Christian Petzold's Barbara, set in 1980 East Germany, is a film about watching and being watched. Its central character, the Barbara of the title — played, in a covertly spectacular performance, by the German actress Nina Hoss — is a doctor who's just been transferred by the government from Berlin to the provinces, as punishment for some undefined but easy-to-guess transgression.
This was a strange and wonderful year for young adult fiction — but also a confused and divisive one. We learned that 55 percent of young adult fiction was read by adults. Debates raged over what constituted a young adult novel versus an adult novel. Apologetic grown-ups sneaked into the teen section of the bookstore, passing subversive teens pattering into the adult paranormal and literature and mystery shelves.
For decades, Hollywood has been in the business of selling violence. But in the aftermath of Friday's school shooting in Connecticut, it's time to prove it's sensitive, too. NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports that movie studios, TV networks and radio stations have shifted some programming and high profile premieres.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Quentin Tarantino's new spaghetti western "Django Unchained" stars Jamie Foxx as a freed slave in the Deep South working with a bounty hunter to find his wife.
The Impossible, a feature film opening Dec. 21, is about a family swept away by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. It's based on the true story of a Spanish family.
In the movie, they're British — a couple and their three young sons, on vacation in Thailand. It looks like paradise. Then, the earth trembles, and the ocean roars in, bringing with it catastrophe and heartbreak.
The mother is played by Naomi Watts, who spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about the film and its retelling of a grimly familiar story.
If there was a recipe for the best-selling writer Rick Riordan, it would go something like this — start with a love of storytelling, fold in more than a decade of teaching middle school English, combine that with two sons of his own who don't quite share their dad's love of literature, and marinate all of that with a deep passion for mythology.
Riordan has sold tens of millions of kids' books. He hit pay dirt with the Percy Jackson series — it's about an everyday kid who has superhero powers because he's the secret son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.
In some ways, the film Not Fade Away is an extension of the friendship between the film's writer and director, David Chase, and its executive producer and musical supervisor, Steven Van Zandt.
Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, first encountered Van Zandt on TV, when Van Zandt introduced the Rascals to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Chase soon cast Van Zandt as Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, and the two became close, bonding in particular over their love of pop music from the 1960s.
Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 8:56 am
Mean girls and their ingenious female creators top my mysteries and thrillers list this year. Maybe it takes the special discernment of a female writer (who's presumably suffered through the "Queen Bee and Wannabee" cliques of middle school) to really capture the cruel mental machinations that can hide behind a pair of shining eyes and a lip-glossed smile.
Adam Mansbach is the author of the forthcoming novel Rage is Back.
Stealing my 9-year-old nephew's copy of The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill was the best thing I did last summer. I was his age the first time I read it, and twice his age the last time I went back to it. I'm twice that old again now, but as soon as I dove into this intimate, majestic tale of war writ small — of a battle between the pushcart peddlers and the truckers of New York City — I realized how timeless, and how deeply a part of me, the story was.
They used to call it the "vanity press," and the phrase itself spoke volumes. Self-published authors were considered not good enough to get a real publishing contract. They had to pay to see their book in print. But with the advent of e-books, self-publishing has exploded, and a handful of writers have had huge best-sellers.
Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to take home the Oscar for best director for her film The Hurt Locker in 2010. Mark Boal walked away with a statue for writing the film, and the duo shared the honor of taking home the award for best picture later that evening.
Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 9:39 am
My family's holiday traditions are simple but consistent: Wake up Christmas morning, drink lots of coffee, eat a good breakfast, and wish each other happy happy. If the weather is nice, we postpone the present opening and pile into the car to head directly to the beach for a walk — a sunny December day along the Northern California coast is something to celebrate. Later, we cook a delicious dinner and sit around the table with a fire glowing in the fireplace nearby.
With the screen pitch-black at the start of Zero Dark Thirty, we hear the confusion and alarm of Sept. 11, 2001: News reports that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, then the voices of a 911 operator reassuring a frightened trade center worker that she'll be OK, though she won't.
When the screen finally brightens, it's for a grim "black site" interrogation half a world away — a nephew of Osama bin Laden (Reda Kateb) strung up from the ceiling, bruised and bloodied, finally cut down only so that he can be waterboarded and stuffed into a tiny crate.
Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 9:22 am
We know from the outset that there's a death coming in Michael Haneke's Amour, a magisterial study of mortality that carried off the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival — and currently tops best-picture lists all over the world. But when we first meet Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), retired Paris music teachers in their 80s, they're in the pink and enjoying a piano recital given by one of Anne's former pupils.
When Christoph Waltz auditioned for the role of SS officer Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino's 2009 film Inglourious Basterds, he read the passage assigned for the audition, then kept going until he had gone through the entire role as Tarantino himself filled in for the other parts.
"It was partly hilarious, partly just fabulous, partly scary," Waltz tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And we arrived at the end and then we parted and I said to the casting director, 'If this should have been it, it was definitely worth it,' and, well, then they called me back."
You may remember Danica McKellar as Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years. Today, the actress is also a math advocate and the author of Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape. In Tell Me More's 'In Your Ear' series, McKellar talks about the songs that helped her beat stress as a teen and inspire her as an adult.
Originally published on Tue December 18, 2012 11:23 am
Just as there are purebred dogs and purebred horses, there is also purebred poultry. Since its founding in 1877, the Poultry Club of Great Britain has been the main organization in the U.K. dedicated to safeguarding "all pure and traditional breeds" of chicken, ducks, geese and turkey.
My favorite "best of the year" list is the Bad Sex in Fiction award, even — or perhaps because — it eschews the romance genre. This year's winner was just announced: Nancy Huston's Infrared, whose heroine celebrates the "countless treasures between [her] legs." But I'm not writing a Best Romance of the Year list, because I don't think the idea even works for my genre.
American service members have long spent holidays in dangerous places, far from family. These days, home is a video chat or Skype call away. But during World War II, packages, letters and radio programs bridged the lonely gaps. For 15 minutes every week, "Canteen Girl" Phyllis Jeanne Creore spoke and sang to the troops and their loved ones on NBC radio.
If a good voice is genetic, it's likely Barbra Streisand got hers from her mother. Streisand's mother was too shy to ever perform professionally, but she had a lyric soprano and would sing at bar mitzvahs in their Brooklyn neighborhood when Streisand was a girl.
According to the adherents of the 2012 apocalypse theory, rooted in a controversial reading of ancient Mayan numerology, Earth is going to break into pieces and/or be consumed by a solar flare and/or disappear into a black hole on Dec. 21, right before Christmas.
It's probably not true that truth is stranger than fiction, but in the hands of a great biographer, it can be just as compelling. Novelists can create unique and unforgettable characters — there's never been anyone quite like Jane Eyre or Ignatius J. Reilly — but there's no shortage of fascinating literary protagonists who just happened to exist in real life.
This weekend, millions of Americans trekked across Middle Earth with Bilbo Baggins. The result? The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was No. 1 at the North American box office. It joins the list of other films that ranked No. 1 one their opening weekends, such as Underworld Awakening, Paranormal Activity 4 and Batman.
But here's the thing: The weekend battle at the box office doesn't necessarily decide the war in Hollywood, says Edward J. Epstein, author of The Hollywood Economist. Epstein says to be skeptical of what you read in Hollywood rags.
On-air challenge: Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase or name in which the first word starts with "F" and the second word starts with "LA."
Last week's challenge: Name a major U.S. city in two words. Take the first letter of the first word and the first two letters of the second word, and they will spell the standard three-letter abbreviation for the state the city is in. What city is it?