Martinez: Cruzar la Cara de la Luna
  • by Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán
Roberto Sierra.
04Sinfonía No. 3 (“La Salsa”) [Jolgorio]

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/478227143/478408807" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Roberto Sierra: Sinfonia No. 3, ‘La Salsa’ — ‘Jolgorio’

  • Song: Sinfonía No. 3 (“La Salsa”) [Jolgorio]
  • from Roberto Sierra: Sinfonía No. 3 ‘La Salsa’
  • by Maximiano Valdes

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Why One Startup Is Offering Meals Made By Home Cooks And Middle Schoolers

Willard Middle School students chop carrots for a meal they will sell through Josephine.

Willard Middle School students chop carrots for a meal they will sell through Josephine. Teresa Chin/Youth Radio hide caption

toggle caption Teresa Chin/Youth Radio

We’re facing a kind of food revolution, and my generation is driving it.

Not so long ago, when fast food giants reigned supreme, takeout meant cheap, quick, greasy meals. But a recent Goldman Sachs report found that people under 35 are now demanding food that’s fresh and healthy — as well as fast.

That’s good news for food entrepreneurs like Charley Wang. “We don’t want something that everyone and anyone can have,” Wang says. “We want something that has soul, that has personalization to it.”

Wang is co-founder of Josephine, an Oakland. Calif.-based startup that connects home chefs in the San Francisco Bay Area looking to break into the food marketplace with folks in their neighborhood who are hungry for a good meal.

Customers can go to Josephine’s website, choose from an array of home-cooked options, pay online and pick up dinner within minutes of placing their order.

“So it’s convenient, says Renee McGhee, 60, who has sold her homemade comfort food on Josephine. “It’s like, here’s a business in your hand, run with it!”

The company takes 10 percent of cooks’ revenue in exchange for access to the online ordering platform, community forum, and marketing materials. Mcghee’s pantry is piled high with paper containers, plastic lids and to-go bags — all provided by Josephine.

“We don’t want something that everyone and anyone can have. We want something that has soul, that has personalization to it,” said Charley Wang, cofounder of community food start-up Josephine. Jenny Bolario/Youth Radio hide caption

toggle caption Jenny Bolario/Youth Radio

Most of the cooks on Josephine, like McGhee, operate out of their home kitchens. But the company’s most popular meals come from an unexpected place: a middle school campus.

Willard Middle School in Berkeley, Calif., is in its second year of partnering with Josephine to make and sell hundreds of meals every month — with some adult supervision. The student-run operation sells about 200 meals on one designated day each month — and in the week leading up to that day, you’ll see teachers preparing giant piles of vegetables from the school garden to be chopped by 12- and 13-year-olds.

The partnership is a win-win. Josephine gets the kind of community credibility consumers want, while the school gets a cool learning opportunity and a much-needed source of ongoing funding. The scheme has also taught Willard students a lot about the food business.

The first massive meal the students made for Josephine customers definitely didn’t go as planned, recalls 13-year-old Willard student Fae Rauber. “We had rice we were making, and it all didn’t work,” she says. The students weren’t used to making rice on that scale, and discovered shortly before mealtime that the batch didn’t cook properly, and was inedible. “So we had to go and buy rice, like half an hour before people started coming.”

But despite mishaps, last school year Josephine’s partnership brought the school more than $30,000 in revenue and accounted for 25 percent of Josephine’s new customers.

Like other companies that are part of the so-called “sharing economy,” Josephine’s business model has put it at odds with industry regulators. Last month, the city of Berkeley’s Environmental Health Division sent several Josephine cooks — including McGhee — cease and desist orders for selling meals from their homes without a permit.

“The issue really is about food safety and being able to inspect how food is prepared,” said Matthai Chakko, a spokesperson for the city of Berkeley. He says it’s not safe to buy food made in home kitchens because they aren’t inspected, and usually don’t have the equipment you need to make food safely in mass quantities.

Willard Middle School uses the produce from their school garden to create meals.

Willard Middle School uses the produce from their school garden to create meals. Teresa Chin/Youth Radio hide caption

toggle caption Teresa Chin/Youth Radio

Luckily, the kids at Willard Middle School have access to commercial-grade kitchens that have the necessary permits – so they’re still in business. And the company says it’s pushing to change California’s law regarding who can make and sell food.

“People were happy and pleased to come here and get their meals, and I think that’s their right,” McGhee says.

But actually delivering on what makes consumers happy is something the on-demand food industry is still figuring out. With pioneers like SpoonRocket, a start-up that made and delivered inexpensive meals in about 10 minutes, going out of business, and other companies trying to stir up more regular use of their services by discounting meals and charging monthly membership fees, it seems that entrepreneurs are still working on getting the recipe right.

This story was produced by Youth Radio as part of its series Fast Food Scramble with NPR’s Sonari Glinton. Don’t forget to check out the map of $5 meals sent in by listeners at YouthRadio.org

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Female Students Flip The Script For 'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising'

Zac Efron and Seth Rogen reunite in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.

Zac Efron and Seth Rogen reunite in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. Universal Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Universal Pictures

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is likely the first college comedy to show a frat party from a woman’s perspective, and it is scary. The young sorority pledges trudge reluctantly through a creepy house infected by unsupervised male id, trying to avoid the grabby hands and drink offerings of their leering hosts. “I’m getting a really rape-y vibe,” one of the girls says, as neon signs leading to the bedrooms read “Stairway to Heaven” and “No Means Yes.” But three disgusted freshmen, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, and Beanie Feldstein, decide to build their own heaven instead: by launching an off-campus house where they can throw their own parties.

In the two short years since the original Neighbors pitted one of those old-school National Lampoon movie fraternities against new parents played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, there’s been a sea change in popular culture’s view of Greek life. Much of that may be due to increased exposure of the sexual assault epidemic on American campuses, including how dangerous some frat parties have become for women. When one character instructs another to “never drink the punch,” like it’s a well-known fact of life, it could be a line from The Hunting Ground.

This is a really grim way to set the table for a movie where a shirtless Rogen sprints through a tailgate with a garbage bag full of marijuana. But one of Neighbors 2‘s unexpected charms is that it touches on such issues without trivializing them. The film’s turning point is the (very real) fact that the National Panhellenic Conference bans U.S. sorority chapters from consuming alcohol in their own houses. The girls’ plan to rent the house formerly occupied by Zac Efron’s frat crew for partying purposes is an approach that could help curb campus rape in real life. But it’s nevertheless bad news for the Radners next door (Rogen and Byrne), who have a little girl with another on the way, and who have just sold their house in escrow and need to keep shenanigans at bay for 30 days until they can close the deal.

And so, another generation-gap rivalry begins. The girls refuse to rein in their parties, and they are aided at first by Efron’s Teddy, former campus king turned purposeless mid-twenties sad sack. (It’s heartening to find that Van Wilder-style perma-collegedom is no longer something to be emulated.) A running theme throughout the escalating neighbor wars is parenthood: The Radners look at the undisciplined girls next door and see their daughters in the future, when they no longer will want anything to do with the “old people” telling them how to have fun.

But this half-hearted attempt to discuss maturation is second to the film’s true purpose: gender-flipping all the first movie’s jokes about rowdy college kids. Lazy? Maybe, but in a Hollywood starving for female-fronted movies of any stripe, it still qualifies as revolutionary. The approach allows the women to be instruments of comedy, rather than targets of it. Condom jokes become tampon jokes, with the sisters verbally challenging the idea that what they’re doing is any more disgusting. When Moretz’s character loses her virginity, we never even see the partner, or the act; we only see the celebration her sisters throw for her (the women have good onscreen chemistry, even if they never distinguish themselves as individual characters). And there are long discussions over what does and does not constitute sexism, which get more laughs than anything Rogen does with his dad bod for the upteenth time.

As was true of the first Neighbors, this film’s construction is rather sloppy. The running gags involving small children don’t work, characters blab tons of semi-improvised filler, and the overall look is cheap. The script also lacks the sense of pushing a concept to the outer limits that Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg pulled off so well in Superbad and This Is The End. (They are two of five credited writers, all male; the director is Nicholas Stoller, who also helmed the first Neighbors and the under-appreciated The Five-Year Engagement.) But the deck is stacked with ace comic performers like Byrne, who does a splendid morning-sickness puke, and Efron, making his hunky boyishness the butt of every joke.

And at only 92 minutes, the film’s hurry to rush through its plethora of characters becomes a strength, because we don’t have enough time to get bored by any one scene. The set pieces may be thin, but they show flickers of genuine warmth. “Let’s do what parents do better than anything: Stop young people from having fun,” Rogen yells as a rallying cry. But the women of Neighbors 2, for once, don’t have to stop.

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Crowe And Gosling Bumble Appealingly Through 'The Nice Guys'

Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling star in The Nice Guys, an action comedy from Shane Black — a writer-director who's long shown a fondness for sending up L.A. noir.

Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling star in The Nice Guys, an action comedy from Shane Black — a writer-director who’s long shown a fondness for sending up L.A. noir. Daniel McFadden/Warner Bros. hide caption

toggle caption Daniel McFadden/Warner Bros.

There was a time, in the late ’80s and early-to-mid ’90s, when Shane Black was the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood — and one of the most widely resented, too. As a 24-year-old film brat wunderkind, Black codified the buddy action-comedy with his script for Lethal Weapon, and a series of commercial hits and misses followed, including Lethal Weapon 2, The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. At the time, it seemed like Black was being paid to inject more vulgarity and smarm into the mainstream, but the dialogue in those scripts — fast, clever, literate, referential — suggested a voice tied as much to Old Hollywood and dime-store fiction as the blockbuster trends of the day.

After a decade in the wilderness, Black returned with an electric directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that clarified his old-school sensibility better than anything he’d written in the past. He still loved the buddy-movie genre — the film’s throwback quality started with the casting of Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer in the lead roles — but the sheer musicality of the writing, with its dextrous wit and nested conspiracies, evoked the shaggy-dog tradition of L.A. noir, from The Big Sleep to The Big Lebowski. Once tagged as an overpaid purveyor of Tinseltown trash, Black had emerged as a bridge between two genre traditions, the noir and the buddy picture, that had long since fallen out of favor.

With The Nice Guys, his wildly entertaining new detective comedy, Black visits the smog-choked, libertine Los Angeles of the mid-to-late 1970s, a few years and a few miles removed from private eyes like Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye or Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice. Only The Nice Guys doesn’t linger in the haze. It has the byzantine plot of an L.A. noir, but races through it with the breathless energy of Black’s other work. From a simple missing person case, the film opens up a full-to-bursting array of running jokes, ornate action setpieces, municipal schemes, and twists large and small. The only trouble is keeping up with it.

Each sporting wrinkled clothes and sloppily managed facial hair, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe star as Holland March and Jackson Healy, respectively, a pair of bottom-feeders-for-hire. A widower living in a rented house with his whip-smart pre-adolescent daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), Holland is the type of private detective who takes retainers without investigating anything. Jackson doesn’t have a P.I. license, but he ekes out a living as a thug-for-hire, slipping on brass knuckles and slugging people for cash. The two men meet when Jackson is hired to beat up Holland, but they eventually team up to search for Amelia (Margaret Qualley), a rebellious young woman who’s gotten herself mixed up in a criminal plot much larger than she can control. The porn industry, the Big Three automakers, and the Justice Department all have their roles to play.

Black understands the mechanics of L.A. noir, which inevitably connect to City Hall like roots to a rotting tree, but the difference between The Nice Guys and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is that he loses the self-commentary and mostly plays the genre straight. But just because he doesn’t point out the clichés he’s defying doesn’t mean he’s not defying them all the same. One of the pleasures of The Nice Guys are the countless small ways in which Black upends expectations, like emphasizing his heroes’ cravenness in the face of serious danger or pulling a twist on the familiar action-thriller shot of men jumping into a pool from a hotel balcony. Black knows every trick in the book and he assumes the audience does likewise.

Gosling and Crowe are a winning team — one a flaky slacker, the other a dumb brute — but of the two, Gosling’s comic performance, on the heels of his scene-stealing turn in The Big Short, is a knockabout delight. For all the liveliness of the dialogue, it’s Gosling’s physical schtick that pays the biggest dividends, from his hapless attempts to cover himself after Crowe confronts him in a bathroom stall to a full-on Lou Costello routine when he comes upon a dead body. And true of a many an L.A. sleuth, he presents himself as a lazy dope, but in crucial moments, proves to be considerably more sly than expected. The Nice Guys does likewise.

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A Romance Askew In 'Maggie's Plan'

Ethan Hawke and Greta Gerwig in Maggie's Plan.

Ethan Hawke and Greta Gerwig in Maggie’s Plan. Jon Pack/Sony Pictures Classics hide caption

toggle caption Jon Pack/Sony Pictures Classics

A good ingénue role is stuffed with smarts, as Gracie Allen, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and other comic greats all understood. Greta Gerwig, an accomplished filmmaker and actress who’s been pinned (Damsels in Distress, Frances Ha Ha, and others) as the go-to ingénue of American independent film, gets that, too. On the whole, she’s made hay with the knowledge, even when the purported ditz isn’t drawn distinctly enough to give room for expansion.

In Maggie’s Plan, a sweet-tempered if rambling romantic comedy by Rebecca Miller from a story by Karen Rinaldi, Gerwig demonstrates again that playing innocent doesn’t mean playing stupid. She plays Maggie Hardin, an earnest young New York singleton in pinafore frocks and sensible tights, who longs for a child and an authentic life, whatever that is. Maggie’s a practical sort, so with nothing doing on the love front, she commandeers the presumably robust sperm of Guy (Travis Fimmel), a Viking-like former college mate — and grade-A innocent in his own right — who’s starting out in the pickle business.

At that very moment, Maggie meets and falls for a college professor named John Harding (serendipity!), played in wire rims and sticky-up hair by Ethan Hawke. That John is already married, if none too happily, to a hotshot Columbia academic from Denmark (Julianne Moore, in a wavering German accent) presents little obstacle. Maggie persuades herself that John’s discontent gives her the green light to shack up with him. The pickle purveyor is shunted to the wings, and we cut without ceremony to a couple of years later, when Maggie and John’s troubles really begin.

Slushy streets aside (this is a deglamorized Manhattan to be struggled with) what follows is early Woody Allen. Nobody knows what they’re doing, and everyone’s chasing blind instinct. In the name of honesty and following the heart and all that stuff, damage is done; partners are switched. The madness is noted with wry disbelief by the in-house Greek-chorus couple, Maggie’s best friends (Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph). Miller has a more forgiving heart than Allen, and the payoff is less about the wages of sin than it is about the lethal potential of a control freak armed with good intentions based on faulty assumptions.

At its best, Maggie’s Plan shows genuine wit as a comedy of manners set among the peculiarly ill-defined “professions” that grow like moss between the cracks of the new economy, for want of a better term. John calls himself a “fictio-critical anthropologist,” which means he can’t decide whether he’s a novelist or a social scientist, while his breakfast-nook chat with the first missus features a lot of straight-faced references to commodity fetishism. The pickle guy sells on the street, and Hader mostly wheels a stroller around town. As for Maggie, ever the would-be reconciler, she’s trying to make a living by “bridging art and commerce,” which means trying to sell the strange educational toys of kooky inventors.

Still, for someone who’s cast as the vital connective tissue in this shifting ménage, Maggie comes off as intelligent but a bit nerveless. Gerwig’s blend of smart and clueless is always charming and astute, but as a lover tells Maggie with unfortunate accuracy, “You’re such a hall monitor.” Of such undersexed stuff romantic comedy is rarely made, and though Miller is a bit lighter on her feet here than in some of her other movies, Maggie’s Plan doesn’t clip along smartly enough for screwball. In the end, there just isn’t enough chemistry to go round — until the return of Mr. Pickle, and even he’s too little, too late.

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Watch Live: The Head And The Heart, Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop And More

The Head and the Heart.

The Head and the Heart. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Beginning at 7 p.m. EDT on Thursday, May 19, watch folk-pop band The Head And The Heart, new collaborators Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop, garage-country singer Aubrie Sellers and more perform at World Cafe Live as part of Philadelphia’s 2016 Non-COMMvention.

The show is streaming live on VuHaus, a website that publishes studio sessions and concerts from public-radio stations across the country. Find the complete line-up below.


7 p.m. EDT

The New York quintet just released its debut EP, Turning Into Water, on Danger Mouse’s new 30th Century Records label.


7:25 p.m. EDT

Watch the sister trio perform “Lifted Away” live in opbmusic’s studio.

The Record Company

7:50 p.m. EDT

Hear a conversation and performance with the L.A. blues-rock band on World Cafe.

Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop

8:20 p.m. EDT

Listen to a World Cafe session with the Iron And Wine singer and his newest collaborator, who recently released Love Letter For Fire together.

Billy Bragg & Joe Henry

8:55 p.m. EDT

The two decorated singer-songwriters recently made a railway trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, recording folk and blues songs along the way. Hear individual World Cafe sessions with Bragg and Henry.

The Head And The Heart

9:25 p.m. EDT

Watch the Seattle folk-pop band play “Let’s Be Still” in KEXP’s studio.

Aubrie Sellers

10:10 p.m. EDT

Hear the singer, who calls her music “garage-country,” perform live for World Cafe.

Big Head Todd & The Monsters

10:45 p.m. EDT

The eclectic, hit-making Colorado band played live on Mountain Stage in 2009.

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Sanders Campaign Now Says Superdelegates Are Key To Winning Nomination

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders shakes hands with supporters in January in New York City.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders shakes hands with supporters in January in New York City. Andrew Burton/Getty Images hide caption

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Despite badly lagging in the delegate count, Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager told NPR the campaign believes Sanders can and will be the Democratic nominee by winning over superdelegates at the 11th hour.

“If we can substantially close the gap between Secretary Clinton and Sen. Sanders in terms of pledged delegates,” Jeff Weaver told NPR’s All Things Considered, “he can go into the convention with a substantial momentum from having won the vast, vast majority of states at end of the process.”

It’s a sharp contrast from earlier in the campaign when Sanders supporters called superdelegates “undemocratic” and petitioned for them to support the candidate who has the most votes by the Democratic convention this July.

“When they get to the convention,” Weaver continued, “nobody has the delegates to win with pledged delegates, it’s going to be the superdelegates who are going to have to decide this.”

Clinton is 90 delegates away from securing the nomination (including superdelegates). She is set to cross the threshold June 7th when six states vote, including California with a massive delegate haul of 475 pledged delegates.

Clinton leads by 274 pledged delegates and 760 overall. Sanders currently has the support of 39 superdelegates, while more than 500 have said they will back Clinton (See the count here).

“Now we can argue about the merits of having superdelegates,” Weaver continued, “but we do have them. And if their role is just to rubber stamp the pledged-delegate count then they really aren’t needed. They’re supposed to exercise independent judgement about who they think can lead the party forward to victory.”

Weaver added that superdelegates don’t vote until they actually go to the convention, and he considers their allegiances as movable as poll numbers.

If by the convention Sanders has “substantial momentum” and substantially “closed the gap” in pledged delegates, Weaver said, “I think there’s a strong argument to be made to superdelegates that they should take another look.”

The Sanders campaign has had a rough week after chaos at the Nevada Democratic Convention stemming from Sanders supporters feeling they were being treated unfairly. Weaver insisted that was an isolated incident, and that July’s national convention will be a “peaceful, orderly process.”

“To the extent that we have events outside, I can guarantee they will be peaceful rallies, just like the senator is having all over the country,” Weaver said. “Our events will be the same as they’ve always been — upbeat, positive and talking about transformative change in the country.”

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