Nat Wolff's story is a familiar one: a former Nickelodeon star attempts to break out in feature film. But in two upcoming performances Wolff demands your attention. On Friday audiences will be able to see Wolff in Palo Alto as Fred, a veritable harbinger of mischief. Next month he'll be seen in The Fault in Our Stars as Isaac, a teen with cancer losing both his eyesight and his girlfriend.
My expectations for Palo Alto were mixed, having long ago grown weary of many of James Franco's antics. But despite his turn as a soccer coach lusting after his teenage players—in which he is never not creepy—the movie feels less like one of Franco's art experiments, than the foundational work of exciting emerging artists. Gia Coppola has clearly inherited some of her aunt Sofia's predisposition for imbuing her work with a dreamlike quality and indie music, but the movie isn't all artifice. Coppola has created an ecosystem of teens that you are actually able to care about despite their horrible behavior. And the Wolff's Fred is the worst of them all.
The movie opens on Fred and his friend Teddy (Jack Kilmer, who is, yes, Val's son) sitting in a car in a parking lot. Out of nowhere, Fred slams the car into a wall. It's the first indication that Fred is something of a Tasmanian Devil, prone to leaving destruction in his wake. He vandalizes a children's book. He chops down a tree with a chainsaw. He pushes a girl's head down, making her give him a blow job, and later taunts her. Wolff portrays Fred as a kid who quite literally can't sit still. His gangly frame is almost constantly bouncing up and down. But what is perhaps most miraculous about his performance is that he actually makes Fred somewhat alluring, even though his behavior is vile and revolting. It makes sense that a teenage girl would find him attractive, or that a boy would hang out with him despite being warned time and time again not too. "Gia told me, I want you to find the fun and the humor and the lightness," Wolff told me at The Fault in Our Stars press junket this past weekend. "The asshole’s already in the script. You don't have to play the asshole. Play the other. That opened me up."
In the short time we chatted it became clear that Wolff—whose first adult breakout role was arguably the 2013 comedy Admission—takes his work seriously. Still, he couched his comments in enough self-deprecation that he didn't come off as pretentious. He said he has realized that each role is going to be "hard" if it's going to be performed well. "It’s become so uncool to say that you’re a method actor," he said. "But I am." It goes way back, he explained his mother—the actress Polly Draper—would do acting exercises with him when he couldn't sleep. He only realized what she was doing once he started going to class. (Draper wrote and directed The Naked Brothers Band: The Movie, which launched the careers of Wolff and his brother Alex, and became a successful Nickelodeon show.)
To prepare for his role in Fault he spent time practicing being blind. "I wore an eye patch for a day, just saw how that made me feel, kind of woozy and stuff," he said. "Then I just closed my eyes and put glasses on and did everything blind. I ended up putting Tiger Balm on my toothbrush accidentally." (He wears contacts that blacked out his eyes in the movie.) For Palo Alto he described the process as a freeing one, having initially told Coppola that he didn't feel like the character he was set to play. "There’s a part of me that’s like that, and it’s a part that I keep so hidden," he said. "So basically that role was almost liberating. It was finding this part of myself that needs a ton of attention that I usually keep hidden and bringing it out to the front."
Isaac and Fred have little in common, but both brim with a sort of nervous, at times angry, energy that makes them magnetic to watch. Fred's anger is nebulous, whereas Isaac's is pointed. He is, after all, a cancer patient. Isaac is also secondary to the story of The Fault in Our Stars, which focuses mostly on the love story between Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort). Wolff will have a bigger role in the next movie based on a John Green book: he's set to play the co-lead in Paper Towns, a book he read on the Fault set at the recommendation of Green. He'll also re-team with Fault director Josh Boone—who used Wolff in his first film, Stuck in Love—for the Stephen King adaptation, The Stand. He thinks of Boone and Coppola as two of his best friends, he told me.
"Now I’m sort of getting to the point where I have more control over what I do, but I want to work with really great people and and do stuff that’s good," he said. "That’s been my drive more than being the most successful actor in the world. And I would love to be successful, I love the people who are going to Fault. Nothing against success, obviously. I just mean, it can’t be my number one priority or I think I’ll make the wrong choices."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
A few weeks ago, I was trying to call Cuba. I got an error message—which, okay, international telephone codes are long and my fingers are clumsy—but the phone oddly started dialing again before I could hang up. A voice answered. It had a British accent and it was reading: “...the moon was shining brightly. The Martians had taken away the excavating-machine…”
Apparently, I had somehow called into an audiobook of The War of the Worlds. Suspicious of my clumsy fingers, I double-checked the number. It was correct (weird), but I tried the number again, figuring that at worst, I’d learn what happened after the Martians took away the excavating machine. This time, I got the initial error message and the call disconnected. No Martians.
The Daily Show host was measured, respectful, and challenging in his 26-minute conversation with TheBlaze pundit Tomi Lahren.
Tomi Lahren, the 24-year-old host of Tomi on the conservative cable network TheBlaze, feels like a pundit created by a computer algorithm, someone who primarily exists to say something provocative enough to jump to the top of a Facebook feed. She’s called the Black Lives Matter movement “the new KKK,” partly blamed the 2015 Chattanooga shootings on President Obama’s “Muslim sensitivity,” and declared Colin Kaepernick a “whiny, indulgent, attention-seeking cry-baby.” At a time when such charged political rhetoric feels increasingly like the norm, Lahren stands at one end of a widening gulf—which made her appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah Wednesday night all the more fascinating.
In his first year at The Daily Show, Noah has struggled to distinguish himself in an outrage-driven late-night universe. He has sometimes seemed too flip about the failures of the country’s news media, something his predecessor Jon Stewart made a perennial target. Noah’s 26-minute conversation with Lahren, though, posted in its entirety online, set the kind of tone that Stewart frequently called for throughout his tenure. The segment never turned into a screaming match, but it also avoided platitudes and small-talk. Lahren was unapologetic about her online bombast and leaned into arguments that drew gasps and boos from Noah’s audience, but the host remained steadfastly evenhanded throughout. If Noah was looking for a specific episodethat would help him break out in his crowded field, he may have finally found it.
The mechanics of stripping empiricism out of America’s regulatory systems.
In September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned 19 common chemicals from common antibacterial washes, because manufacturers hadn’t shown that they were safe in the long run, or any better than plain soap and water. In October, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated a rule forcing dozens of states to reduce levels of ozone and other air pollutants coming out of power plants—a move that would protect hundreds of millions of Americans from lung diseases. In the same month, the EPA and the United National Highway Traffic Safety Administration enacted a rule that limits the carbon dioxide emissions from heavy-duty vehicles like trucks and tractors.
In a few months, these regulations could vanish, along with over 100 others designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Americans.
A single dose of magic mushrooms can make people with severe anxiety and depression better for months, according to a landmark pair of new studies.
The doom hung like an anvil over her head. In 2012, a few years after Carol Vincent was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, she was waiting to see whether her cancer would progress enough to require chemotherapy or radiation. The disease had already done a number on her, inflating lymph nodes on her chin, collar bones, and groin. She battled her symptoms while running her own marketing business. To top it all off, she was going through menopause.
“Life is just pointless stress, and then you die,” she thought. “All I’m doing is sitting here waiting for all this shit to happen.”
When one day at an intersection she mulled whether it would be so bad to get hit by a car, she realized her mental health was almost as depleted as her physical state.
Critics say she failed to energize the Democratic base. But vote totals show her biggest shortcomings were in counties that opposed Barack Obama the most.
It now seems likely that Hillary Clinton will get fewer votes than Barack Obama did in 2012. More distressingly for Democrats, she fared worse in Democratic-leaning cities that anchor swing states, including Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee. To critics on the left, that’s evidence of a campaign that dragged its feet, and a candidate who took her base for granted. Her defeat, in their minds, was an unforced error.
But the numbers show something different. There’s no question Clinton faltered in some Democratic cities, but the gaps between her haul and Obama’s in those locations were modest. The vast majority of her deficit came instead from counties that Obama lost in 2012: They didn’t like him, but they really hated her.
Defending the liberal project is a Sisyphean task in part because successfully inculcating liberal norms leads to habits that weaken the ability to sustain them.
In the Western world, the percentage of people who say that it is essential to live in a democracy is in precipitous decline. In the United States, only 19 percent of millennials agree that it would be illegitimate for the military to take control of government. The president-elect routinely speculates about authoritarian policies, like stripping citizenship from those who burn the American flag in protest.
During a bygone crisis in global politics, when the liberal order was under sustained attack, Friedrich Hayek published this diagnosis of the challenge before liberals:
If old truths are to retain their hold on men’s minds, they must be restated in the language and concepts of successive generations. What at one time are their most effective expressions gradually become so worn with use that they cease to carry a definite meaning. The underlying ideas may be as valid as ever, but the words, even when they refer to problems that are still with us, no longer convey the same conviction; the arguments do not move in a context familiar to us; and they rarely give us direct answers to the questions we are asking. This may be inevitable because no statement of an ideal that is likely to sway men’s minds can be complete: it must be adapted to a given climate of opinion, presuppose much that is accepted by all men of the time, and illustrate general principles in terms of issues with which they are concerned.
The Minnesota progressive’s run for DNC chair demonstrates the pressures for the party as it tries to recover from a disastrous 2016 election.
Deciding who will chair a political party probably isn’t the most effective place to fight for the soul of that party. Did Reince Priebus or any of the people who supported his run for Republican National Committee chair foresee president Trump? But DNC chair is the slot that’s open now, so that’s where Democrat are hashing out their differences.
Almost all of the pressures on and contradictions within the party can be projected onto Keith Ellison, the U.S. representative from Minnesota, who announced his bid for the spot shortly after the disastrous election for Democrats. That follows several years of disastrous cycles for the party—despite President Obama’s two terms, Democrats have been pummeled at the state and national levels—and the party stewardship of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, which is widely viewed as shiftless and failed. With the Democratic field for 2020 diffuse and enigmatic, the chairmanship is one place to fight the battle.
This morning, straight off the plane from Shanghai, I was on The Diane Rehm Show with Margaret Sullivan, much-missed former Public Editor of the NYT who is now with the WaPo, and Glenn Thrush of Politico. We were talking about how to deal with the unprecedented phenomenon that is Donald Trump, related to the “Trump’s Lies” item I did two days ago.
You can listen to the whole segment here, but I direct your attention to the part starting at time 14:40. That is when Scottie Nell Hughes, Trump stalwart, joins the show to assert that “this is all a matter of opinion” and “there are no such things as facts.”
You can listen again starting at around time 18:30, when I point out one of the specific, small lies of the Trump campaign—that the NFL had joined him in complaining about debate dates, which the NFL immediately denied—and Hughes says: Well, this is also just a matter of opinion. Hughes mentions at time 21:45 that she is a “classically studied journalist,” an assertion that left Glenn Thrush, Margaret Sullivan, Diane Rehm, and me staring at one another in puzzlement, this not being a normal claim in our field.
Jay Hamilton, a Stanford professor who studies media business models, sees similarities between some of today's outlets and the partisan press of the 1850s.
Despite frequent criticism from the president-elect and despite drawing historically low levels of trust from the public, the media—or at least parts of it—actually did quite well in serving the public good during the run-up to this year’s election. That’s the view of Jay Hamilton, a professor of communication at Stanford and the director of the school’s journalism program, who says that throughout the campaign, enterprising national reporters (particularly those at The New York Times and The Washington Post) were consistently turning out stories with new information that was relevant to voters.
But Hamilton, whose recent book Democracy’s Detectives is about the market for investigative journalism, is not as sanguine about the performance of much of the media industry in the past year. As reporting at large national publications has gotten ever more sharp-eyed—and as these publications have amassed an increasing share of reporting awards as a result—jobs at regional outlets that aren’t based in prosperous coastal cities have been drying up, limiting those papers’ ability to scrutinize local politicians and organizations. (Hamilton also counts Facebook among “the category of media institutions that failed us” for its lack of response to the viral circulation of blatantly inaccurate articles during the campaign.)