First-Degree Murder Charge Against Man Who Drove Into Charlottesville Demonstrators

This photo provided by Charlottesville, Va., authorities shows James Fields Jr., who on Thursday had the most serious charge against him upgraded to first-degree murder in the death of a woman at a Unite the Right rally.

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AP

The man who police say intentionally rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., this summer, now faces a first-degree murder charge. A judge upgraded the second-degree murder charge against James Fields Jr. at a preliminary hearing on Thursday.

The 20-year-old Ohio man has been in jail since his arrest on Aug. 12, when police say he accelerated into a group of people, killing Heather Heyer and injuring some three dozen others.

The incident was part of a deadly weekend in Charlottesville that began as a purported protest against the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue and spun into a national controversy. On Friday night, white supremacists marched across the University of Virginia campus with torches and chants of “Jews will not replace us,” and wound up brawling with counterprotesters.

The next day, Unite the Right, a white nationalist demonstration, brought hundreds of demonstrators and counterprotesters to downtown Charlottesville. Among them was Heyer, 32, who friends say always spoke up against racism and anything that she felt was wrong.

Fields, from Maumee, Ohio, was there too.

“Investigators want to know whether Fields crossed state lines with the intent to commit violence,” NPR’s Carrie Johnson has reported.

Some who knew Fields say he had a long fascination with Nazi Germany. He was “deeply into Adolf Hitler and white supremacy,” a former high school teacher told member station WVXU.

Prosecutors now will take the case against Fields to a grand jury and ask for an indictment.

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Federal Investigation Finds 'Significant Issues' At Immigrant Detention Centers

An ICE employee waiting to enter the all-male Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga.

Kate Brumback/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Kate Brumback/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Immigrants detained at four large centers used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are subject to inhumane treatment, given insufficient hygiene supplies and medical care, and provided potentially unsafe food, according to a federal report.

The “concerns” about the treatment of detained immigrants in facilities in California, Georgia, New Jersey and New Mexico is summarized in a report issued by the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Homeland Security.

As NPR’s Joel Rose reports,

“The findings are similar to those of outside groups that have alleged ‘extensive’ human rights abuses at ICE detention centers.

“The inspector general’s report comes as the Trump administration is asking Congress for funding to expand the immigration detention system.

“ICE says some of its existing facilities are short-staffed. And the acting director has agreed to the report’s recommendations.”

The report was based on inspections of five detention facilities, four of which failed to meet certain federal standards, although “not every problem was present in all of them.”

The report summarized the results of the inspections:

“Upon entering some facilities, detainees were housed incorrectly based on their criminal history. Further, in violation of standards, all detainees entering one facility were strip searched. Available language services were not always used to facilitate communication with detainees. Some facility staff reportedly deterred detainees from filing grievances and did not thoroughly document resolution of grievances. Staff did not always treat detainees respectfully and professionally, and some facilities may have misused segregation. Finally, we observed potentially unsafe and unhealthy detention conditions.

Detainees … reported long waits for provision of medical care, poor conditions in bathrooms and insufficient hygiene supplies. OIG inspectors also observed expired, moldy, and spoiled foods in the kitchen in four facilities.”

The report also recommends that ICE improve its oversight of detention facility management and operations. In an official response, ICE concurred with the findings and promised to strengthen oversight and improve overall conditions.

Critics of President Trump’s immigration policies say the findings are not new as they predate the current administration.

A 2015 report by the National Immigrant Justice Center questioned ICE’s ability to oversee the detention centers it uses.

In a statement on the 2017 report, the Center’s Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy said:

“ICE’s inability to provide for the safety and health of the tens of thousands of immigrants in its custody has been documented for years. Today, we are calling on Congress to demand accountability and drastically reduce ICE’s detention budget.

“While the Inspector General’s report provides documentation of extensive abuses, its remedy is incredibly insufficient: it directs ICE field office directors to review the areas of concern. We know from earlier directives that ICE’s internal review processes fail to generate meaningful change.”

Three years ago, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s office reported on a series of unannounced visits to detention centers for unaccompanied children. The inquiry found evidence of inadequate food, temperature control problems and inconsistent employee-to-detainee ratios.

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In Viral Video Harvard Says Yes To 16-Year-Old Applicant And Classmates Go Wild

A 16-year-old in Louisiana shared his joy over learning he was accepted to Harvard in a viral video, viewed more than 6 million times.

Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In the video posted to Twitter, Ayrton Little dons Harvard red, the viewer watching him as he peers at his own screen, waiting to see whether he got into his dream school. Everyone seems to sweat. Little’s schoolmates crowd around him in anticipation. A big moment to be sure, especially for a 16-year-old. Then a gasp and the room erupts in cheers, screams and embraces.

All the hard work was worth it. I got accepted to Harvard at 16!! 😭😭😭 #Harvard#Harvard2022pic.twitter.com/KjW3pAF0VG

— Tha Little Man (@AyrtonLittle) December 13, 2017

He did it.

“All the hard work was worth it,” Little tweeted alongside the video, which as of Thursday had been viewed more than 6 million times.

Chants of “three-peat” ring out after Little learns the news. It is the third year in a row that a student from TM Landry College Preparatory in Breaux Bridge, La., is going to Harvard.

The school has a tradition of filming students as they learn whether they got into college, and posting the (happy) results. Check out a series of reactions on the school’s Facebook page.

The same day Little heard he got into Harvard, he posted a video of his older brother, Alex, learning he got into Stanford University.

Y’all look my big bro!!! https://t.co/j0EBarumf8

— Tha Little Man (@AyrtonLittle) December 13, 2017

Ayrton Little joined his brother’s year after skipping a grade. He turns 17 in February reports member station WBUR.

“Is this really happening?” their mother, Maureen Little, kept saying about her sons getting into two of the country’s most competitive universities. She said while it was challenging at times to raise her sons as a single mom, she never had to worry about how they were doing in school.

“I think because you saw what I was going through, y’all didn’t want to disappoint me, maybe. So you just did well,” she said, according to WBUR.

The brothers said another member of the family has also been a driving force behind their success: their youngest brother, who would have been 13 this month, died five years ago following an asthma attack.

Little told told The Huffington Post that he now feels as if his life has been forever changed. “My brother and I realized that we have done the impossible,” he said. He plans to study math and computer science at his “dream school,” and later hopes to build a nonprofit to help other kids in his community “get to the position that I’m currently in.”

Among the slew of well-wishers from across the Twitter-sphere was Harvard alum and Brooklyn Nets basketball player Jeremy Lin. “Congrats Ayrton…awesome story of someone chasing their dreams, pursuing education and turning a blindeye to the haters!” Lin tweeted.

This is legit!! Congrats Ayrton…awesome story of someone chasing their dreams, pursuing education and turning a blindeye to the haters! #GoCrimsonhttps://t.co/9Reopgtze8

— Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) December 13, 2017

Congratulations and welcome to Harvard, Ayrton! 🎉

— Harvard Admissions (@applytoharvard) December 13, 2017

This is why we do this work. #AyrtonLittle We know there are lots of amazing acceptance stories out there! Share your story/stories from your school with us! https://t.co/2aARUSahbI

— NACAC (@NACAC) December 14, 2017

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Nephews Of Venezuelan First Lady Sentenced In U.S. Drug Smuggling Case

Defendants Efrain Antonio Campos Flores (center left) and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas (center right), as depicted in federal court in New York on Thursday, were sentenced to 18 years in prison on drug conspiracy charges.

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Elizabeth Williams/AP

A judge in New York City sentenced the nephews of Venezuela’s first lady to 18 years in prison on Thursday, following their convictions on drug trafficking charges.

The Venezuelan citizens listened to the federal court proceedings through headphones and each delivered brief remarks before their sentences were handed down. “I know that I have made very serious mistakes in this case,” said Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, according to Reuters.

His cousin Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas said he has always been a good person, “Even in jail I tried to help those who were in a worse psychological situation than I find myself in,” and asked to be allowed back home to Venezuela soon to see family.

In November 2016, a jury in New York found Campo Flores, 30, and Flores de Freitas, 31, guilty of conspiring to smuggle more than 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the United States.

The men were arrested in Haiti one year earlier, after authorities said they contacted a Drug Enforcement Administration informant asking for help getting cocaine into the U.S.

Prosecutors had been seeking sentences of 30 years for the men, saying the cousins believed they were above the law because of their family connections.

The men’s aunt, Cilia Flores, is married to Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled president.

But the defense said sentences of 10 years were more in order. The men’s lawyers blamed the case on a flawed D.E.A. probe and said the men never actually transported the drugs and never even meant to.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty pointed to the cousins’ ineptitude during Thursday’s sentencing hearing.

“What moves me is that Mr. Campo Flores and Mr. Flores de Freitas were perhaps not the most astute drug dealers who ever existed,” Crotty said. “They were in over their heads.”

Crotty said the three decades the prosecution was seeking would have been excessive, noting that the men had no prior criminal backgrounds, reports Reuters.

Shortly after their convictions last year, Maduro spoke out about the case, saying it was an example of U.S. imperialism.

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After Maria, Puerto Rico Struggles Under The Weight Of Its Own Garbage

The active part of the landfill in Toa Baja is currently a hot, rancid, open dump. Federal regulations require trash piles to be covered daily with earth. But the site’s supervisor says that’s currently impossible.

José Jiménez-Tirado for NPR

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José Jiménez-Tirado for NPR

Outside Puerto Rico’s capital, a three-story-high mountain of debris and waste sits smack in the middle of what was a suburban soccer field before Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

Blue bleachers peek out from the edge of the trash pile, as a line of trucks rolls in to dump even more tree branches and moldy furniture. Workmen wearing yellow hard hats operate diggers to add the new waste to the growing pile in the center of the field.

Puerto Rico is struggling under the weight of its own garbage. Even before Maria hit two and a half months ago, the Environmental Protection Agency says most of the island’s landfills were filled beyond capacity and that nearly half were under orders to close.

Puerto Rico’s Solid Waste Authority estimates that the powerful hurricane created 6.2 million cubic yards of waste and debris — and it needs to go somewhere. That’s enough trash to fill about 43 football stadiums with piles of waste eights stories high, according to a measure used by FEMA. And it has to go somewhere.

Workmen at the soccer field say the site became a makeshift dump because the landfill for the Toa Baja municipality, near San Juan, is so flooded with trash that wait times can be hours. When the soccer site becomes too full, the workers say waste is then moved to the landfill in dump trucks.

In Maria’s wake, local governments are supposed to separate tree branches and other “green waste” for composting so that it doesn’t clog up landfills, says Antonio Rios, the head of Puerto Rico’s Solid Waste Management Authority, the agency that sets the U.S. territory’s waste policy.

A former soccer field has become an improvised dump site because the main landfill is so busy in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico.

José Jiménez-Tirado for NPR

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José Jiménez-Tirado for NPR

That composting process isn’t happening everywhere, Rios acknowledges. Green debris is still winding up in overflowing landfills across the island, though he says authorities are trying to divert additional material to landfills that have more room. Rios points out that the hurricane has created other types of waste, things like broken kitchen appliances and food that went rotten because of a lack of electricity.

The landfill in Toa Baja is managed by the private firm Conwaste and takes in trash from at least four municipalities. It has been deeply troubled for years.

The site is supervised by 25-year-old Lionel Ruiz. Last month, he says, they accepted 36,000 tons of waste — that’s 70 percent more than the month before the hurricane. Ruiz points to trash-filled trucks waiting in a line that stretches down a dirt road and off into the distance.

“It’s more busy than usual,” Ruiz says. “You see the line? We never have that line in normal operation.”

In 2008, the EPA ordered the Toa Baja landfill to close by 2014 because it posed an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment.”

Heaps of tree branches, moldy furniture and other debris from Hurricane Maria piles up at a former soccer field now being used as a dumping site in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. Most of the island’s landfills were already over capacity before the storm devastated the island in September.

José Jiménez-Tirado for NPR

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José Jiménez-Tirado for NPR

The EPA said environmental inspectors found evidence that the landfill did not have a system to control liquid seeping through the garbage pile and into the ground. The agency found that this substance, called leachate, could potentially contaminate a nearby aquifer and wetlands.

In 2012, the EPA allowed the landfill to push back the closure for an unspecified amount of time. The landfill was allowed to create a new, smaller area that used more environmental precautions — such as a lining to prevent seepage — and start accepting waste there.

The story is much the same across the lush tropical island of Puerto Rico. The EPA got directly involved in the island’s landfills in 2002, and has since ordered at least 12 of the approximately 29 landfills to close, which can be a years-long process.

It’s not immediately clear how many sites — most of which are already at capacity — have actually shut down.

Rios of the Solid Waste Authority estimates that at current recycling rates, all of the island’s landfills will be full in 20 to 25 years.

Even the newly added space in Toa Baja’s landfill is rapidly filling up, Ruiz says. Before the hurricane hit, he said he thought it would take five years for that area to fill up; Maria has sped up the timeline.

He’s grappling with immediate problems. Birds and insects circle around what is currently a hot, rancid, open dump.

“This is the active area of the landfill, you will see a lot of uncovered material,” Ruiz says. Workers would normally cover the expansive mess with earth every day to comply with federal regulations, but he says they haven’t been able to do so for a week because the private trucks they use are now being used by FEMA.

A truck drives past a closed section of the municipal landfill in Toa Baja, which is near Puerto Rico’s capital city of San Juan.

José Jiménez-Tirado for NPR

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José Jiménez-Tirado for NPR

The uncovered mounds of rotting garbage is upsetting to people down the hill in the neighborhood of Candelaria, people like 83-year-old Angelo Fernandez. “The smell, the stink!” he says, totally exasperated. “Every time they leave it open, the smell is awful.”

In his 41 years living here, he’s seen mountains of trash rise from the ground, parts of which are now covered with dirt and vegetation. But the waste lies just inches under the surface.

“It is getting bigger, it is getting bigger and bigger — that was never this height — never,” Fernandez says. “All that mountain you see there is garbage!”

He says people living in Candelaria suffer from asthma and other breathing problems because of the landfill. They cough a lot.

Actually closing a landfill is expensive, costing approximately $200,000 per acre, according to Rios. Puerto Rico is struggling with more than $120 billion in debt and pension obligations, and has filed for a bankruptcy-like procedure — and that was before the hurricane.

The EPA has acknowledged that the budget crisis is making it more difficult for local governments on the island to handle the garbage problem. The municipalities “have always had limited funds to implement the environmental and engineering controls required to improve, and ultimately close, the landfills,” the agency says. And Puerto Rico’s Environmental Quality Board hasn’t required municipalities to set money aside in case their landfills needed to close.

Another issue, Rios says, is that some of the landfills now under closure orders aren’t charging garbage trucks high enough fees to generate the money to actually shut down.

Homes damaged by Hurricane Maria in the Candelario neighborhood sit adjacent to the Toa Baja landfill.

José Jiménez-Tirado for NPR

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José Jiménez-Tirado for NPR

Ultimately, the troubled landfill system is “a public health issue and it’s about to collapse really soon,” says Agustin Carbo, former head of the Solid Waste Authority. He says Puerto Rico also needs to think beyond landfills rather than just open new ones. Recycling rates on the island are about half of what they are on the U.S. mainland.

“We need to look for different alternatives,” he says, particularly because Puerto Rico has limited space. That might include a number of other waste management techniques such as “waste-to-energy,” which uses methods like incineration to produce electricity and heat.

Most importantly, he says, “people need to change their behavior and it’s quite complex, how you change that in a small island. But it can be done — it just, people need to understand what’s at stake here.”

Those stakes are clear to Fernandez, who lives next to the landfill. He says that if it closed for good, “I think it would be a better place to live. I know it would be.”

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Emily Haines On World Cafe

Emily Haines

Justin Broadbent/Courtesy of the artist

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Justin Broadbent/Courtesy of the artist

  • “Legend Of The Wild Horse”
  • “Nihilist Abyss”

In this session, we slip into the world of Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton. Haines is the lead singer of the electro-tinged rock and roll band Metric, but in her solo work you won’t find any wailing guitars or radical synths — the spotlight shines right on her voice and the work of art that is her songwriting.

Hear Emily Haines, solo on the piano, in the player above.

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Four Children Killed In School Bus And Train Collision In France

Rescue workers help after a fatal collision between a school bus and a regional train in the village of Millas in southern France on Thursday.

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Matthieu Ferri/AP

A school bus taking around 20 students home Thursday afternoon collided with a train in the south of France, resulting in “numerous victims,” according to the local government.

Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe told Le Monde that four people died in the crash and 20 were injured, 11 critically.

French media reports that all of the people killed were school children.

Reports give the ages of the children on the bus as 11 to 15, or 13 to 17.

Le Monde says there were 25 people aboard the regional train and none was seriously injured.

The train and the bus collided in a village called Millas outside the city of Perpignan, close to the Spanish border. The circumstances around the crash remain unclear, but the local government described it as “a terrible accident.”

Toutes mes pensées pour les victimes de ce terrible accident d’un bus scolaire et pour leurs familles. La mobilisation de l’État est totale pour leur porter secours.

— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 14, 2017

Pictures from the scene showed rescue workers around the school bus sheered into two pieces.

French President Emmanuel Macron said France’s full resources had been mobilized in the rescue of victims.

ThePréfet of the Pyrénées-Orientales said it was a major operation, including the work of nearly 100 firefighters and 15 police units. Parents were asked to convene at the Millas school where they would be “kept informed.”

France’s national rail authority, SNCF, told The Associated Press that witnesses reported the crossing gates had been working properly. And a rail official said the barrier — which includes flashing lights — had been lowered at the time of the crash.

France’s Interior Minister Gérard Collomb was making his way to the scene of the accident Thursday, tweeting that he was “overwhelmed by the tragedy.”

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Firefighter Dies in California Wildfire, Now The 4th Largest In The State's History

Firefighters in Santa Barbara County, Calif., on Wednesday. Thursday, a firefighter whose name has not been released was killed while battling the massive Thomas Fire which straddles Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.

Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County via AP

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Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County via AP

California fire officials say the massive Thomas fire has claimed the life of a firefighter.

“I am very saddened to report that a firefighter fatality has occurred on the Thomas Incident,” Chief Ken Pimlott, the director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, tweeted. “Please join me in keeping our fallen firefighter and his loved ones in your prayers and all the responders on the front lines in your thoughts as they continue to work under extremely challenging conditions.”

Pimlott did not disclose the name of the firefighter, saying only that he was from a CalFire San Diego unit.

The Thomas fire has charred 242,500 acres and is only 30 percent contained. It is now reported to be the fourth-largest fire in Cailfornia history. Officials say they don’t expect to fully contain it until Jan. 7.

More than 8,100 firefighters are battling the blaze estimated to have caused more than $74.7 million in firefighting costs.

Hot gusty winds, bone-dry fuels continue to feed the fire as it threatens communities in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.

The fire has destroyed more than 900 structures, including 729 homes, as it continues to threaten about 18,000 buildings.

The last time Santa Barbara County saw such a ferocious blaze was 10 years ago when the Zaca fire burned just over 240,000 acres.

The Thomas fire has surpassed that and is still growing.

“This thing is 60 miles long and 40 miles wide,” fire behavior analyst Tim Chavez told the Los Angeles Times. “There’s a lot of fire out there.”

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Mediocre 'Ferdinand' Will Have Bored Parents Seeing Red

Bull-necked wrestler John Cena voices the pacifist bull Ferdinand.

20th Century Fox

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20th Century Fox

For a simple children’s story about a pacifist bull in Spain who would rather smell the flowers than charge a matador, Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand generated tremendous controversy, owing to its worldwide popularity and its date of publication, 1936, which found it caught in political crosswinds. It was banned in Franco’s Spain. Hitler ordered it burned as “degenerate democratic propaganda” in Nazi Germany, though it was republished and distributed for free in the same country once the war was over, to teach children a message of peace. Gandhi was a fan. So was H.G. Wells.

Yet sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. The Story of Ferdinand could be read as a story of independence and self-actualization, with no interest in advancing the bull as a symbol of nonviolent resistance. This was the message of the Oscar-winning Disney short from 1938, which cast Ferdinand as a silly, whimsical creature who humiliates the matador by licking the flower tattoo on his chest. And that’s the message of Ferdinand, a mediocre new animated feature from Blue Sky productions, which specializes in mediocre features like the Ice Age and Rio franchises. In Blue Sky’s version, the bull isn’t particularly distinguishable from the scores of other anthropomorphic beasts who want to go their own way, but get ostracized for being different. Slap a red nose on him and he’s Rudolph. Put him in the kitchen and he’s Remy from Ratatouille.

Blue Sky does excel at bright, pleasing colors, however, and the animators make the most of the rolling hills and flower-strewn meadows of rural Spain, where young Ferdinand (voiced by bull-framed WWE legend John Cena) resides at Casa del Toros, a training ground for prize bulls. While Ferdinand’s ranch-mates work on their strength and aggression in the hope of fulfilling their destiny in the ring, he nurtures a single flower that’s slipped through a crack in the dirt and tries to stay out of conflict. After learning his dad never made it back from the ring in Madrid, he flees from Casa del Toros and winds up on an idyllic farm where a little girl named Nina (Lily Day) treats him like a pet and allows him to frolic all day on the hillside.

Ferdinand’s time in pacifist-bull paradise adds time — too much, at 107 minutes—and a human element to the film, but once nature finally catches up and turns him into a bulky terror, he can no longer escape his predetermined destiny. His return to Casa del Toros brings some comic relief in the forms of Kate McKinnon as a wound-up “calming goat,” three hedgehogs who go by Uno, Dos, and Cuatro (ask not about Tres), and a few snooty show horses in the adjoining field. There are three or four fart jokes. There’s an elaborate breakout attempt that resembles The Great Escape by way of Chicken Run. Vast chunks of the film seem like a time-wasting measures before Ferdinand can finally square off in the ring against the fearsome, arrogant bullfighter El Primero (Miguel Angel Silvestre.)

The lurching rhythms of Ferdinand make a clean story feel ungainly and episodic, though a few of those episodes are good for a laugh, like the bull literally trying to shimmy his way through a china shop or McKinnon’s goat trailing off into neurotic fits of improvisation. But if you didn’t know Ferdinand was based on a children’s classic, it would be impossible to distinguish it from other bright, innocuous, mildly diverting time-passers under the Blue Sky label. That’s less of a problem when running the latest iteration of Ice Age through the mill, but when the premise is about a one-of-a-kind bull who doesn’t run with the stampede, the last thing the film should do is fall in line.

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Potent Cocktail Of Drama And Documentary Explores A Mysterious Death: 'Wormwood'

Bob Balaban and Peter Sarsgaard star in Wormwood, a film that investigates the death of Frank Olson.

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Mark Schafer/Netflix

What is known for sure about American military scientist Frank Olson is that on November 28, 1953, the bacteriologist and father of three plunged to his death from the thirteenth floor of the Statler hotel in New York City, not long after he was secretly drugged with LSD on the orders of his CIA superior. Whether Olson was pushed, or jumped, or was nudged into committing suicide remains unclear. But indeterminacy with a generous side of conspiracy is catnip to director Errol Morris, who has made either a 241-minute film or a six-part television series depending on where and how you plan to watch it, about the tragedy’s long reach into Olson’s family and America’s secretive political culture.

Olson’s death, and the murk surrounding its cause, cast a defining shadow over the life of his son Eric, whose endless quest to find out what happened that night has pre-empted all other endeavors. The blight spread around his family. His mother became an alcoholic with, the film implies, the active encouragement of one of her husband’s colleagues. But Eric, now in his sixties, has arguably been completely derailed by the tragedy. He is the central focus of Wormwood, a hybrid blend of documentary and Cold War thriller that makes The B-Side, Morris’s loving portrait of radical photographer Elsa Dorfman earlier this year, look almost straightforward.

“You’ll never know what happened in that room,” Olson’s widow (played in reenactments by Canadian actress Molly Parker and by herself in home and news footage) repeatedly told her son. Her warnings did nothing to offset Eric’s lifelong quest to find out what happened to his father. It’s not hard to see what drew Morris to Eric and his story. A gifted obsessive in his own right, Morris has also made the blurring of boundaries between non-fiction and narrative film a central project of his work. It’s not a stretch to say that for both men, reality is an endlessly open question at once political and existential.

Moving back and forth between the 1953 events and 1975, when a Rockefeller commission confirmed that an army scientist had been purposefully drugged with hallucinogens , Wormwood carries us from secret meetings at Deer Lake through the long tail of misery and obfuscation left by Frank’s death, to Eric’s pursuit of the truth all the way to the corridors of power.

In hushed and menacing re-enactments, Peter Sarsgaard, whose mild manner lends itself to all kinds of tonal nuance, charts the decline and fall of Olson, a patriotic team player whose growing unease about his agency’s secretive involvement in biological warfare overseas first worries his boss (a reptilian Tim Blake Nelson) and then moves him to seize the day and use his hapless employee as a guinea pig. By the time Frank arrives at the hotel flanked by ambiguously supportive colleagues, he’s rapidly unraveling into a gibbering wreck.

Wormwood‘s breathless, hopped-up style harks back to Morris’s 1988 The Thin Blue Line, which called into question a murder verdict and resulted in the release of a wrongly convicted suspect from Death Row. Here the noir markers are writ so large as to verge now and then on self-parody. Morris keeps returning the action to the hotel to act out different angles and competing versions of what happened to Olson that night. The hypothetical range between possible perps — Frank’s boss, his friends, two wordless thugs in fedoras, a CIA allergist played by a sinister Bob Balaban — is narrow enough to make these scenes a touch repetitive if you’re watching in one sitting. Certainly they underscore Morris’s standing as a lifelong participant observer of American paranoia. For which, it must be said, there is undeniable fodder in the manner of Olsen’s going, the secrecy surrounding his death, the ambivalent admissions the Rockefeller Commission along with a dwindling financial settlement that looks suspiciously like hush money to Olson and to Morris, and the merrily chuckling presence in old footage of two well-known knowns, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

For all the formal beauty of the re-enactments, the most compelling scenes in Wormwood are the unembellished interviews that Morris — ordinarily an off-screen interlocutor with an appetite for the subtly leading question — is seen conducting across a table with Eric Olson, who waves his arms around with the befuddled intensity of a superannuated schoolboy as he tells his story. Articulate and charming, Eric is a talented collage artist who seems to have sacrificed career and significant relationships to his endless search for justice and truth, even after the case was officially closed and after he contacts investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who first reported the drugging of Olson in The New York Times. Grandiose as always, Hersh insists that he knows who murdered Frank Olson, but won’t say for fear of compromising an anonymous source. We can’t tell whether he’s fibbing either.

A romantic view — and I wouldn’t entirely put this past Morris — is that Olson is, like his interlocutor, an artist with a magnificent obsession that sustains him even when it’s doomed to failure. But in Wormwood he emerges with enormous poignancy as a tragic figure, perpetually stuck in limbo like the father we see tumbling, over and over, to his fate.

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