New U.S. Ban On Ivory Sales To Protect Elephants

Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe (left) and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell select confiscated illegal ivory to crush in an effort to halt elephant poaching and ivory trafficking in New York City's Times Square in June 2015.

Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe (left) and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell select confiscated illegal ivory to crush in an effort to halt elephant poaching and ivory trafficking in New York City’s Times Square in June 2015. Bebeto Matthews/AP hide caption

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The federal government is moving to ban virtually all sales of items containing African elephant ivory within the U.S. For a long time it’s been illegal to import elephant ivory. This new rule extends the ban to cover ivory that’s already here.

The new regulations come out of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which says the move will further limit the market for traffickers of illegal ivory. They say the problem is that smugglers currently can evade detection and bring illegal ivory into the U.S. Once here, it’s impossible for people to know whether that billiard cue or pocket knife they’re buying was made with sanctioned or illegal ivory.

Research by wildlife protection groups has found that the U.S. is one of the largest markets for illegal ivory. So under the new system, officials hope that the near-total ban on sales will largely shut down the U.S. as a buyer of the illegal ivory.

Appraisers Fred Oster, left, and David Bonsey, review a 1920 French violin at an Antiques Roadshow event in Los Angeles in 2005. Many stringed instruments throughout history have been made using small amounts of ivory.

Appraisers Fred Oster, left, and David Bonsey, review a 1920 French violin at an Antiques Roadshow event in Los Angeles in 2005. Many stringed instruments throughout history have been made using small amounts of ivory. KIM D. JOHNSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS hide caption

toggle caption KIM D. JOHNSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“Today’s bold action underscores the United States’ leadership and commitment to ending the scourge of elephant poaching and the tragic impact it’s having on wild populations,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

Of course, any regulation can have unintended consequences. And one group that you might not expect to be worried about this is The League of American Orchestras. It turns out that many professional musicians play stringed instruments that have pieces of ivory used in their construction, for example ivory tuning pegs. Some antique violins and cellos are quite valuable both in terms of their price tags and their value to the musicians who play them. So the orchestra association says it worked with the Obama administration to craft the new regulations in a way that will allow for the sale and interstate transport of such instruments.

There are also some other limited exemptions for bona fide antiques and items with small amounts of ivory that federal regulators say are not “drivers of poaching.”

The move is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration. In 2013, the president issued an executive order on combating wildlife trafficking. The government has the authority to regulate ivory sales under the Endangered Species Act.

The administration is encouraging other nations to follow suit. China is another very large market for illegal ivory. And the new regulations were announced ahead of a trip to China by Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

The National Rifle Association is opposed to the new regulations. A statement on the NRA website that appears underneath a photo of an antique ivory-handled pistol reads:

“While the NRA supports efforts to stop poaching and the illegal trade of ivory, these proposals would do nothing to protect elephants in Africa and Asia, but would instead make sellers of legal ivory potential criminals overnight, as well as destroy the value of property held by countless gun owners, art collectors, musicians and others.”

Regulators, though, say they have carved out protections for gun owners. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement:

“We listened carefully to the legitimate concerns raised by various stakeholder groups and, as a result, are allowing commonsense, narrow exceptions for musicians, musical instrument makers and dealers, gun owners and others to trade items that have minimal amounts of ivory and satisfy other conditions.”

Regulators say they will provide additional implementation guidance on the rule before it goes into effect on July 6 of this year.

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Blue Angels Navy Pilot Dies After Crash During Training Near Nashville

A Navy pilot who flies with the Blue Angels — some of the group's planes are seen here last September — was killed in a crash southwest of Nashville Thursday afternoon.

A Navy pilot who flies with the Blue Angels — some of the group’s planes are seen here last September — was killed in a crash southwest of Nashville Thursday afternoon. Portland Press Herald/Press Herald via Getty Images hide caption

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A U.S. Navy pilot who was part of the Blue Angels demonstration team died Thursday after his F/A-18 aircraft crashed in Smyrna, Tenn., southeast of Nashville, according to military and local officials. The Blue Angels had been preparing to hold an air show this weekend.

The jet went down in an open field not far from an apartment complex, local officials said during a news conference Thursday afternoon. The crash occurred some two miles from the runway.

These details come from the Navy:

“The pilot of the jet was taking off to start the afternoon practice when the mishap occurred.
“The name of the pilot is being withheld pending next-of-kin notification requirements.
“The other five Blue Angel jets were not involved in the incident and landed safely moments later.”

The crash occurred at approximately 4:01 ET, just as the team’s afternoon practice was beginning, the Navy says.

From member station Nashville Public Radio:

“The military flying team was in the middle of a nationwide tour to celebrate its 70th anniversary and was scheduled to fly at the Great Tennessee Airshow this weekend. Earlier in the day, a team of six jets flew over downtown Nashville, releasing streams of white smoke in a highly publicized fly-by.”

An amateur video that seems to show the jets flying before and after the crash — but not the impact itself — was posted to Twitter.

Local newspaper The Tennessean spoke to witnesses who say the crash was like something out of a movie. One woman who lives about a mile from Smyrna’s airport says that it sounded like a car had crashed into her house.

A man who was watching the Navy planes when one of them crashed said that the maneuver the plane was performing seemed to be one in which the pilot flew up, then down and across an open area. But after the plane was pointed at the ground, it seemed like “he had no thrust,” the man told local TV news WKRN.

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Clinton Draws A Bright, Clear Line Between Her Worldview And Trump's

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, speaking on national security, said Thursday it would be a "historic mistake" to elect Donald Trump, whom she called unfit to be commander-in-chief.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, speaking on national security, said Thursday it would be a “historic mistake” to elect Donald Trump, whom she called unfit to be commander-in-chief. John Locher/AP hide caption

toggle caption John Locher/AP

Hillary Clinton didn’t just take aim at Donald Trump’s national security policies in a major speech Thursday. She declared him unfit to negotiate with allies, command U.S. forces or be privy to the nuclear code.

“Americans aren’t just electing a president in November, we’re choosing our next commander-in-chief, a person we count on to decide questions of war and peace, life and death,” Clinton said in San Diego. “It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because someone got under his very thin skin.”

Foreign policy rarely takes center stage in presidential campaigns. Voter interest tends to be limited. Broad bipartisan consensus on the big foreign policy questions often overshadows relatively narrow partisan differences.

But not this year.

Clinton is stressing her credentials as a former secretary of state who has negotiated a ceasefire with the Israelis and Palestinians, helped launch the nuclear talks with Iran and worked on the details of climate change issues with a host of foreign governments.

She contrasted her hands-on experience with Trump’s provocative campaign statements that include questioning the value of NATO, suggesting Japan and South Korea should acquire nuclear weapons and calling for temporary bans on Muslims entering the U.S.

Here are highlights of her speech and a breakdown of where Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, and Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, stand on major foreign policy questions.

Working With Allies

“We need to stick with our allies,” Clinton said, a theme she emphasized repeatedly. “America’s network of allies is part of what makes us exceptional. And our allies deliver for us every day. Our armed forces fight terrorists together. Our diplomats work side by side.”

In most campaigns, this is routine rhetoric, the kind of talk that candidates from both parties have been rolling out for decades to polite clapping. NATO is the cornerstone of security in Europe. U.S. alliances with Japan and Korea are the key to stability in East Asia.

Yet these were major applause lines in the pro-Clinton audience, because they stand in contrast to Trump’s repeated questioning of these longstanding relationships. Trump describes them as outdated arrangements where America shoulders far too much of the cost.

He’s vowed to “shake the rust off of America’s foreign policy” and says foreign countries should pay more for these partnerships and show greater respect to the U.S.

“I am skeptical of international unions that tie us up and bring America down. Under my administration, we will never enter America into any agreement that reduces our ability to control our own affairs,” Trump said in an April 27 speech in Washington, considered his biggest foreign policy speech to date.

Deploying The Military

“We need a plan for dealing with terrorists,” said Clinton, who has a reputation for being relatively hawkish for a Democrat.

She promised to pick up the tempo in the battle against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, which President Obama launched nearly two years ago. Clinton said she would intensify the air campaign, step up cooperation with armed groups in those two countries and press for a diplomatic solution.

That’s essentially what Obama is doing now, with perhaps a bit more octane.

“What’s Trump’s plan?” she asked. “He’s keeping it a secret.”

She mocked his contradictory statements, noting he sometimes sounds as though he would avoid Syria, leaving it a “free zone for ISIS.” At other times, he’s hinted that he would send up to 30,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East.

The U.S. currently has around 5,000 military personnel in Iraq and a few hundred in Syria, where they support the U.S. air campaign and assist local forces. But they are not supposed to be involved in ground combat.

Trump, meanwhile, has railed against Clinton’s positions in the Middle East. He dismissed the Iran nuclear agreement as a bad deal, though it was completed well after Clinton left her diplomatic post. He’s criticized Clinton’s 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq war, which she now says was a mistake. He’s faulted her for pushing to overthrow dictator Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, a country now in chaos.

“On foreign policy, Hillary is trigger-happy,” Trump said last month. “She’s got a bad temperament. Her decisions in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya have cost trillions of dollars, thousands of lives and have totally unleashed ISIS.”

Relations In Asia

“He wants to start a trade war with China,” Clinton said of Trump. “A lot of Americans have concerns about our trade agreements with China. I do to. But a trade war is something very different. We went down that road in the 1930s. It made the Great Depressions longer, and more painful.”

Trump has elevated trade policy into a major campaign issue, and China, with its huge trade surplus with the U.S., has been his main target. Trump insists he could work out much better trade terms with China, and as a bonus, could also get Beijing to clamp down on North Korea.

“We have the power over China, economic power, and people don’t understand it,” Trump said in April. “And with that economic power, we can rein in and we can get them to do what they have to do with North Korea, which is totally out of control.”

In a rare point of agreement, Trump and Clinton are both opposed to the big trade deal between Asia and North America, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, though Clinton was a supporter as secretary of state.

Clinton blasted Trump for questioning the value of U.S. security partnerships with Japan and South Korea. The U.S. still has a large troop presence in both countries, decades after they fought in the region. Clinton said cooperation was crucial today in dealing with North Korea.

“When I was secretary of state, we worked closely with our allies, Japan and South Korea, to respond to this threat, including by creating a missile defense system,” she said. “That’s the power of allies. And it’s also the legacy of American troops who fought and died to secure those bonds.”

Greg Myre is the international editor of NPR.org. Follow him @gregmyre1.

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Zika Worries Prompt U.S. Cyclist To Pull Out Of Rio Contention

Tejay van Garderen says even a small risk from the Zika virus is enough to make him stay home with his wife, who is pregnant. He's seen here last year ahead of the start of the Tour de France cycling race.

Tejay van Garderen says even a small risk from the Zika virus is enough to make him stay home with his wife, who is pregnant. He’s seen here last year ahead of the start of the Tour de France cycling race. Christophe Ena/AP hide caption

toggle caption Christophe Ena/AP

With his wife expecting a baby in October, American road racer Tejay van Garderen has withdrawn from consideration for the Rio Summer Olympics, citing the Zika virus that’s been linked to birth defects.

From a statement released by USA Cycling on Van Garderen’s behalf today:

“After thinking long and hard about the Olympic Games in Rio, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for selection in the U.S. team. Although the risks associated with the Zika Virus can be minimal and precautions can be taken, my wife Jessica is pregnant, and I don’t want to risk bringing anything back that could potentially have an effect.”

When asked whether Van Garderen is the only American athlete to have withdrawn, a U.S. Olympic Committee official said the organization isn’t aware of any similar cases in which an American Olympic hopeful has opted out of competing in Rio.

A two-time winner of the USA Pro Challenge, Van Garderen placed fifth in the Tour de France in 2014 and in 2012 – the same year he raced for the U.S. in the London Olympics. And as the highest-ranked American in the UCI’s most recent world rankings of road cyclists, he had been seen as a strong contender for the U.S. team, whose roster will be finalized later this month.

In recent years, Van Garderen, 27, has made something of a habit out of bringing his daughter onto the podium to help celebrate when he wins a stage race or other competition.

Back in March, the World Health Organization announced that a scientific consensus had determined “the Zika virus is connected with microcephaly — a condition in which babies are born with very small heads and brain damage,” as NPR’s Michaeleen Doucleff reported.

“If circumstances were different I would have loved to be selected again to represent the USA,” Van Garderen said, “but my family takes priority and it’s a decision that I’m completely comfortable with. I hope that I’ll be in the position to race at the 2020 Olympic Games.”

Last month, the WHO issued tips for athletes and visitors to Rio. The list ranges from protecting against mosquito bites to using condoms or abstaining from sex during and for eight weeks after a visit.

The WHO also said, “Pregnant women continue to be advised not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission. This includes Rio de Janeiro.”

But the agency also noted that the Rio Olympics will be held in August, during Brazil’s winter – meaning that the number of mosquitoes will be relatively low, reducing the risk of being bitten.

That fact was also touted today by leaders of Rio’s Olympics effort who sought to reassure international visitors that it’ll be safe to visit Brazil for the games.

At a news conference, Rio 2016 Organizing Committee President Carlos Nuzman told reporters ” “there is not a public health risk with Zika,” according to the Around the Rings website.

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Latin Roots: Boogaloo With Joe Bataan

Joe Bataan

Joe Bataan Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

  • “Latin Strut”
  • “Sad Girl”
  • “Subway Joe”
  • “Gypsy Woman”

Joe Bataan was one of the major figures in the rise of boogaloo in New York City in the 1960s. As he tells it, boogaloo — a very danceable combination of R&B and Latin grooves, with lyrics in English — saved Latin music, which Bataan says was in decline in New York.

Bataan, whose many boogaloo hits included “Gypsy Woman,” is one of the artists featured in a new documentary called We Like It Like That. Hear him and his 12-piece band perform live at the Prince Theater in Philadelphia.

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Boxing, Dancing And Growing Up In 'The Fits'

Royalty Hightower in The Fits.

Royalty Hightower in The Fits. Oscilloscope Laboratories hide caption

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The Fits is a movie that, if examined scene by scene and frame by frame, confirms its own uniqueness the way a conservationist might identify a member of an endangered species. The narrative directing debut of Anna Rose Holmer, the film mixes an all-amateur cast; a largely dialogue-free script; a whole lot of gliding and stationary long takes by cinematographer Paul Yee; and a scant 72-minute runtime to create the sort of mature and precise cinematic vision that is swiftly disappearing from the American landscape.

Set in and around a community center in Cincinnati’s majority-black West End, the film swiftly introduces us to Toni (Royalty Hightower), a shy, tightly braided preteen tomboy whose steely gaze tells us far more than the few words she utters. Toni walks to the rec center every day with her older brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor) to box with the boys, and, presumably, so the siblings can stay out of trouble after school with no parents around.

But Toni shoots longing glances across the building to where the dance team (all older girls, all brimming with confidence and sexuality) practices their step routines. The team is played by the Q-Kidz, a real Cincinnati step team that also choreographed their own movements for the film — their founder, Marquicia Jones-Woods, is an Associate Producer. In a long tracking shot, the first of many instances where filmmaking technique doubles as character development, Toni lugs her heavy boxing equipment through a hallway while the dancers joyously sprint around her, hoisting their latest state championship trophy.

Soon there is a journey across the gym, as Toni ditches the boxing gloves for stretch pants and joins the new class of rookie dancers called “crabs.” (The film embraces rhythm and body movement, and mines humor from the ways the crabs are frequently out-of-sync with routine, each recruit performing her own idea of what dancing looks like.) Not long after, dread sets in: One by one, each of the older girls experiences seizure-like twitching spells, where their eyes fixate on some far-away place while their bodies writhe with violence. Later, when she emerges from her stupor, one girl says the trip “was like I was watching it from above.”

It’s easy to guess what “the fits” are, or at least what they’re meant to symbolize when they’re only happening to teenage girls. But the film’s tone is careful enough that it never feels like a one-trick pony. “Unsafe water” is suspected at one point, a prescient analogy for Flint (the bits of the outside we see, with weeds poking through the concrete, share the same imagery). And Hightower’s silent-film expressiveness makes us feel the fear Toni has for the unknown. Her encroaching maturity is the crux the film hangs on, so small moments become prized gems, like a sequence where she and a crab friend (Alexis Neblett, very funny) sneak into storage to try on the new uniforms, blue-gold and sequined, and pretend they’re older until something childlike happens.

The Fits is the latest in the recent independent film trend of a young, relatively untested white director crafting a narrative around a much younger, completely untested black lead. The club includes two other excellent features: fellow Sundance alum Morris From America (coming in August) and the Oscar-nominated fantasy opus Beasts of the Southern Wild. On the one hand, it’s a sign that today’s filmmakers are taking greater risks to tell stories across race and class boundaries; on the other, it carries a whiff of what could be called cinema gentrification, where the film itself exists outside the community in which it’s set. It’s fraught territory, and opinions run high: Slate’s “black film canon,” published this week, doesn’t include movies, no matter their subjects, made by white directors. The website’s Aisha Harris and Dan Kois wrote that they wanted to emphasize “the power of black people telling their stories.”

So Holmer’s movie, the most exciting American indie in years, won’t be in this canon. But part of what makes The Fits so exciting is how it defies the very idea of a canon: it’s made by women, it’s telling a new kind of story about teenage girls, it’s set below the poverty line but is not about poverty, and its genre is somewhere between social realism and comic-drama-horror. Like Toni, who floats on some unseen threshold between assumptions about ages and genders, The Fits invents its own kind of belonging.

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'The Witness' Looks Back At Those Accused Of Ignoring A Murder

Kitty Genovese, who was murdered in 1964.

Kitty Genovese, who was murdered in 1964. The Witnesses Film hide caption

toggle caption The Witnesses Film

Before we had the Internet to blame for everything, news of the brutal murder of 28-year-old bar manager Kitty Genovese went wide as a parable of urban indifference. Genovese was far from the only New Yorker to die on the street in 1964. Nor was she the only woman Winston Moseley, a married father of two, admitted killing. By his own chilling account, Moseley drew no distinction between murder and the routine burglary by which he supplemented his income. The other victims languished in obscurity, while fifty years on, the meaning of Genovese’s murder still fuels a gallery of books, movies and television shows, up to and including a recent episode of Girls. All this — according to a new documentary by Kitty’s younger brother Bill Genovese with filmmaker James Solomon — because of an influential article in the New York Times that attributed her late-night death on a quiet street in Queens to the inaction of 38 witnesses who heard her screams twice (Moseley returned to stab her a second time) and allegedly failed to call the police or rush to her rescue.

Eleven years in the making, The Witness loses some dramatic steam, because by the time Bill Genovese concluded his investigation into what really happened on the night Kitty died, the Times had owned up to serious flaws in its earlier reporting. The number of witnesses who saw Moseley stab Genovese — twice — and did nothing was exaggerated. Genovese tracked down one neighbor who did call the police and a heroic friend who rushed to Kitty’s aid and cradled her in her arms as she died. Most, though, only heard rather than saw the wounded woman shriek as she stumbled from the parking lot to the back of a building — which, the filmmakers emphasize via animated sketches and a hair-raising re-enactment — complicates rather than negates bystander responsibility.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion famously wrote. Genovese likens his sister’s death to a Rorschach test, and at its sharpest, The Witness is a careful inquiry into the tricks memory plays, and into how ambiguous events get reshaped into narratives that fit individual and collective needs. Almost everyone Genovese interviewed — from surviving witnesses and their children, the prosecutor and judge in the case, police, journalists, and A.M. Rosenthal, the Times editor who handled the story in 1964 and wrote the book Thirty-Eight Witnesses about the case — has, however unconsciously, polished their own version of the truth. Some of the testimonies are sober and corrective, some defensive, others wacky or poignant or both. One witness’ son argues that most of the neighbors were Holocaust survivors and “therefore” would be reluctant to contact authorities. Moseley himself, who died in prison in March of this year, would not allow Genovese to visit him in prison, but wrote him a rambling, outlandish account. The film shows commendable compassion for Moseley’s anguished son, the Reverend Steven Moseley, whose pitifully bizarre contextualization of the murder shows that the damage it did went far beyond Kitty and her family.

Which brings us to Bill Genovese, who as executive producer and narrator is both the film’s subject and its chief interpreter. Having lost both his legs in Vietnam, the handsome Italian-American is a visually dramatic figure, a sleuth in a wheelchair as he follows leads. Kitty’s death moved him, he says, to enlist in the Marines and his continuing obsession with her murder (his siblings appear briefly, cooperative but baffled by a mystery they no longer seek to solve) stems from a desire to know that he “didn’t lose [his] legs for nothing.” There’s little reason to doubt their brother’s sincerity, yet his declared motives and his quest for “closure” — a glib buzzword that’s overdue for retirement — seem at once too tidy and a causal stretch.

Bill was 16 years old when Kitty Genovese died. That’s old enough to remember more about a sister whose favorite he was than the fact that she overturned a pot of spaghetti on his head when he wouldn’t finish his dinner. We’re shown the familiar mug shot of an elfin Kitty on her arrest on a minor gambling charge, and some charming amateur footage of this pretty, vivacious woman dancing with schoolmates. Tantalizingly, her female lover and roommate painfully discusses (off screen at her own request) Kitty’s conflicts as a gay woman cut off by a violent stranger just as she was entering a time when she might have proudly emerged from the closet. Beyond this brief glimpse of Kitty Genovese the person rather than the victim, she remains trapped in death, and in decades of media mythmaking.

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'Popstar' Makes The Most Of Its Big, Chest-Thumping Joke

Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone of The Lonely Island team up in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone of The Lonely Island team up in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures

The Lonely Island comedy trio — Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, and Andy Samberg — have been writing and performing together since 2000, but they didn’t reach national prominence until 2005, when their Saturday Night Live digital short “Lazy Sunday” went viral. “Lazy Sunday” crystallized the troupe’s winning musical formula: Ferocious, chest-thumping rap braggadocio in service of silly and self-deprecating lyrics, like eating cupcakes and seeing a matinee of The Chronicles of Narnia. On SNL, three albums, and a run of consistently hilarious music videos, The Lonely Island has become the hip-hop equivalent to Jack Black and Kyle Gass’ long-running heavy metal parody/homage, Tenacious D. And the lingering question for both is: How far can one joke be stretched?

For Tenacious D, the answer was the humbling 2006 farce Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, which sputtered after a brilliant standalone opening. The Lonely Island fares considerably better with Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, perhaps because the concept isn’t limited to rap parody, but acts as a net that trawls the entire pop universe, in all its pomposity and excess and chronic eccentricity. Taking a mock-documentary form that draws from This is Spinal Tap, VH-1’s Behind the Music, and promotional movies like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Katy Perry: Part of Me, Popstar isn’t a satire so much as a warped funhouse reflection of the contemporary scene. It’s bright, affectionate, and so keyed into our particular pop moment that it all but hurls itself into a time capsule.

It’s also full of jokes, lots of them, pouring out from the dialogue, the soundtrack, and an onslaught of graphics, references, foreground/background jokes, and random jokes tucked into the crevasses. Schaffer, Taccone, and Samberg had tried to make a feature-length comedy before in the underrated Hot Rod, which tanked, but this is their first true Lonely Island movie and they’re not leaving any potential laughs off the table. The manic pacing gives Popstar the jagged rhythm of a hit-or-miss spoof in the Airplane! tradition, but there’s enough hits to sustain every scene and a simple arc about friendship and collaboration to carry the finale across.

As Popstar opens, Conner4Real (Samberg) is an ascendent phenom, having used the early success of The Style Boyz, the band he started with childhood buddies Owen (Taccone) and Lawrence (Schaffer), to catapult, Justin Timberlake-like, to solo glory. Now surrounded entirely by sycophants, including 23 personal assistants, Conner is readying the launch of his new album, Connquest, for which he wrote all the songs and slickened with the services of 100 producers. With singles like “Equal Rights,” a marriage equality anthem laced with gay panic, and “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song),” a sex track littered with references to the Osama Bin Laden killing, Connquest is a critical flop and a commercial disaster. (Pitchfork gives it -4.0 out of 10 while Rolling Stone opts for the poop emoji on its four-star scale.)

Nonetheless, Conner tours in support of the record, breaking out new gimmicks to stave off his dwindling fortune. In that, Popstar acts as a scaled-up This is Spinal Tap, following a washed-up outfit through half-filled arenas as its latest LP drifts into obscurity. The film has a sentimental side, too, as Conner seeks to mend fences with Owen and Lawrence, who are reduced to DJ-ing with a iPod and working on a dust-choked farm, respectively. Samberg’s breakout success as a TV and movie star likely informs this subplot, with The Style Boyz as a stand-in for The Lonely Island, but a comedy this untroubled doesn’t hint at any true discord.

Conner’s image as a runaway egotist and conspicuous spender feeds into blockbuster scope of Popstar, which doesn’t allow for the more modest observational comedy of Spinal Tap or a Christopher Guest comedy like A Mighty Wind. The film is jammed with a who’s-who of celebrity cameos and bit parts, like Timberlake as a personal chef with a yen for carrot preparation, and massive setpieces, like Seal presiding over a wedding proposal disrupted by a pack of wild wolves. Some of the jokes undercut pop grotesquerie, others are merely silly for the sake of it. And as with any good Lonely Island song, all of them are delivered with infectious brio.

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U.S. Agency Tries Radical Rehab Technique On Aging Government Buildings

Love them or hate them, modernist buildings of the 1960s and ’70s are beginning to need renovation, and the U.S. General Services Administration is trying something unusual — putting a 32-story office tower under glass. The double wall exterior will not only save energy but protect the inhabitants from a bomb blast. NPR explores whether the repairs are worth the $120 million and if the outer wall will ruin the original architecture design.

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