Major League Baseball Poised To Change Intentional Walk Rule

Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Chris Stewart grabs an intentional walk throw in a game between Arizona and Pittsburgh last year in Phoenix.

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In baseball, if a pitcher wants to intentionally walk a batter, he has to actually lob the four pitches outside the strike zone. It’s a technique often used to bypass a particularly strong batter, or to set up a double play.

But that rule now appears poised to change.

The Major League Baseball Commissioner’s office has proposed a rule change that would forego actually throwing four pitches – instead, the bench would simply signal to the umpire that they’re going to intentionally walk the batter.

The head of the player’s union, Tony Clark, has signaled that they are amenable to the change, according to The Associated Press.

“As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes,” Clark told the wire service. “There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however.”

Mike Teevan, vice president of communications for Major League Baseball, tells The Two-Way that the change is currently under consideration. Any rule change involves many parties, he explains, and “that process is not yet complete.”

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This is part of a larger push to ramp up the pace of the game, and it comes after Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that there would be no “meaningful” rule changes for the upcoming season after they were not accepted by the players’ union.

“We didn’t make a deal, we couldn’t make a deal,” he said, sounding frustrated.

Among the proposed changes: introducing a pitch clock to reduce the time between pitches, and capping the number of times a catcher can conference with a pitcher. Manfred argued that these changes would have “little effect of the competitive character of the game,” but would “take dead time out of the game” and “keep fans engaged.” These remain on the table, he said.

The changes would benefit the fans and respond to the ways the game has changed, Manfred said:

“I think it’s a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change. Since 1980, home runs are up 32 percent. And strikeouts are up 67 percent. Last year, balls in play were at a record low, and we all know that things like the use of relief pitchers has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. I’m firmly convinced that our fans — both our avid fans and casual fans — want us to respond to and manage the change that’s going on in the game.”

Not all fans are happy. As some social media users pointed out, intentional walks are not currently automatic – and that means exciting and unexpected things sometimes happen. For example, a wild pitch over a catcher’s head can provide an memorable opportunity to steal a base. And occasionally, a batter actually manages to hit the pitch.

•The MLB has approved to change the intentional walk rule. Which now will be granted following dugout signal. Take a look at these classics.

— Dylan (@DylansFreshTake) February 22, 2017

Here’s a compilation posted on Twitter of some of those exciting moments (h/t Washington Post):

“You’re changing or altering the essence of the sport under the guise of speeding it up minimally,” ESPN host Michael Smith argued. “The object of the game is to pitch to a batter – you should still have to execute those pitches.”

Some players aren’t happy, either. Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin made this sarcastic point, as quoted by Sportsnet columnist Shi Davidi:

“My thing is, if they really want to speed up the game, then when a guy hits a home run, to speed up the game should a guy, just like in softball, when he hits it, should he just walk to the dugout? It’d be quicker. I’m just wondering, at what point do we just keep the game, the game?”

It’s also worth noting that intentional walks don’t happen all that often. According to statistics provided by MLB, there were 932 intentional walks during the 2016 regular season. That’s about one every three games.

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A Moment With Zucchero, Italian Pop Star And Amateur Linguist

With more than 50 million records sold worldwide, Zucchero has become one of the biggest pop stars in Italy.

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In America, there is a rare echelon of pop stars so big they only need one name: Madonna, Cher, Prince. In Italy, that name is Zucchero.

It’s Italian for “sugar” — and it’s the stage name of Adelmo Forniciari, who first made it big in the 1980s and has since sold more than 50 million records worldwide. His latest album is called Black Cat, which includes collaborations with some of pop music’s biggest legends, including Elvis Costello and Bono.

“Music is my pusher, what can I say? Music is my drug, and when I’m on stage I’ve always been very energetic,” Zucchero says. “I was influenced from the Afro-American artists between the 60’s and the 70’s, like Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin. [But] I grew up in the countryside, in a place … where the opera, like Verdi, Puccini, the Italian typical melodia, was very strong. So I grew up with these two kinds of music, and this is what, at the end I did.”

Forniciari spoke with NPR’s Ari Shapiro about getting career advice from Miles Davis, and how he came to use what he calls “macaroni English” as a language for songwriting. Hear their full conversation at the audio link.

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Some Teachers, Principals and Students Condemn Trump Transgender Policy

Gavin Grimm is the plaintiff in a case scheduled to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in March. Grimm sued the school board in Gloucester, Va., after it passed a rule barring transgender students from using school restrooms that match their gender identity.

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Some students, principals, parents and attorneys have condemned the Trump administration’s decision to remove some federal protections for transgender students.

Those protections had been issued by President Obama, who cited the federal Title IX law, and instructed public schools last year to allow transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identities.

But the Departments of Education and Justice on Tuesday reversed that guidance, allowing state and local officials to pass rules that discriminate on the basis of gender identity without risk of losing federal funds, as we reported.

In response to the news, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which petitioned the federal government to issue the guidelines last year, said in a statement “rescinding the guidance will discourage educators’ efforts to support transgender students, and embolden their harassers.”

The American Federation of Teachers said “the Trump administration is compromising the safety and security” of transgender students, and the National Education Association, the other large union of public school teachers, said “schools have a legal and moral duty to support transgender students,” reported NPR’s Claudio Sanchez.

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The administration’s decision will not have any immediate legal effect on public schools, because a federal court in Texas issued a nationwide injunction in August, blocking the enforcement of the Obama administration guidance.

“No longer will federal officials distort federal law that is meant to equalize educational opportunities for women,” said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for the Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom, according to The Associated Press. “No longer will they force local officials to intermingle boys and girls within private areas like locker rooms, showers, hotel rooms on school trips and restrooms.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who brought the lawsuit against the Obama administration, said he agreed with the Trump administration’s decision.

“Our fight over the bathroom directive has always been about former President Obama’s attempt to bypass Congress and rewrite the laws to fit his political agenda for radical social change,” Paxton told Reuters.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addressed student safety in a statement shortly after the policy change announcement, which her department supported.

She wrote, “at my direction, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools.”

The heads of two national LGBT groups, PFLAG and GLSEN, accused DeVos of causing “unnecessary fear and confusion among transgender students and their families,” by allowing federal protections to be rescinded.

Ginger Clifton who lives in Michigan and whose teenage daughter Kylie is transgender, spoke to reporters on Thursday, along with attorney’s from the ACLU.

“Kylie has been using the girls bathroom for two years,” she said. “Nobody feels threatened. Just because someone is uncomfortable, doesn’t mean my daughter should have to walk across the school to use a unisex bathroom.”

One American student has taken on a particularly public role in the national conversation about the rights of trans people in public schools.

Seventeen-year-old Gavin Grimm is the plaintiff in a case challenging the right of his local school board to bar him from the boy’s bathrooms at his high school. The case will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in March.

“Every day I go in and I face the reality that I’m not allowed to use the same restroom as my peers,” Grimm told NPR’s All Things Considered on Thursday. “I face the looks and the whispers and the comments and just the general increased isolation.”

The senior from Gloucester County, Va., was initially allowed by the school principal to use the boys’ bathroom. The school board then adopted a policy that required students to use either the bathroom that corresponds with their “biological sex” or a separate single-stall restroom.

Grimm sued the school board. His lawsuit argues the bathroom policy is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment and violates Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination by schools.

“When you’re trying to focus on aspects of high school life — getting homework done, studying for tests, preparing yourself for college — and you have to worry about being seen as who you are in a class environment, and you have to worry about planning restroom trips and you have to worry about being embarrassed and stigmatized every time you have to raise your hand and say ‘can I go to the bathroom,’ it redirects your attention in a very, very significant way, and to something that’s so profoundly negative,” Gavin explained to NPR’s Ari Shapiro.

“When you are in a school environment with an administration that says this student is different, this student should be separate, and pointing that kind of finger and putting that kind of target on the child’s back, it will absolutely negatively affect your ability to focus and succeed and flourish in a school environment.”

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Who Declares A Famine? And What Does That Actually Mean?

Lucia Adeng Wek holds her 3-year-old son, Wek Wol Wek, who suffers from malnutrition. They’re at a clinic in South Sudan run by Doctors without Borders and were photographed on October 11, 2016.

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This week United Nations officials declared that a famine in South Sudan is growing — fueled by a deadly combination of drought and conflict. They estimate that nearly 4 million people are already struggling to get enough food. And officials expect the famine will spread to more areas in the coming months affecting an additional 1 million people.

Meanwhile the threat of famine is looming over three other countries: Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, putting a total of 1.4 million children at risk of death this year.

This week’s warning follows several years of worrisome reports about droughts and food crises across Africa. And the frequency of these alerts can inure us to their seriousness. We’re so used to hearing alarms about the risk of hunger that it can be hard to grasp when a situation has reached a truly catastrophic stage — as it has now.

To appreciate why the current alert is so momentous, it helps to understand who declares a famine — and what that actually means.

The determination — which was formally announced for one county in Sudan last month and another one this month — is generally made jointly by several parties: the government of the affected country, various agencies of the United Nations and a “Famine Early Warning Systems Network” — called FEWSNET for short — that the U.S. government set up in the mid-1980s to collect and analyze data from a range of sources. FEWSNET draws from both survey data collected on the ground by aid agencies and governments as well as climate and satellite data provided by U.S. agencies like NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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The setup was developed in response to the devastating famines in East and West Africa in the 1980s — including one in Ethiopia that killed hundreds of thousands. The idea was to prevent such disasters by providing policymakers with a rating system that tells not just how severe a food crisis is but what needs to be done to keep it from escalating to the next level.

Today, officials use a five-phase scale to rank food crises that has been developed since the mid-2000s. It’s not unlike the category system we use to characterize the power of a coming hurricane so that we can brace ourselves accordingly. And even at phase 1 — referred to as “minimal food insecurity” — the situation is troubling. No one is actually going without food just yet, but conditions are bad enough that as many as one in five households are only getting by thanks to aid money or because they’re taking steps that could pose problems down the line. For instance, they’re starting to sell off some of their cows, which could eventually make it hard for them to earn enough money to pay for food. This is the ideal point for governments and international donors to step in with aid to tide people over. Then once the crisis — say a drought or flooding – abates, people can quickly get back to normal.

But if there isn’t enough help, the situation can quickly ratchet up to phase two where an area is considered “stressed” or to phase three, when it’s considered in “crisis.” At this point even with whatever aid is being provided at least one in five households is either taking drastic measures to get food or is actually cutting back on food. The drastic steps could involve selling off the last of their cattle, or eating seeds like maize kernels that they would normally plant for the next harvest. Also, for a situation to be considered level three, between 10 to 15 percent of the population is starting to suffer from what’s called “acute malnutrition” — essentially the effects of not getting enough food.

By phase four the situation has reached the point of an “emergency.” One in five households is either taking steps to get by that are so drastic they’ll be impossible to sustain for much longer — or the family is are already cutting back on food intake in major ways.

“People might start by protecting at least the main earners in the family — say the men who work in the fields — at the expense of the others,” explains Yasmin Haque, UNICEF’s deputy director of emergency operations. “So in a household that has extreme shortages of food you might see that first the mother starts to skip meals. Then it gets to the children. And then gradually you see the whole range of family members reducing their meals from three a day to two. And then maybe from a meal a day to a meal every two days.”

And Haque notes that it’s not just the frequency of the meals people are getting but the content of what they’re eating. “In South Sudan, I’ve seen cases where women are boiling the bark and leaves of trees just to have something to feed their kids.”

By this point as much as 30 percent of the population is also suffering from acute malnutrition. It often includes not just the moderate version but the severe form.

“People start looking skeletal,” says Haque. “They have no reserves left in their body. The hair becomes bleached due to vitamin deficiency. The eyes get sunken.” People find it harder to move. “Your immune system begins to suffer. Organ failure begins.”

And yet this is still not a phase five “famine” situation. For that, three criteria need to be met: At least one in five households now faces an extreme lack of food, more than 30 percent of the population is suffering from acute malnutrition, and at least two people out of every 10,000 are dying each day.

That is the situation in two counties in Sudan right now — with an estimated 80,000 people currently dealing with an extreme lack of food. And officials say that two more counties are at risk of reaching famine level soon. The problem is not just that there’s a drought on but a civil war. Aid convoys and food warehouses have been attacked by both government and rebel forces.

Haquesays the numbers of children suffering from the most severe form of acute malnutrition is particularly tragic. As of January UNICEF had treated 12,000 of them. And going forward officials there expect they’ll be seeing as many as 25,000 additional cases each month. While treatment can keep a child from dying, Haque notes, it cannot undo the lasting damage from severe acute malnutrition. “It affects the growth of their intellect,” she says. “The children are damaged for life. And the whole country is robbed of its potential.”

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On Tillerson And Kelly Visit, Mexico Seeks 'Clarity' On Immigration Proposals

(Left to right) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong greet each other during a news conference in Mexico City on Thursday.

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At a joint news conference in Mexico City on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged the tension between the U.S. and Mexico. After talks with his Mexican counterpart, Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, Tillerson said that “in a relationship filled with vibrant colors, two strong sovereign countries, from time to time, will have differences.”

Standing beside him, Videgaray put a finer point on the matter: “There’s a concern among Mexicans; there’s irritation [about] what has been perceived as [U.S.] policies that might be harmful for the Mexicans and for the Mexican industry.”

Thursday’s talks — which were also attended by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong — come just days after the Department of Homeland Security released a pair of memos that detailed how it would implement President Trump’s Jan. 25 executive orders on immigration.

NPR’s Camila Domonoske notes the two memos, which Kelly signed off on, spelled out a program that would dramatically increase and speed up the deportation of Mexican nationals from the U.S. — or, as Trump put it Thursday, would seek to get “bad dudes out of this country at a rate that nobody’s ever seen before.”

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Mexican officials have been disinclined to see it that way.

In fact, they used Thursday’s meeting to express “concern about the increase of deportations,” Osorio Chong said. According to CNN, he added: “We do not agree on the different measures that recently were stated by the government of the United States [that] affect Mexico.”

NPR’s Carrie Kahn explains that one provision, in particular, in the DHS memos has upset Mexicans: “The DHS guidelines say that migrants who pass through Mexico into the U.S. would be returned to Mexico even if they’re not Mexicans, to wait out their legal proceedings,” Carrie reports. “Mexico is adamant that won’t happen.”

The two American secretaries, for their part, struck conciliatory tones in their statements Thursday. Kelly assured reporters that there would not be any mass deportations from the U.S., adding that “the U.S. is focusing on getting criminal elements out of the country and deportations will be orderly and respectful of human rights,” Carrie says.

For the U.S., Mexican cooperation — or recalcitrance — will have a big impact on its implementation of immigration policy. Mexico has been stopping and deporting many of the Central American migrants moving through the country to the U.S. illegally. And Mexican officials also must help substantiate and validate the fact that deported nationals are, in fact, Mexican citizens.

In such a tense political environment, many Mexican lawmakers have questioned why they ought to maintain this cooperation. President Enrique Pena Nieto’s low approval numbers — he’s one of Mexico’s most unpopular presidents ever — appear to reflect Mexican voters’ distaste for his moderate approach to Trump’s proposals.

Ultimately, “clarity is absolutely essential” in this week’s talks, Mexican economist Antonio Ortiz-Mena told NPR’s David Greene.

The visit is “awkward but also necessary,” Ortiz-Mena said, adding, “clarity would be greatly welcome — and also, the sense that Mexico is a partner, not an adversary, not a challenge but a trusted and reliable partner.”

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Amiable But Generic 'Rock Dog' Chases Its Own Tail

I Don’t See A Lot Of Kibble Here: Bodi (Luke Wilson) attempts to impress Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard) in Rock Dog.

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The awkward flirtation between the Chinese and American movie industries continues with Rock Dog, an amiable but generic talking-animal cartoon about a mastiff who dreams of rocking in the free world. Not that the movie has a political subtext: The only oppressor that Bodi (Luke Wilson) seeks to escape is his caring but rigid dad, Khampa (J.K. Simmons).

Like The Great Wall, Rock Dog is a Chinese-U.S. co-production conceived in China. But the action epic was also made there, and earned lots of money on that side of Pacific before flopping Stateside. The cartoon is based on Chinese rocker Zheng Jun’s graphic novel, yet was animated in the U.S., where it must draw big crowds to compensate for the meager business it did in the Middle Kingdom.

Chinese and American film producers might seem to have nothing in common, save for an eagerness to poach each other’s audiences. But Rock Dog‘s timid treatment of don’t-step-on-my-blue-suede-shoes rebellion finds common ground. Chinese authorities don’t encourage defiant music, of course. Neither do most American parents, who are unlikely to buy tickets for a movie that might encourage their tykes to grow up to be Johnny Rotten. So it’s hardly a surprise that Bodi’s climactic number is a U2-style folk-rock hymn about loving the place of your birth.

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The movie doesn’t say where that is, but the graphic novel’s title is Tibetan Rock Dog. The story opens in a mountain village populated entirely by sheep, except for Bodi, Khampa, and narrator Fleetwood Yak (Sam Elliott). The sheep are menaced by wolves, and Khampa is preparing Bodi for a life of protecting them.

The pup prefers zither plucking to guard duty, so his father bans music altogether. (If that aligns him with the Taliban, he’s really not such a bad sort.) Employing typical Hollywood logic, director and co-writer Ash Brannon underscores the music ban with a plaintive string section.

Bodi’s ambitions are reignited when a radio falls from an airplane, much like the Coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy. The young dog hears rock ‘n’ roll for the first time, as well as an interview with reclusive British-accented superstar Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), who turns out to be a thin white cat.

Angus explains that his career began with a visit to a city park where bands play and musicians network. This seems modeled on Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park, but the metropolis around it is an unnamed mashup of Beijing, New York, and Zootopia, with more signs in Chinese than English.

Bodi rushes there, and meets an arrogant snow-leopard guitarist (Matt Dillon) and a sympathetic female bassist who is literally a fox (Mae Whitman). She’s Darma, which makes her the logical partner for Bodi. (Together, their names form that of the monk said to have brought Zen Buddhism to China.)

But there’s no time for romance once Bodi meets Angus, a classic, classic-rock burnout (aside, that is, from any hint of drug use). Together, dog and cat tangle with the wolves, who have gone urban and become gangsters. (Their boss is voiced by Lewis Black; his most inept underling by Kenan Thompson.)

Despite all the Chinese text, Rock Dog draws mostly from American archetypes, including funny-animal cartoons, VH1’s Behind the Music, and father-and-son sitcoms. It should amuse adults who get the inside jokes, but is unlikely to interest kids who aren’t ’80s-rock buffs or Mandarin students. Once again, Chinese and American filmmakers pool their resources, only to find that having more money doesn’t make it talk any more persuasively.

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3 Teenage Outsiders Navigate Friendship And Desire In 'As You Are'

Smells Like Teen Spirit: Jack (Owen Campbell), Mark (Charlie Heaton), and Sarah (Amandla Stenberg) forge complicated relationships in As You Are.

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As You Are, a coming-of-age movie in which no one comes of age (putative adults included), opens and closes with an aerial shot of two figures crossing a lawn in front of a house. A shot rings out both times, and the action in between circles around that event in time, framed by scenes of an unseen detective grilling the major players for their selective memories of a trauma for which everyone’s responsible — yet that no one, least of all the shooter, meant to happen. The setup is common enough, but though you can check off the usual ingredients in what follows — sex, drugs, a glance at Kurt Cobain — this is the furthest thing from a social-issue teen drama.

Indeed As You Are, a promising debut that won a special jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for 24-year-old writer-director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, only barely qualifies as tale of mystery. Joris-Peyrafitte studied with filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women), and her imprint can be found all over this intensely inward inquiry into what it feels like to be a teenager forging an identity in an unsteady world.

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Especially impressive is Owen Campbell (The Americans), who gives a wonderfully introverted performance as Jack, an unwilling high schooler who lives with his single mother, Karen (Mary Stuart Masterson). With his pale, oval face, shoulder-length hair and eyes alternately quizzically amused and desolate, Campbell gives off a vibe at once precociously ironic and hopelessly lost. Jack is a quiet, observant boy, attached to his mother but as ready for adventure and escape as the next teenager. Both of which come by the shovelful with the arrival of Mark (British actor Charlie Heaton), the son of Karen’s new boyfriend, Tom (Scott Cohen), a volatile itinerant bouncer.

“We felt like a family, you know?” a plaintive Karen tells the detective. Soon the two domestic halves are shacked up together, an arrangement that’s fragile and built on raw need from the word go. Both parents love their kids, but Karen is passive and malleable, and Tom explosive toward his charismatic but damaged son, who soon forms a band of outsiders with Jack and another student, Sarah (The Hunger Games‘ Amandla Stenberg) that’s both protective and potentially lethal.

In another kind of movie, this might cue a strenuous messaging game of Blame the Parents, or the Schools, or that absorbent dumpster we airily call Society. True, these kids don’t have much support, but Joris-Peyrafitte chooses not to lean heavily on received pathologies — indeed even Sarah’s stable, loving family is no guarantee of safety, though she clearly has inner resources that her two friends may lack. Bad things happen to all three, and they’re not glamorized, yet the movie builds its world from their point of view, a world in which creativity and risk, pleasure and danger, dance unnervingly together.

Joris-Peyrafitte has learned, no doubt from Reichardt, the moody potential of landscape: a camera panning slowly around a modest home or through the treetops, accompanied by a minimalist score (written by the director with Patrick Higgins), takes intimate measure of the sadness and fleeting happiness within. The movie is saved, sometimes just barely, from the maudlin by the moments of joy when these kids get busy reinventing themselves.

As You Are is far from the first movie to acknowledge the fluidity of sexual identity among today’s young adults. But it explores the tentative experiments with sexuality and gender with sensitivity and restraint, until a line is crossed that at least two of these kids can neither absorb or sustain, with catastrophic results. Even then and without romanticizing their fate, this tenderly appreciative movie offers Jack and Mark, and Sarah too, what life has denied them — acceptance, just as they are.

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