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There's been a lot of talk about the first lady this week — Michelle Obama's stunning Thom Browne inaugural coat, her glamorous red dress, and yes, love them or hate them — those bangs.

But there's also chatter going on about a few other first ladies — first ladies of the church. The Sisterhood is an Atlanta-based reality show that follows the lives of five preachers' wives. It's been likened to the Real Housewives series, and it has stirred up a bit of controversy for its scenes of squabbling.

Critics say the show takes reality TV one step too far, exposing personal, intimate and sometimes unflattering details about pastors' wives. But Domonique Scott, former first lady of The Good Life Ministry church, tells NPR's David Greene that The Sisterhood was somewhat of a calling for her. "We definitely believe that God told us to do it," Scott says. "Individually, and together as a group."

There's a fine line between a genre filmmaker with an offbeat sensibility and a maker of prefab cult movies — someone who appeals too aggressively to a cult audience that doesn't yet exist. Don Coscarelli's career has inched too far across that line.

The creator of the Phantasm series, which developed a dense and satisfying (if fan-oriented) mythology, and the prime fantasy cheese The Beastmaster, Coscarelli has lately been a cult alchemist, mixing up quirky elements aimed at winning a following that his previous films won effortlessly.

Coscarelli's last film, the 2002 horror-comedy Bubba Ho-Tep, cast Evil Dead icon Bruce Campbell as rock 'n roll icon Elvis Presley, and tried — with limited success — to put the still-living King through a scenario so convoluted that it seemed like an exercise in free association. His latest, John Dies at the End, doubles down on the calculated insanity, piling flashbacks on top of flashbacks on top of parallel universes, portals, space bugs, ESP, a talking dog — you name it. It creates a world without rules, where anything is possible — and that, surprisingly, is a large part of the problem.

Based on the online web serial by Jason Pargin — who later published it under the pseudonym David Wong — John Dies at the End seeks to keep viewers disoriented from the start, but doesn't do enough to reorient them by the finish. It begins near the end, with the hero, also named David Wong (Chase Williamson), relaying his exploits to a reporter (Paul Giamatti) at a Chinese restaurant.

David immediately unnerves the reporter by reading his thoughts, and explains that the source of this and other supernatural powers is a jet-black, sentient designer drug called "soy sauce." Under the sauce, David can not only read minds, but anticipate the future, visit far-out places and blast open the doors of perception.

But all drugs have their unfortunate side effects, and for David and his buddy John (Rob Mayes), that means confronting the terrible beasties that stroll through those doors of perception and threaten to destroy the planet. They're like a scruffier version of the buddy team in Men in Black, but entirely without agency and forced to improvise on the fly. Despite their extrasensory abilities, they don't seem to have any better idea of where this story is going than the audience does.

John Dies at the End gets off to a thrilling start, as David's stories to the reporter turn into self-contained tall tales — like the time he and John confronted a monster composed entirely of frozen meat products. (A monster that is eventually destroyed by merely listening to a popular TV psychic on a cell phone, because why not?)

But once the colorful anecdotes sprawl out into an actual narrative, the film gets convoluted and loud, amplifying the weirdness without doing much to clarify it.

The anything-goes nature of John Dies at the End does result in moments of wit, like John talking to David through a cell phone while also sitting straight across the table from him ("Say hello to me") or the two relaying psychic messages to each other through a $3 bratwurst.

But Coscarelli slacks off in setting up the guard rails for his hallucinatory universe: Even mind-benders like this one have to operate on some internal logic. Otherwise they're all noise, no signal.

Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney in New York who prosecuted terrorists responsible for the bombings of the World Trade Center and U.S. embassies in Africa, will be nominated by President Obama to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.

NPR's Scott Horsley gets that word from a senior White House official. Other news outlets are being told the same thing. The president is expected to make the announcement this afternoon. White would succeed Mary Schapiro, who stepped down last month.

White was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York for nine years, until January 2002. That year, she joined the New York-based law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. She has been a director of the Nasdaq Stock Exchange.

Obama is also expected to say he will renominate Richard Cordray to lead the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Last January, Obama used a "recess appointment" to put Cordray in that job while the Senate was on vacation. Republicans had been trying to block Cordray's appointment.

Update at 10:43 a.m. ET:

"The SEC plays an essential role in the implementation of Wall Street reform and rooting out reckless behavior in the financial industry, and White's background in enforcement and record of success make her the perfect choice to lead the agency at this important time," a White House official said.

Bloomberg noted that White's nomination "is a departure for the agency, because it has tended to be run by lawyers steeped in financial policy making and the securities industry."

Her nomination "could signal a move to get tougher on Wall Street," The Wall Street Journal reported. "It also could help quiet criticism that Mr. Obama isn't putting enough women or minorities in key posts in his second term. The SEC chairman, who leads an independent agency, isn't a member of the president's cabinet, but the post is a key link between Washington and the nation's financial markets, hedge funds and banks."

White's husband, John W. White, is an SEC veteran, The New York Times notes. "From 2006 through 2008, he was head of the S.E.C.'s division of corporation finance, which oversees public companies' disclosures and reporting," the Times said.

Some soul-searching is on the agenda as the Republican National Committee holds its winter meetings in Charlotte, N.C.

November's elections were a big disappointment for the GOP. The party has now lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections.

Exit polling shows the party has a serious problem attracting young voters and minority groups, even as the nation becomes steadily more diverse. Republican voters are older and more white than the nation as a whole.

On top of that, a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll gives the GOP an approval rating of just 26 percent. So Chairman Reince Priebus has posed some questions to party members nationally in a video posted online: "What do you think the party must do better? Where do we go in the future? This is your chance to make your voice heard — and we're listening."

Svetlana Anikeeva was 15 in the early '90s when she visited America as an exchange student.

"And it was completely different place in every imaginable aspect," she recalls.

Anikeeva grew up in Vladivostok on the eastern edge of Russia, and studied abroad in Savannah, Ga., where the experience, she says, changed her life.

"The people were different. The culture was different. The weather, the food, the school. Everything was fascinating," she says. "I knew that I wanted to come here."

Today, Anikeeva is in the U.S. on a temporary visa and runs a successful luxury car exporting business with her husband.

To receive permanent U.S. green cards for herself and the entire family, she applied to the EB-5 visa program — a federal initiative targeted to foreigners who can invest at least $500,000 in an American-based business. If their money creates at least 10 jobs, then the person seeking entry receives a permanent green card.

While analysts expect President Obama to push ahead with plans to overhaul the U.S. immigration system this year, the administration has already demonstrated support for the EB-5 program. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will be opening a new office by summer to oversee the program and address the booming interest.

Anikeeva was one of 1,021 people who applied back in 2009, compared with the 6,106 who applied in 2012.

"It's a pretty rigorous selection process," she says.

The program drew Anikeeva to Seattle, where American Life Inc. built a hotel in the Pioneer Square neighborhood with EB-5 money. The company is pooling Anikeeva's $500,000 with other investments to develop the neighborhood and generate new jobs.

EB-5 money is a source of funding that more and more real estate development companies are relying on, says Henry Liebman, the president of American Life.

"Since 2008, the bust, it's even a more important source of capital, because at least in real estate there's some lending, but not near what it was," Liebman says. "So this is more important than it used to be."

Since it began in 1990, the EB-5 program is credited with creating nearly 50,000 jobs, and has poured more than $6 billion into the U.S. economy.

But its reputation isn't so grand within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as Jim Ziglar noticed when he served as commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service under President George W. Bush.

"There's a general aversion to the idea that people can buy their way into legal status in the United States, particularly when INS is dealing with so many people that have other reasons for being here — family and refugees and asylum seekers," Ziglar says.

Fraud has also been an issue with the EB-5 program, as some companies promise to create jobs, but instead run off with the money.

Svetlana Anikeeva says she hopes to find out within the next six months if her permanent visa is approved. But for now, she's enjoying watching her 13-year-old daughter, Nina, soak up U.S. life.

"She's a sports person. She's in synchronized swimming," Anikeeva says.

Nina is about the same age as her mother was when she came here to study all those years ago.

"She's actually just been accepted to the gifted student program for summer in Princeton University," Anikeeva adds. "Which would be unbelievable for me, at the age of 13. I'm very proud of her."

For Anikeeva — and other "globally well-to-do" from China to India — an American education alone is worth the $500,000 price tag.

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