Robert Stone won the National Book Award in 1975, for his second novel, Dog Soldiers. Since then, he's twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and nominated for or the recipient of a florist's display of other honors. Recently, when I asked some writers and English professors at a party to name the best novel ever written about Hollywood, Stone's Children of Light was the top choice.
Bill Watterson brought an end to Calvin & Hobbes in 1995, after just 10 years of writing and drawing the comic strip. But to his many devoted fans, that shockheaded boy and his tiger are as important today as they were when they first appeared in daily papers all around the country.
The International Space Station is a pretty great backdrop for a music video, and Commander Chris Hadfield didn't waste the opportunity as he was orbiting the Earth (at 17,500 miles an hour) back in the spring of 2012. The Canadian astronaut performed his own rendition of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" — and also tweeted and blogged from orbit, making him the de facto ambassador from Outer Space.
Since Hadfield sang about Major Tom in space, we've invited him to answer three questions about some lesser-known Toms.
Late last week, Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines, leaving rubble for wake and cities in shambles. It was among the strongest storms ever recorded. In the days that have followed, the death toll exacted by the storm has reached breathtaking levels — more than 3,500 fatalities by last count — and the economic devastation must be measured in the billions.
There are about a dozen reasons I really wanted to love Alpha House, an original comedy series about four U.S. senators sharing a home on Capitol Hill. It premieres on Amazon — yes, Amazon — on Friday.
The biggest reason: often-underrated star John Goodman, playing a politician up for re-election who knows exactly what voters value in a legislator:
Philomena is the true story of a retired Irish nurse (Judi Dench) whose child was put up for adoption — against her will, by the nuns at the convent where she gave birth — when she was a teenager, and unwed. Fifty years later, a journalist grudgingly joins in her search for that son. The British comedian Steve Coogan, who also produced the project and co-wrote the screenplay, plays the reporter.
Last month, I saw the trailer for Alexander Payne's Nebraska, and only the fact that it was a Payne film made me want to see it.
The premise seemed a dead end: Bruce Dern plays an elderly man named Woody Grant living in Billings, Mont., who gets a letter saying he's won $1 million. All he needs to do is call a number and maybe buy a magazine subscription.
Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 12:27 pm
New Year's Eve 1995 fell on a Sunday, and given that it was before we all started reading our news on LCD screens, chances are pretty good you had a Sunday paper delivered. And that day's paper had something special wrapped up inside.
On this week's show, we are lucky enough to be visited in the absence of our buddy Glen by the lovely Audie Cornish, who, in her spare time, is one of the hosts of a little afternoon show called All Things Considered. Audie took some time away from the Actual Hard News beat to chat with us about a few things and to gracefully accept a surprising comparison to Ron Burgundy. (It's a long story.)
Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.
Behind all our material goods, from iPhones to sneakers, is a narrative of exploited Chinese workers with bleak lives. Reporter Leslie T. Chang says that's a disrespectful narrative. She sought out workers in a Chinese megacity and tells their stories.
The story of David and Goliath has transcended its biblical origins to become a common shorthand for unlikely victory. But, asks author Malcolm Gladwell, is that really what the David and Goliath story is about?
Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 12:45 pm
If you go back to the 1970s, people with a serious coffee habit often had an accompanying habit: smoking.
And that's why early studies gave coffee a bad rap. Clearly, smoking was harmful. And it was hard for researchers to disentangle the two habits. "So it made coffee look bad in terms of health outcomes," Harvard researcher Meir Stampfer explained to me.
But fast-forward a quarter century, and the rap on coffee began to change.
Every night, author Roald Dahl told his children a story: "Most of them [were] pretty bad," he admitted in a 1972 BBC4 interview, "but now and again you'd tell one and you see a little spark of interest. And if they ever said the next night, 'Tell us some more about that one,' you knew you had something. This went on for quite a long time with a story about a peach that got bigger and bigger and I thought, 'Well heck, why don't I write it.' "
That bedtime story became Dahl's first children's book, James and the Giant Peach.
The ghost of Federico Fellini hovers wickedly over The Great Beauty, a fantastic journey around contemporary Rome and a riot of lush imagery juggling past and present, sacred and profane, gorgeous and grotesque.
Siberia-born director Alexander Sokurov is best known in the West for 2002's Russian Ark, a cinematic waltz through the Hermitage Museum that also functions as a primer on Russian history. The filmmaker is an idiosyncratic historian, though, as he demonstrates yet again with a version of Faust that completes his "tetralogy of power."
Originally published on Thu November 14, 2013 2:08 pm
After spending much of his career in supporting roles, actor Bruce Dern is finally getting some recognition: He won the best actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival for his performance in the new film Nebraska.
It's been nearly 15 years since movie lovers followed the romances and rivalries of college friends in The Best Man. There's Harper, the aspiring writer and "best man" of football star and husband-to-be Lance; Mia the bride-to-be of Lance; Robyn the girlfriend of Harper; Jordan the ambitious media maven; and Quentin the playboy.
Director Malcolm D. Lee's The Best Man became one of the top-grossing black movies of all time, and now the ensemble cast returns in The Best Man Holliday. The film opens in theaters Friday.
Gollum, the slimy creature from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, seems to have a lot of grammar problems. He also seems to hate a lot of things--especially irregular plurals. In this game, led by host Ophira Eisenberg, all of the answers are nouns whose singular and plural forms are the same. Contestants must answer by channeling the voice of Gollum.
Thirty days hath September, April, June and November. But you'll need more than a mnemonic rhyme to ace this quiz led by house musician Jonathan Coulton, in which all of the answers are one of the 12 calendar months. For example, the name of the month that comes from the Latin word for "ten" is December.
You're going to need a bigger boat for this final round led by puzzle guru John Chaneski. Every answer is a word, phrase or proper noun that contains the name of a body of water or waterway. For example, the actress that starred in the John Waters movie Hairspray, before becoming a TV talk show host, is Ricki Lake.
Actor Justin Long told us he admires the work of Woody Allen, but we wanted to see just how much he knows about the man born Allen Stewart Konigsberg. In this Ask Me Another Challenge, host Ophira Eisenberg quizzes Long on all things Woody, from the films he's directed to the instrument he plays. (Hint: It's a woodwind.)
The song "Can You Feel The Love Tonight," from The Lion King may be about Simba and Nala's feelings for each other. But when house musician Jonathan Coulton gets his hands on it, he just might turn it into a tribute to The Price is Right. In this game, Coulton performs renditions of Disney tunes with the lyrics rewritten to be about very non-Disney things.
What do Wiffle balls, bad alibis, donuts and bagels have in common? If you said they are things with holes in them, then you'll enjoy playing this game, in which house musician Jonathan Coulton asks contestants to name the common denominator in a list of four words.
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I am used to conversations about women in historical fiction — or, even more bafflingly, in historical fantasy — consisting of apologia for there being so few of them. "Women were oppressed," the old chestnut goes, and consequently unimportant in the grand scheme of things except inasmuch as they birthed heirs or sealed national alliances in marriage, so it's no surprise that today's writers find little of interest in their day to day doings, right?