Arts

Arts and culture

Everyone's Likely To Be Sad At This Year's Hugos

Aug 22, 2015

The annual World Science Fiction Convention is happening now in Spokane, Wash., packed with the usual discussion panels, author readings and autograph sessions. In most ways, it's like any other WorldCon — five days of mingling between fans and creators of genre-related media from novels to paintings to music to podcasts. WorldCon has been held nearly every year since 1939 (World War II necessitated a break), rotating through different cities around the globe.

To say I was not excited about this assignment would be an understatement. An NPR piece about vegetable broth? It seems like a parody — like an NPR piece about Birkenstocks or lattes or, um, knitting. But then Bren Herrera threw open the door to her house in suburban Virginia, and suddenly a radio story seemed possible.

A beautiful ballerina and a handsome prince are at the heart of the world's most famous ballets. Sleeping Beauty. Swan Lake. The Nutcracker, of course.

And at training grounds for future dancers, plenty of girls hope to someday wear the prima ballerina's tutu.

But it's become a challenge to find the boys who will one day form the other half of the pas de deux.

'Cooties And Stuff'

Every so often, a genuine publishing phenomenon emerges. The latest one is no Harry Potter, but the reason for its meteoric rise to the top of Amazon's best-seller list is self-evident. On the cover of Carl- Johan Forssen Ehrlin's self-published The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep there's a sign that reads, "I can make anyone fall asleep" — and that's a promise sleep-deprived parents can't resist.

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We always like a good radio romance, and we caught one last weekend in the Vows section of The New York Times.

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The most talked-about novel written in French recently is not by a Frenchman, but by an Algerian, newspaper editor Kamel Daoud. It's called The Meursault Investigation, and it's a response to the most famous novel ever written by a French Algerian, a mainstay of the 20th century canon: The Stranger, by Albert Camus.

The documentary Meru charts the attempts of a trio of American climbers to be the first to scale Meru Peak, a 21,000-foot Himalayan mountain that begins near the headwaters of the Ganges River in India.

It's the sort of movie that's frequently called "inspiring" for its depiction of humans testing themselves physically, emotionally and perhaps even spiritually against the elements, and I get that. But I wasn't inspired. I was nearly out of my mind with terror.

An abandoned castle looming above a scummy moat; a dead Cinderella hanging limply from her crashed pumpkin carriage; a grim reaper hunched over in a bumper car — these are just a few of the highlights of a new "bemusement park" in England.

The park, an art exhibit called Dismaland, was commissioned by the mysterious British graffiti artist known as Banksy and opens Saturday in the coastal city of Weston-super-Mare. He calls it a "festival of art, amusements and entry-level anarchism."

This is one in a series of essays running this week and next about the state of television in 2015. The series is based on developments at the recent Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., where broadcast and cable networks, along with streaming services like Netflix, presented new and existing shows to TV critics and reporters.

Though Larry Wilmore had always hoped to be a performer, his early career was as a comedy writer. He wrote for shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and In Living Color, and created The Bernie Mac Show. He moved in front of the camera as The Daily Show's "senior black correspondent" in 2006. So when Stephen Colbert ended The Colbert Report last year, Comedy Central tapped Wilmore to host the replacement show.

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Midway through Peter Bogdanovich's enjoyably giddy romantic comedy, a smitten Manhattan playwright (Will Forte) treats a pretty young woman (British actress Imogen Poots) to a lesson in ancient history, when "women were treated like chattel" but "prostitutes were sacred." You'll have to see the movie to learn whether the scribe knows that he's talking to an aspiring actress who moonlights as a lady of the night.

Driving, stunned mainstream-media accounts of Gen-Y tastes report, is becoming less popular. But learning how to operate a car still serves as a straightforward metaphor for accepting responsibility and acquiring new skills. So straightforward, in fact, that Learning to Drive is barely capable of a left turn.

Within the mishmash of influences on the stoner action/comedy American Ultra — namely, Repo Man, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Pineapple Express, and a pile of pointless hyper-violent comic books — the film nearly finds itself in the cognitive dissonance of a pothead who discovers his inner badass. There's something funny about Jesse Eisenberg, that sentient bundle of nerves, standing over the bodies of government agents he's just dispatched with a spoon and a piping hot bowl of ramen noodles.

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This is FRESH AIR. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, has reviews of two very different new TV projects, IFC's "Documentary Now!" which premieres tonight, and AMC's "Fear The Walking Dead," which begins Sunday.

From Rosie, the Jetsons' robot maid, to Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg in The Terminator, popular culture has frequently conceived of robots as having a humanlike form, complete with "eyes" and mechanical limbs. But tech reporter John Markoff says that robots don't always have a physical presence.

"I have a very broad definition of what a robot is," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "A robot can be ... a machine that can walk around, or it can be software that is a personal assistant, something like Siri or Cortana or Google Now."

In a grassy Vermont field as a horse skitters in the distance, dancer Chatch Pregger is scaling a makeshift barn. He stretches his arms outward, holding an E for East in his hand. As the chicken feathers on his head flutter in the breeze, it's easy indeed to imagine him as a graceful weathervane rooster.

This Is Not App-ening

Aug 20, 2015

Who needs an app that tells you if it's dark outside? Apparently, somebody does: it is a real thing that exists (no, we can't believe it either). In this quiz, we'll find out about other apps that are too weird to be true, and some others that we made up just for fun.

Heard in Sir Patrick Stewart: Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Spoiled It Through The Grapevine

Aug 20, 2015

Honey, honey, yeah! We've rewritten Heard It Through The Grapevine to be about famous film endings that you've probably heard about through the grapevine. No spoiler alerts necessary.

Heard in Sir Patrick Stewart: Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Scientific Rhyme-a-rific

Aug 20, 2015

Science is more fun with some wordplay. In this game, we satisfy the science nerds and the word nerds with some clues to rhyming pairs of words. The catch? One of the words is a tricky scientific term — get ready for some "friction fiction"!

Heard in Sir Patrick Stewart: Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Sir Patrick Stewart

Aug 20, 2015

Growing up, Sir Patrick Stewart never dreamed of being a knight. "I just dreamed [that] there was some food for the next meal," he told Ophira Eisenberg on the Ask Me Another stage in Brooklyn. As a boy, Stewart's heroes were distinguished thespians — Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Alec Guinness and Sir John Clements. But recently, Stewart's friend Sir Ian McKellan pointed out to him, "You know, Patrick... those actors, those remote heroes, those gods we admired so much — it's now us!"

Totally False Eponyms

Aug 20, 2015

An eponym is something that is named for a person. In this game, we pretend that some everyday words could be etymologically traced to a famous namesake. What kind of fuel might be named for the bald star of The Fast and the Furious franchise?

Heard in Sir Patrick Stewart: Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Aug 20, 2015

For his VIP game, Sir Patrick Stewart is quizzed on the meanings of Shakespearean insults.

Heard in Sir Patrick Stewart: Brush Up Your Shakespeare

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One Vowel At A Time

Aug 20, 2015

Can we buy some vowels, please? In this final round, each answer contains each of the five vowels-- a, e, i, o, u-- exactly once. You don't need no education to ace this one!

Heard in Sir Patrick Stewart: Brush Up Your Shakespeare

This is one in a series of essays running this week and next about the state of television in 2015. The series is based on developments at the recent Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., where broadcast and cable networks, along with streaming services like Netflix, presented new and existing shows to TV critics and reporters.

If television is so interesting right now, why do parts of it seem so old-fashioned?

Aliette de Bodard's first novel outside her Obsidian and Blood Aztec fantasy-mystery trilogy has a touch of Silly Fantasy Name problem, where florid compound words take over the page. Set in a Paris devastated by a war between factions of fallen angels, The House Of Shattered Wings is packed with sensuous description, and characters with names like Asmodeus, Samariel and Elphon.

To find a beginning can be a complicated thing for an author. Not as tough, usually, as finding an end, but it has its own challenges. The blank page, the first line, the headlong entry into a new world populated by nothing more than your imagination? It's intimidating.

In his new novel, The Automobile Club Of Egypt, the beloved, best-selling, award-winning Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany finds an interesting solution. He starts his book three times.

Former Saturday Night Live cast members Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen and Bill Hader are making TV together again. Tonight their new show, Documentary Now!, which features fake documentaries satirizing some of the most famous nonfiction films, premiers on IFC.

To sell the faux-class and seriousness of what's about to unfold, it's presented as a golden anniversary show of the best documentary films hosted by none other than Oscar-winner Helen Mirren.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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