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'Booksmart' review: Cutting loose with the smartest kids in class

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“Booksmart” takes a familiar blueprint and uses it to build a movie we haven’t seen often enough: an R-rated teen comedy (meaning, a comedy about teenagers) focusing on a great female friendship.

The movie’s not always as wonderful as that friendship. Some bits are hilarious yet life-like, while others belong to medium-high-grade situation comedy, a realm of snappy, quippy comic exaggeration all about the stereotypes, though here the stereotypes are turned inside out, at least. Mainly, “Booksmart” works because Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are so magically right together.

Tonewise the movie roughly halfway between the 2007 “Superbad” (which co-starred Feldstein’s brother, Jonah Hill) and last year’s trenchant, affecting “Eighth Grade.” Somewhere in Los Angeles, another senior class is about to graduate. At this particular school the smartest, most dedicated, most purpose-driven students are Molly (Feldstein), headed to Yale, and Amy (Dever), off to Columbia University, though she has her doubts.

They’ve been friends for years. Molly is straight; Amy is gay; both have yet to fully explore their sexuality. Each young woman has a titanic crush on a fellow student. For Molly, student council president, Mr. Right is the student council vice-president, a one-boy popularity contest named Nick (Mason Gooding). For Amy, Ms. Right is the sunny skateboard fiend Ryan (Victoria Ruesga).

Time is short; it’s the final day of senior year, and Molly and Amy come to the crushing realization they’re not the only high-achieving, Ivy League-bound kids at the school. They are, however, the only ones who forgot to have any conventional, mainstream notion of “fun” along the way.

The mission, which they choose to accept, is simple in “Booksmart.” Amy and Molly set their sights on crashing an end-of-year party held at Nick’s aunt’s house. En route they spend some excruciating minutes-that-feel-like-months at a yacht party thrown by wildly insecure billionaire’s son Jared (Skyler Gisondo), as well as an equally torturous interactive murder mystery party overseen by the drama club control freaks played by Noah Galvin and Austin Crute.

The script packs many more characters into “Booksmart.” Four writers are credited: Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and the last one in, Katie Silberman, who revised it, brought it up to date and set the tone. Director Olivia Wilde makes a highly assured and pace-conscious feature filmmaking debut, and while a lot of the humor’s broad and pretty crude, there’s a complicated sweetness to the central characters.

When we first see Feldstein (so good in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” as the title character’s best friend) and Dever together on screen, Amy’s picking Molly up for school. In a bit largely improvised by the actors, they run through a series of semi-ridiculous poses and dance moves as if they do that routine every morning of their lives. That’s an example (there are others) of authentic-seeming comic gold in “Booksmart.”

Other elements of the film are more routine or consciously engineered for narrative purposes, such as the conflict that brings their friendship to a crisis point. At times Wilde’s direction leans on well-worn teen-trope techniques — slow-motion struts, over-emphatic musical cues, a last-minute action climax, though at least this one’s fairly low-keyed.

The vision of high school depicted by “Booksmart” will no doubt look and feel alien to roughly half the country. It’s a highly evolved and happily tolerant beehive of cliques and sub-cultures we see, navigated handily by Molly and Amy — a liberal Eden, even with all the sniping and gossip. The visual details include an Elizabeth Warren 2020 bumper sticker on the old Volvo Amy drives, while Molly’s bedroom wall features a Ruth Bader Ginsburg poster.

Some critics, notably Richard Brody in The New Yorker, aren’t buying it: He recently wrote it off as “a teen drama that, I suspect, hardly any teens will want to see … it doesn’t at all resemble the high-school snark tank” of reality-based high school narratives.

I don’t agree. A lot of the alleged classic teen movies in the John Hughes “Breakfast Club” vein ended up intensifying and spreading the most galling stereotypes in the name of entertainment. I like the general lack of meanness in “Booksmart.” The party-all-night premise may be as old as the hills, but the script has been successfully finessed as a slice of the here and now, idealized but full of life.

Now, all we need is a few thousand more movies about young women, all kinds of young women in all kinds of situations, and we’ll start to see the 21st century teen comedy genre’s true possibilities.

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @phillipstribune

“Booksmart” — 3 stars

MPAA rating: R (for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking — all involving teens)

Running time: 1:42

Opens: Thursday evening

MORE COVERAGE: ‘Booksmart’ headliners Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein: the Tribune interview »

From dear old 2007: Michael Phillips reviews ‘Superbad’ »

Rated R for language, here’s the first six minutes of ‘Booksmart’ »


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If The Boeing 737 Max Returns To The Skies, Will You Fly On It? Tell Us – NPR

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Boeing 737 Max aircraft are seen March 27 at Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Wash.

Jenny Riffle for NPR


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Boeing 737 Max aircraft are seen March 27 at Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Wash.

Jenny Riffle for NPR

As news about the faulty flight control system on Boeing’s 737 Max jets has unfolded, people have expressed doubts on social media and elsewhere about flying on the aircraft again — even if the FAA approves its return to operation after a software fix.

We’d like to hear from you, whether you don’t trust the plane or Boeing or the FAA and will refuse to fly on the Max, if you’re not worried about it at all, or if you’re somewhere in between.

Please fill out the form below — or here — to share your thoughts. NPR may contact you for an upcoming story.

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Prince Harry And Meghan Markle Shared Behind-The-Scenes Wedding Photos On Their First Anniversary – BuzzFeed News

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In case you’ve forgotten, the royal couple were married on May 19, 2018. The wedding took place in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

The video post shows never-before-seen wedding photos in black and white, accompanied by a live recording of the recessional song from their ceremony, “This Little Light of Mine,” performed by the Kingdom Choir.

“Thank you for all of the love and support from so many of you around the world,” the duke and duchess said in the post’s caption. “Each of you made this day even more meaningful.”


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Can philosophy be cool? A Hyde Park debate series revives the art of the late-night dorm rap session

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Last fall, the following happened at the University of Chicago: Philosophy professor Agnes Callard invited Ben Callard, her ex-husband and colleague in the Department of Philosophy, to debate her, one on one, on stage, before their students. And the subject would be a juicy one: divorce. Ben, for his part, did not think that this was the greatest idea his ex-wife ever had.

“When it’s over,” he said, “we still have to teach these kids.”

“Yeah …” she said, unconcerned.

Agnes — a self-described “oversharer” for whom “almost nothing is uncomfortable” — told Ben he could set the terms of debate. He agreed. And not soon after, Agnes had posters plastered across campus, promoting their titanic rumble.

Word spread.

Watch divorcees sparring in public!

See teachers bicker!

“The Philosophy of Divorce,” as the evening was billed, became the latest in Agnes’ ongoing Night Owls series, a program of long, long, late-night philosophy debates, now among the most popular student events in Hyde Park.

By the evening of the event, “The Philosophy of Divorce” was a hot ticket (so to speak, admission was free). Caroline Hoskins, a senior philosophy student from Memphis, recalls, “There was so much hype on campus my friends and I went 30 minutes early, which was smart, because almost all the seats were gone a half hour before it started.” The line stretched out of the hall. By fight time, more than 300 students had turned out, and many more were turned away. The University of Chicago is just that kind of school.

After the Callards sparred for a hour — calmly, intimately, but without revealing a great deal of salacious information (at Ben’s insistence) — students started peppering the ex-couple with questions, about monogamy, marriage as a contract, personal sacrifice, and even sex. Their chat continued more than three hours, ending after midnight.

“Ben found it exhausting,” Agnes said.

“Emotionally exhausting,” Ben said later.

They had made lists of questions to ask each other, though with her first punch, Agnes knocked her ex-husband off-balance. “Just before the event, he called and said he couldn’t get his questions printed. I said OK just email it to me. He said, no, no, he’d bring his computer. I said don’t sit on stage reading from a computer! Email it! I wouldn’t read his questions! And we went back and forth for a while, until it was obvious, he clearly didn’t believe that I wouldn’t peek at his questions. And so I started Night Owls that night by telling the printer story, and then I asked: ‘So, Ben, what is trust and why is it important in marriage?”

William Weaver, the philosophy department administrator, was standing just outside the room, handling the line of students: “When Agnes asked her first question, there was this huge roar.” And it was gratifying: “Because I think there’s a sense on campus that philosophy will never be the hip thing. But with help from Night Owls, maybe we are?”

Four years ago, the second floor of the university’s Stuart Hall, the home of the Department of Philosophy, was gutted by a fire. Today, at the end of a long hallway on that floor, Agnes Callard’s office seems to sprout and bloom from the aftermath of the embers. She’s quick to say that is a misconception, and that her office would look the way it looks regardless of the fire. Yet, it’s hard to see it any other way: Her office is an eruption of arts and crafts and colors and shapes and mirrors and trees made of yarn that reach to the ceiling and branch out, as if it were ductwork in Dr. Seuss’ office. Even her rows of philosophy books have been shelved according to the primary color on their spines.

“I look at this and I see restraint,” she said. “I spent a lot of time making one yarn tree when I should have been doing philosophy. The real plan was for a forest of yarn trees!”

Looks like a Montessori playroom, I said.

She said students either say nothing at all and don’t seem to notice “or they assume I created a kind of therapy space!”

Needless to say, at a university known for its seriousness and rigor, Agnes Callard leaps out. She and and Ben are among the most popular professors on campus, but where he is private, she is open, speaking in cheerful gushes of sentences that collide and create exclamation points. I said she reminded me of conspiracy nuts on the bus, only lucid.

She thanked me.

On a table was a poster of seven cartoon seals, being used to promote the last Night Owls of the school year, May 25. The topic: Death. Get the joke? Seven seals? Ingmar Bergman’s meditation on mortality, “The Seventh Seal”? The event is being billed around campus as “UC: Where Death comes to have fun!” Death?

Ha?

“Not to say you couldn’t do Night Owls anywhere,” Hoskins said, “but we have a student body who came to this school exactly so they could go to these kind of social events.”

Night Owls’ debates have touched on “Do minds exist?” and “Should you strive to live without anger and sadness?” To an extent, there was an audience for this already present. The university has about 180 philosophy majors, or roughly 100 more than comparable institutions. And, according to Weaver, since he was a student himself here in the 1980s, the university has been taking slow, steady strides toward developing a social, less inward-looking student population.

Night Owls has been one popular response to that — and we’re talking standing-room only audiences here. Night Owls is designed for students; that said, if there’s room, they tend not to turn anyone away.

Agnes Callard said that when she created the series in 2017, inspired by a similar program at St. John’s College in Maryland, she was told if a dozen students came, it was a hit. She had an assistant bake two dozen cookies to hand out at the door. About 120 students came. Last winter, during the polar vortex, 200 came. The topic that night?

“Economics vs. Philosophy: The Battle for Your Soul.”

Philosophy, like poetry, has had a long reputation as an insulated academic echo chamber, accessible and appreciated mainly by the least practical-minded among us.

But also like poetry, philosophy can be an elemental drilling-down to the bedrock of an idea. Callard, who is the philosophy department’s director of undergraduate studies, thought the university needed a series that reintroduced philosophy back into the wild, something that brought the non-philosopher and philosopher together. “I think there’s an idea people have about philosophy and people who do philosophy,” she said, “and sometimes that image is why people get into it. But there’s also the reality of philosophy classes — which are often a somewhat arbitrary selection of topics, because that’s where the history of the subject always focused. I wanted Night Owls to feel like what you thought philosophy is, before you found yourself in a class and actually had to do it. I wanted philosophy to speak to an outside world, and take steps to lead people to it.”

And so, for May’s evening of death, Callard debates Daniel Morgan, chair of the Department of Cinema and Media (the event starts with a screening of “Seventh Seal”); when Night Owls returns in the fall, Callard will debate Helen DeWitt, acclaimed author of “The Last Samurai,” on the question: “Why are Some People Weirder Than Others?”

“I think Agnes, in a short time, turned Night Owls into a keystone of intellectual life in Hyde Park,” said Ben, “because she’s applying a simple idea of showing what philosophy offers — what philosophers bring to the table.”

The result is an ode to the classic late-night dorm-room rap session of yore, the sort, Agnes said, where “tiredness works like drunkenness, and the longer the conversation goes, the more you become loopy and entertain weird thoughts.”

The Night Owl on anger and sadness, for instance, veered from anger and sadness as mental illnesses — because, as Agnes says, they offer distorted pictures of what you care about — into the clarifying necessity of a white-hot rage.

“I had never thought about anger in those ways,” said Nur Banu Simsek, a senior philosophy student from Virginia, “and ever since, I’ve been talking about anger, and the conundrum (of needing anger, despite the headaches it creates). A pre-med friend of mine said, ‘You can’t be angry all the time! Your body will reject it! Hypertension!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah — but the moral side!’ Really, it’s the kind of thing that I came to UChicago for.”

We were sitting in Callard’s office. The professor mentioned the human rights faculty wanted to do a Night Owls conversation on the tragedy of mass incarceration. “But I’m not sure everyone always understands that we are not here to play advocate — or even find solutions to hard subjects.”

“I think some outside the department (of philosophy) get frustrated with Night Owls for that,” said Simsek. “They say that, after three hours of talk, it’s all talk and no action.”

“Yes, it is,” Callard said. “It is all talk. That’s the point.”

It’s nearing midnight in April and Callard is debating Chris Blattman, an economist and political scientist noted for his studies of poverty and violence in Africa, Central America and Chicago. The vibe, as promised, is vintage dorm-room heavy lifting, multiplied by 100 or so participants, slouched across chairs, their legs curled into stomachs, stretching their arms in exhaustion, or sitting rapt, their hands cocked, ready to reach out for a question.

The topic, broadly, is “Why is There Organized Violence?” As in war, crime, etc. They begin with the simple concept of order, and what order looks like, and how it is fractured.

Blattman says he has children who, given a border, tend to cross it. “If my six-year old hits his sister he gets a job. He may end up with six jobs, but it’s an offer of redemption.”

Callard asks, Are you oppressing him?

“Well,” Blattman says, “I am an autocratic state.”

From there they ping into the multiverse (“Maybe you shoot the Archduke Ferdinand a thousand times in a thousand universes, but only in one World War I breaks out”), the rationality of anger, whether violence is a natural state, not an aberration. And then the questions come, and come, and come, about what “Games of Thrones” gets right with structural violence, about the morality of drone strokes, about whether you can claim to understand someone’s motives and still be legitimately furious with them.

As the hours wear on, questions grow not illegible but confusing, grandiose. The large room inside Fulton Hall, a recital space with vaulted ceilings and large arched windows, takes on a stillness. It overlooks the Midway park along 59th Street and the light outside grows inky and the street lamps shine halos of rain. The later the hour, the more it really does seem here that the rest of the world has gone to bed, all but these few, still hashing out its problems.

Philosophy students are 2-to-1 male, yet here, the make-up is close to parity; and though Night Owls draws a lot of philosophy students, there’s chemistry majors, budding economists. Students come and go, hands loaded with complimentary cookies and coffee; some stay for hours, others leave after 15 minutes, their seat filled a moment later. Blattman’s voice grows hoarse. Debates trail off.

A man snores in the front row, tilted, gape-mouthed.

And Agnes Callard keeps going.

cborrelli@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @borrelli

Martha Nussbaum and the culture of fear »

Explaining immigration to children, via children’s museum »

The ubiqutious, overwhelming, everyday stuff of Star Wars »


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US to announce deal to lift steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico as soon as Friday: Sources – CNBC

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The United States has reached a deal to lift steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico, removing one key obstacle to passing updates to the North American Free Trade Agreement, two people familiar with the matter told CNBC.

The U.S. could announce an agreement to scrap the duties as soon as Friday, the sources said. It is unclear whether the U.S. will put import quotas or other measures in place as part of the deal to remove tariffs.

The Canadian and Mexican governments, along with top U.S. lawmakers, have pushed the Trump administration to remove the tariffs before the countries approve the United States Mexico Canada Agreement. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke Friday about the duties on metals and the tariffs Canada slapped on U.S. goods in retaliation, according to a spokesman for Trudeau.

Trudeau was expected to speak to steelworkers on Friday afternoon.

A worker walks past a steel coil loaded on a truck, at a plant in Monterrey, Mexico on August 27, 2018.

Julio Cesar Aguilar | AFP | Getty Images

Trump cited a national security threat when he put respective tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent on steel and aluminum imports last year. When the White House decided not to exempt Canada and Mexico, the U.S. neighbors and some members of Congress questioned why the allies posed a threat to the U.S.

The deal could boost Trump’s hopes of getting the USMCA, one of his top policy priorities, through Congress. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, among others, pushed him to remove the tariffs before lawmakers ratify the trade agreement.

The deal still faces its hurdles: Democrats have raised concerns about environmental and labor provisions in USMCA, as well as how it could affect drug prices in the U.S. Mexico passed a labor law last month in part to address those concerns.

On Wednesday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. The negotiators were expected to discuss a process for removing the tariffs.

The Trump administration aims to send paperwork to Congress soon, which could set up a vote on USMCA before lawmakers leave for the entire month of August.

The White House’s recent escalation of a trade war with China rattled investors and raised concerns about damage to businesses and consumers. But developments Friday boosted markets.

Before reports of the deal to remove steel and aluminum tariffs, the Trump administration said it would delay tariffs on imports of cars and auto parts from Europe, Japan and other countries.

Correction:  An earlier version misstated when Trudeau was set to speak to steelworkers. It was Friday afternoon.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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Blurred lines: A pregnant man's tragedy tests gender notions – NBC News

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By The Associated Press

When the man arrived at the hospital with severe abdominal pains, a nurse didn’t consider it an emergency, noting that he was obese and had stopped taking blood pressure medicines. In reality, he was pregnant — a transgender man in labor that was about to end in a stillbirth.

The tragic case, described in Wednesday’s New England Journal of Medicine, points to larger issues about assigning labels or making assumptions in a society increasingly confronting gender variations in sports, entertainment and government . In medicine, there’s a similar danger of missing diseases such as sickle cell and cystic fibrosis that largely affect specific racial groups, the authors write.

“The point is not what’s happened to this particular individual but this is an example of what happens to transgender people interacting with the health care system,” said the lead author, Dr. Daphna Stroumsa of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


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Lollapalooza 2019: The tough decisions you'll have to make now that the daily schedule is out

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It’s decision time for Lollapalooza ticket holders with the release of the festival’s daily schedule.

The grid shows when and where each of more than 180 bands and artists will be performing Aug. 1-4 in Grant Park. With eight stages and 40 hours of music spread over four days, there’s inevitably a few tough decisions to be made. But the good news is that I see fewer than usual this year.

There’s a clear-cut choice between the headliners most nights with the exception of Aug. 2, where Tame Impala and Childish Gambino go head to head. As for the rest, here’s how each day shapes up:

Aug. 1: Rising Chicago band Beach Bunny is the clear choice early in the day, well-timed to lead right into soulful singer-songwriter Emily King. Things get tougher around 6:30 p.m., with Rufus Du Sol, Saba and Hozier lined up against one another.

Aug. 2: Though Maggie Rogers and 21 Savage don’t necessarily share an audience, I’m still disappointed that they’re playing on opposite sides of Grant Park around 5 p.m., which makes it virtually impossible to see both. Ditto with the Gambino-Tame Impala headliner conflict.

Aug. 3: No complaints here. The day starts out well, with Fantastic Negrito into Jade Bird, and with a good pair of walking shoes it’s possible to see all of Smino’s 4 p.m. set and still catch most of Gary Clark Jr.’s 4:45 p.m. set at the opposite end of the park.

Aug. 4: Francis and the Lights is the clear choice at 4 p.m., but keep an eye on the 4:15 p.m. “special guest” slot at the Kidzapalooza stage. Things get tough between 6:30 and 8 p.m., with Kacey Musgraves, Meek Mill and Mitski all deserving attention.

MORE COVERAGE: Lollapalooza daily lineup and single-day tickets are here »

Lollapalooza 2019 lineup: From Ariana Grande to Shaq. Yes, that Shaq. »

Pitchfork Music Festival 2019 lineup: Robyn, Haim and the Isley Brothers headline »


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Why the Dow is up today: The US is still the best place to put your money – CNN

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The new Apple TV app launches today on iOS, Apple TV, and Samsung TVs – The Verge

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The redesigned Apple TV app, first announced back at the company’s March event, is being released today on iOS, Apple TV, and Samsung’s latest smart TVs. To make that happen, Apple is rolling out updated versions of iOS and tvOS with a refreshed look and support for a new lineup of paid Apple TV Channels, including HBO, Showtime, Starz, Epix, and other networks. Users can subscribe to Apple TV Channels directly from the Apple TV app, and all content can be watched from right inside the app as well.

The Apple TV app is where the Apple TV+ service, with Apple’s original programming, will be found when it launches this fall. And all of your iTunes movies and TV shows, whether purchases or rentals, will live in the TV app going forward as well.

Apple has promised top-tier video and audio presentation for Apple TV Channels. When you subscribe to HBO or another network through Apple TV Channels, it’s Apple — not the video partner — handling the encoding and serving up the streams, so the company is in full control of bit rate and audio fidelity. So far, Apple isn’t offering specifics on the stream quality details for HBO or other available subscriptions, but it’s definitely aiming to best rivals like Amazon Prime Video, which offers some of the same premium channels. If you go back and watch that very dark Game of Thrones episode again, hopefully you’ll see less banding, pixelation, and other signs of compression from the Apple version. All Apple TV Channels offer a free weeklong trial.


Image: Apple

The interface for each Apple TV Channel is designed and maintained by Apple, but the company takes into account feedback from its partners with the goal of making things feel consistent between a network’s other apps. You can scroll through rolls of content a la Netflix, but Apple also came up with a flashy full-screen way of navigating between content with a swipe left or right on the Apple TV remote. (Trailers will autoplay when you’re browsing this way.)

Another very convenient thing about Apple TV Channels is that all of them support downloads for offline viewing. HBO Now and HBO Go don’t currently let you download movies or shows, but the Apple TV app does. For some networks, these offline videos will act like iTunes rentals; once you hit play, you’ll have a window to finish watching them before the download expires. Here, again, Apple says users can expect optimal quality for whatever device they’re downloading to, be it an iPhone or iPad (or the Mac starting this fall).

Elsewhere, the “new” Apple TV app is going to look very familiar. The layout is largely the same as before, with an Up Next section at the top that rounds up shows, movies, or sports games you’ve already started watching. Below that is What to Watch where Apple’s editors surface content they want you to see. This won’t necessarily be limited to apps that you’re subscribed to; even if you don’t have HBO, Game of Thrones and other must-sees are going to have placement here. Content from any of these apps — over 150 in total — is fair game to show up in the Apple TV app’s recommendations.

But Apple is adding onto its own editorial suggestions with personalized recommendations. You’ll see a For You row that, like Apple Music, brings together movie and show choices based on your previous viewing. Underneath that are several “Because you watched ____” rows with yet more personalized picks.

You’ll still find the dedicated Sports section with scores for ongoing games and rows for your favorite teams. Brand-new, however, is a Kids tab that’s entirely curated by Apple’s editorial staff: no algorithms are at play here, so everything that shows up should be safe for all ages. Now, both the sports and kids programming will still kick you out to third-party apps, and that’s true for a lot of what you’ll see on the main Apple TV home screen, too. If it’s not a Channel, you’re getting sent out to another app when you hit play.


Image: Apple

On Samsung’s TVs, the Apple TV experience is a bit different and more limited. It strictly revolves around content you get from Apple. Your purchased and rented shows / movies will be there, as will your Apple TV Channels. (HBO will stream directly from inside the app, just as it does on Apple TV and iOS.) But on Samsung hardware, you won’t find any tie-ins with third-party apps like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or those from cable providers. It’s likely this will also hold true for the eventual Apple TV app on Roku and other platforms, but Apple isn’t ready to share any details on that yet.

Alongside the new Apple TV app, AirPlay 2 is launching today on 2019 and some 2018 Samsung TVs. Vizio, LG, and Sony will be adding the same functionality sometime later this year.


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With son Justin Trudeau in the Second City audience, Margaret Trudeau opens up about her past

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On an extraordinary night at Second City in Chicago, a fearless, vulnerable and determinedly transparent Margaret Trudeau took the stage to talk of affairs and mistakes, family and failures, rebellion and resistance, with her living children and their partners in the audience, sitting in ordinary seats along with regular Chicagoans (and a genial protective detail from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), some wearing jeans, most drinking beer and wine, all staring up at their mother, wondering what she was about to say next.

This was a rare reunion of Canada’s most famous political family in, of all the weird places, the Second City UP Comedy Club at Piper’s Alley on Chicago’s North Side. Where, despite a press secretary accurately describing every aspect of this visit to the first weekend of Trudeau’s new show “Certain Woman of an Age” as personal, their hard-to-contain emotions were on inevitable public display.

The group included Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, currently embroiled in the kind of tough political campaign that is not usually helped by your mother opening up her box of photos and reminding everyone of an oft-scandalous past or by, say, showing an audience a picture of her own brain, part of her explanation of her determination to better understand her own mental illness and pass that awareness on to others.

Prime ministers seeking re-election are expected to engage with the struggles of those they represent. But they rarely are advised to advertise the personal emotions that flow from their own family histories. And they rarely hear their mothers say to an audience, as did Margaret Trudeau, “You may have heard whispers about me: ‘Margaret is crazy.’ It’s OK. You don’t have to whisper.”

Yet for much of a gripping, charming and intensely courageous night wherein Margaret Trudeau told her audience that her late-in-life “acceptance” of her bipolar diagnosis restored her will to live, the prime ministerial eyes were moist.

That was especially evident when his mother spoke of the devastating loss of Justin’s late brother, Michel Trudeau, who died in avalanche accident in 1998, a reminder that political success never alleviates personal pain.

Another of the children of Margaret and Pierre Trudeau, the writer and filmmaker Alexandre (whom his mother calls Sacha), raised his eyebrows at the beginning of the 90-minute performance as the screens on the stage filled with images of Margaret at Studio 54, at the White House with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and, famously, partying with the Rolling Stones. And although his face registered everything from laughter to sadness and palpable admiration to what looked like disbelief at his mum’s sheer chutzpah and survivorship, those eyebrows never quite came back down.

“Happy Mother’s Day!,” said a clearly emotional Justin Trudeau from the stage at the end of the night, as Margaret was embraced by her children from two marriages. Clearly, those were not empty words: since revelation always comes with risk in political families, this was as remarkable a collective display of affection for a mother as you’re ever likely to see. If any political opponent were to claim that the Trudeaus did not deeply love each over, ample evidence to the contrary was on display here. Why else would they have come? Why else listen?

After all, Margaret Trudeau, reading from a music stand, spoke critically of her workaholic first husband, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the father of Justin and Alexandre, whom, she said, did not encourage her latent feminism nor her interest in an independent career, forcing her to throw away magazines sent to her by Gloria Steinem and expecting her to play the role of a traditional political wife, a part she was too young and intelligent to play. She did not paint an unbalanced portrait, nor one lacking in affection for her first husband, a brilliant man of his time, she said, and a leader who moved Canada forward. But if you take away the political trappings around this family, you’d surely allow that it is rarely easy for any child to listen to one half of a divorced pair of parents describe the failings of another. And yet here they, we, all were.

Margaret Trudeau has become a respected mental-health advocate in later life and part of her show, which is quite skillfully co-written by Alix Sobler and given an obviously simple but lively staging by Kimberly Senior, aims to offer advice for living — she advocates for sleep, exercise and self-awareness above all things. Strikingly, some of her most moving stories involve personal kindnesses of the very famous: Jimmy Carter’s supportive hand on her shoulder, or the rigidity that Queen Elizabeth II transmitted to her outstretched arm, so that it could secretly support a Margaret tottering on her heels and about to collapse. These were stories of how we like to think our leaders will behave and, given that truths were being told, it was easy to believe them.

What to make of Margaret Trudeau, this enigma in jeans, white blouse, blue shoes, wife of one prime minister, mother of another, developing a show in Chicago? This storyteller, this witness to as much Canadian political history as anyone?

What she is doing here (as much a podcast as a show) seems healthy, somehow, and certainly as revealing as anything you might ever see of the sheer ordinariness of celebrity political families, none of whom can cheat death or avoid hurt or any of the other stuff that makes up our days. Many of those families have contained rebellious but constrained women, forced to play roles for which they were unsuited; most have gone quietly into the night and into the history books.

But for all her clear nervousness, Margaret Trudeau came up with her own story on Saturday night; it was a reclaiming of a narrative that had always been told by others, mostly by men in magazines.

No reasonable person could begrudge her that nor feel anything but relief that changed times make it possible, if hardly commonplace and even now. And her children coming, openly and en masse, to listen speaks inestimably well of them as human beings.

“Certain Woman of an Age” runs through Sunday in the UP Comedy Club at Second City; www.secondcity.com.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

cjones5@chicagotribune.com

Margaret Trudeau, coming to Second City, talks politics, fame and Donald Trump »


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