In Magic in the Moonlight, a new film from Woody Allen, Colin Firth plays a 1920s stage magician who is also an expert at debunking spiritualists. Stanley, Firth's character, takes on the case of a young woman, played by Emma Stone, who is a supposedly adept medium.
Firth tells NPR's Robert Siegel how some of the more well-known myths about working will Allen checked out and why he's been appearing in fewer comedies.
On appearing in nearly every scene of Magic in the Moonlight
When I first read the script, there was an awful lot of ink under the word "Stanley." And it was a little overwhelming, actually, because it was the first time I'd been approached by Woody Allen and then to see that I was going to be carrying an awful lot of what he'd written was flattering and daunting. ...
On how the stories about what it was like to work with Allen checked out
I had heard all sorts of stories about Woody Allen's directing — directorial approach. And some of them turned out to be myth, but one of them was that he doesn't rehearse and another was that he doesn't really direct. If he doesn't like it ... he cuts it out of the movie or even replaces you. And he doesn't talk to you.
You know ... we had a very brief phone conversation — which I thought he'd asked for and he thought I'd asked for, which became apparent as we spoke — and it lasted all of two minutes, I think. So there was no discussion about what the convention of the film was going to be: whether this was theatrical or naturalistic; whether it was going to be big, small; how he was going to shoot it. So I tried to build what I could just in the homework that I was doing.
Because another thing you hear is that he only lets you see certain pages — but that wasn't true, he let me have the script. And I just thought, "Well, I must come on as best I can and have as much up my sleeve as I can, which at least means really knowing the lines." I don't normally like to learn lines in advance. I find my choices and decisions get a little bit too set. ... Of course I'll learn them, but I don't want to embed it too much. [I] couldn't afford to do that with this. There was just too much.
And then I got onto the set and, you know, the first word he said to me was probably "action." ... And it was not just action, it was, "Actually, we're going to shoot this whole scene in one shot." And then what you find is that those takes are the rehearsal. ... He rehearses on camera. And he did direct, that was another thing that turned out not to be the case. He was a very, very involved and meticulous director. So that came as a great relief.
On why he's been appearing in fewer comedies
The comedies are coming less thick and fast than they used to. ... It's partly choice. I feel more comfortable in drama. Comedy is a high-wire act. I find it stressful. It's a precision science, in a way. And when you're filming, the thing that comedy depends on ... is spontaneity. In filming, you're waiting — you're waiting for lights, you're waiting for people to set things up — and when you're not waiting, you're repeating. And neither is conducive to spontaneity. You know, comedy makes you very, very neurotic.
On the kind of role he's been getting as a middle-aged actor
I've been fascinated at how much more interesting the roles have been for me in the last few years. ... Films like A Single Man or King's Speech or even this one, there's one thing that they have in common. ... They're about a man who has made up his mind about life in a certain way, or has made up his mind about himself, and something gets overturned. And I think that is fairly specific to someone in middle age. And then something happens to you or you find yourself in an unlikely encounter or an unusual relationship and something revolutionizes. Now, you know, being in middle age means that you hopefully still have a significant enough future for that to really count. ... I don't think those [parts] would have been available to me in my 20s. And it won't be the same story if I'm, you know, 98.
President Obama met with the leaders of three Central American countries at the White House on Friday, telling them that they share responsibility with Washington for stemming an influx of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala and Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren discussed the growing humanitarian crisis with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
The Associated Press says Obama told the leaders that he wants to stem the flow of children. He said those without a proper claim to stay will be returned to their countries, the AP says.
"Obama said there may be some instances in which migrants from those countries could apply for refugee status, but those instances would be few."
"Obama said the United States shared responsibility with those countries to address the problem, including the role of drug trafficking."
During a forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Thursday, Hernandez said he wanted to "appeal to the heart of Americans" to "see this as a humanitarian issue, an issue of neighbors."
As The Two-Way's Eyder Peralta reported, Molina, who also attended the forum, said the situation was a tragedy that "all of humanity should reflect on."
"Then, he took the long view. He said that with and, the U.S. has helped combat violence in Colombia and Mexico, but, he argued that as the countries pushed the violence of organized crime out, they have squeezed it into Central America.
"'What has been good for Colombia and Mexico,' Molina said, 'has been bad for us.'
"Both presidents called on a new, regional initiative from the U.S. modeled on Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative, which pumped billions of dollars into the countries to fight organized crime."
Approving a bill that has already passed the Senate, the House of Representatives has given its consent to legislation that lets U.S. consumers "unlock" their cellphones, rather than having them remain linked to specific service providers.
President Obama says he will sign the bill into law, applauding Congress today for taking "another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cell phone carrier that meets their needs and their budget."
The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., was passed by a vote of 295 - 114 Friday; the Senate version, championed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was approved 10 days ago.
The legislation repeals a recent ruling by the Library of Congress that found copyright laws could be strictly enforced over "locked" phones because of evolution in the cellphone marketplace.
But critics had said the rule hurt several groups of consumers: those who wanted to link their phones to overseas carriers when they traveled; those who wanted to switch carriers; and those who wanted to sell phones they've bought through a wireless company.
After today's House vote, Laura Moy, staff attorney at advocacy group Public Knowledge, said the new law would boost competition in the wireless market and "improve the availability of free and low-cost secondhand phones for consumers who cannot afford to purchase new devices."
She also said "it will keep millions of devices out of landfills."
The new law would reestablish an exemption to a section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that prohibited unlocking a phone. The bill also directs the Librarian of Congress to review whether the exemption should apply to tablets and other devices as well as phones.
A public petition to legalize "unlocking" phones blew past the White House's 100,000-signature threshold that requires a response in February of 2013; later that year, President Obama asked the Federal Communications Commission to legalize the practice.
As NPR's Laura Sydell has reported, the FCC agreed on terms with wireless carriers in December, in a deal that would require companies such as AT&T and Verizon to unlock a phone from their networks, but only if a customer asks them to — and only if their contract has ended.
While testing whether a dash of yeast could keep you from getting drunk, we discovered that it's pretty entertaining — and revealing — to track your blood alcohol while drinking.
Using a Breathalyzer, we watched the alcohol in our bodies soar as we drank two beers on empty stomachs. And we noticed there's a place on the curve — about 0.04 or 0.05 BAC — when the buzz is the sweetest.
The quantified self movement has turned monitoring steps, sleep and other activities with technology into a self-improvement pastime. Could the next frontier be alcohol consumption?
It turns out that the breathalyzer industry has been trying to turn us into quantified drinkers for years. And new products on the market are making blood alcohol monitoring even easier by linking it to your smartphone.
One company, BACTrack, has just released a keychain breathalyzer about the size of a lighter for $50.
BACTrack claims its newest product, the Vio, will be a "game changer" for people who want to drink more responsibly. Technology like this, which can help people find out if they're around or over 0.08 BAC, the limit for driving, might even help make a dent in drunk driving rates and the 10,000 related deaths every year, the company's president and CEO Keith Nothacker tells us.
"Previously there was a stigma with alcohol testing, and we've been fighting that stigma," says Nothacker, who started the company in 2001 as a college senior, and is now based in San Francisco. "We want people to talk about their BAC and not be embarrassed."
What Nothacker envisions is that people will use the Vio to beat back peers pressuring them to have another drink or drive under the influence. The BACTrack app that goes with the Vio takes a reading of you BAC after you blow into the device. But it also allows you to text your friends your BAC. "So someone can say, 'I am two drinks in, I'm not meeting you there, here's my BAC,' " Nothacker says.
Other companies have also begun marketing smartphone breathalyzers to quantified self enthusiasts. For example, there's the Breathometer, a device that plugs into the audio jack of the smartphone and connects with an app. It's also about $50.
Nothacker might be right that more breathalyzers in the hands of consumers — rather than just law enforcement — could help bring down consumption of alcohol. But the reading you get will be, at best, a ballpark figure of your actual BAC.
None of the smartphone breathalyzers are as precise or accurate as what the police will use to test your BAC if they pull you over under suspicion of intoxication. According to Nothacker, those devices can compensate for more variables, such as altitude.
But one interesting feature of both the Vio and the Breathometer tells you how long it will take to reach 0.0 BAC from wherever you are over 0. "So if you're drinking late, you'll see that you won't sober up until the next day in a lot of cases," Nothacker says.
But these companies are clear in their marketing materials about one thing: Don't use this tool to decide whether you should "operate a motor vehicle or equipment." And it's never safe to drink any amount of alcohol and drive, partly because there's a huge variation in how alcohol impairs individuals, even at very low BAC.
So if these breathalyzers can't help you decide definitively if you're too drunk to drive, why would you use it?
One public health researcher, who's familiar with the technology, says he thinks these new tools could help people make better decisions.
"The keychain breathalyzer allows people to find out how much they've had to drink objectively. And they can get a pretty good sense of whether it's a good idea to drive," Michael McDonell, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, tells The Salt. "In study after study, we see that just objectively tracking your use of [a substance] will reduce your use."
And while a super accurate breathalyzer is essential if you're using it to decide whether to send someone to jail, knowing your BAC is 0.041 versus 0.047 is less important for a personal tool, says McDonell.
"If the outcome is to help a person stop using or reduce their use of alcohol, accuracy is less important," he says. "And those expensive devices are never going to get out there to everybody."
McDonell is planning to use the Vio in a study of incentive-based alcohol addiction treatment. He'll give patients the device. They'll measure their BAC and then send it to him through the app. If they blow a zero, they get a reward of some kind.
"It should allow us to deliver alcohol treatment in people's home, without having them come into the clinic. And that's big because we know most people don't come in," he says. It's too far or too time-consuming or they fear the stigma of being there, he says.
Our anecdotal playtime with the the Vio certainly made us more aware of the degree of our intoxication. Soon, we were able to more accurately guess our BAC, which the Vio asks you do to before every measurement.
We also became more aware of just how much the amount of food in your stomach influences the rate at which you absorb alcohol — the more food you eat, and the slower you drink while eating, the slower your BAC will rise. Check out the graphs from our yeast experiment: The variation between three people of about the same age and weight is pretty significant.
But these tools are far from perfect. It turns out that it's a bit awkward to operate both a breathalyzer and a smartphone app in a noisy bar with drunk people around you. And if you're lending the tool to a friend who's never used it before, it can be hard to tell if they're blowing hard enough into the device - the likely cause of several faulty readings of 0.0 one of our friends got with the Vio.
The Vio is also a bit fussy. We got a lot of error messages. And the company recommends you use it at least once a month to keep it moist and in working order. The texting feature is also a bit clunky, and there's some mixed messages with the marketing of the device. If BACTrack is trying to discourage people from going overboard with alcohol, why encourage them to post pictures of their drunk selves on the internet through the app?
And while BACTrack says to wait at least 20 minutes after eating, drinking or smoking before blowing into the device, that can be inconvenient if you're already intoxicated and need a quick reading. And Nothacker notes it can take up to an hour for alcohol to be absorbed, so your BAC could continue to rise for 40 minutes after a reading.
All in all, though, a keychain breathalyzer a handy tool to have around. And we can easily imagine a future where people sign their texts and emails with their BAC: "This email was composed at BAC .06."
Maybe we should even try that here at The Salt: Over and out, with a BAC of 0.0.
You can find ramen, the Japanese noodle soup that's meant to be slurped, almost anywhere in the U.S. these days. Ramen shops continue to pop up, and you can find renditions on the menus of restaurants and gastropubs.
But there's a truly funky noodle spot in Cambridge called Yume Wo Karate that serves more than just ramen.
There aren't many restaurants where you get praised by everyone around you for clearing your plate or bowl. But that's exactly what happens at Yume Wo Katare.
"Everyone, he did a good job!"
You'll hear that again and again over the course of a meal in the cozy but loud space.
Owner and ramen master Tsuyoshi Nishioka yells the traditional welcome "Irasshaimase!" at customers from behind the long counter that separates his open kitchen and the shop's 18-seat dining room. Sometimes people wait more than an hour outside on the sidewalk in all temperatures to participate in this novel but highly regimented ramen experience.
Here's the protocol: First you order. There are only two choices — ramen that's swimming in broth topped with pork ($12), or ramen topped with more pork ($14). Extra garlic and emulsified fat can be added too.
Then diners are shown the self-service chopstick and water station before being told which seat to take along the three rows of tables that face the kitchen. The space feels a little like a classroom, with brightly painted walls covered in cartoons illustrating the appropriate way to consume your bowl of noodles once it arrives.
Once diners settle into their spots, server Makoto Yamamoto explains the ramen shop's philosophy.
"Thank you for coming to Yume Wo Katare, which means 'talk about your dreams' in Japanese," Yamamoto says. " ... whatever dreams you may have, how we can help you with that is the ramen he's preparing right now. So if you can finish this high bowl of ramen, you can do anything in life. That's the concept. Okay, good luck with your ramen and thank you very much!"
Eating ramen here is seen as a path to personal fulfillment. Some customers write their dreams down and hang them on the restaurant's walls. One reads, "skydiving." Another, "one month without sugar." Most are written in Japanese.
"Each person understands another meaning [of the philosophy]," 34-year-old ramen chef Nishioka says. "So it's good for our restaurant."
Nishioka opened Yume Wo Katare in November 2012. Since then, he's been encouraging people to reclaim abandoned dreams and nurture new ones.
Like a ramen guru, Nishioka believes dreams require fortitude and deep concentration — just like eating a heaping pile of his homemade noodles does.
"When ramen is coming, grab chopsticks and don't stop until you finish eating the bowl," he says.
If you finish everything Nishioka loaded into your steaming bowl, the room erupts in cheers of, "Everybody, we have a perfect!" along with claps and giggles. (I managed this feat on my third time eating at Yume Wo Katare, and I have doubts I'll ever be able to do it again.)
If you eat your noodles but can't drink every drop of the rich broth you earn a different cheer: "Everyone, he did a good job!"
Those with smaller appetites are met with an "almost" or "next time." The goal, chef Nishioka says, is to push people beyond what they think they're capable of.
"It's an interactive kind of experience, even when you're going alone," explains customer Chris Shipley. "So yeah, I've waited in lines over an hour."
Shipley has eaten here once a month since moving to the area in September. The ramen is different and delicious, he says, adding that he doesn't shoot for a "perfect" anymore.
"I've decided to get down to a 'good job' because sometimes 'perfect' is a little too much. It's really greasy," he says. "That broth has a lot of fat in it."
The fatty broth and chewy noodles come with thick, tender slices of rolled pork belly that lay on a bed of bean sprouts, bok choy and minced garlic.
This style is called jiro ramen and it's rare in the U.S. Nishioka learned to make it at a famous Japanese restaurant chain called Ramen Jiro. He opened five of his own shops — in Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka — then sold them to his managers before searching for a space in the U.S.
Over the past few months owner Nishioka and his friend Ryo Takahashi have started hosting workshops at the restaurant on Monday night to help their peers develop strategies.
"There's a lot of Japanese population here — especially students who haven't really figured out their life yet," Takahashi explains. "So we're trying to help to talk about what's your plan, and you know what's your dream, and what do you want to do in the future?"
Twenty-year-old Satomi Yoshida tries to attend every Monday. She's a student at Bunker Hill Community College and says she first came to Yume to talk about her dreams. The ramen came second, but she added, "Eating ramen here, always I feel some positive power."
And she compares finishing a bowl of ramen to running a marathon.
"It's just me and the ramen," Yoshida says with a smile.
Nishioka hopes more people will drop by the weekly Monday night meetings. The restaurant is closed that night, but business is brisk most others. It's so good that Nishioka can shut down the shop every few months to go back to Japan.
When asked about his own future, Nishioka muses that maybe, just maybe, he won't even serve ramen — as long as he can keep encouraging other people to dream on.