Arts and culture

Getting ready for the Lunar New Year once meant buying a new set of clothes for many families of Korean ancestry.

For centuries, the costume known as hanbok – a two-piece outfit traditionally made of embroidered cotton or silk worn by men and women – has played a central role in the new year's wardrobe.

Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Snow White all peer from behind as an elderly Tibetan woman sits in front of the camera. "Do you have any other background?" asks the man who led her to her seat.

"Of course, bring the catalogue," says the weary photographer. He's already taken dozens of portraits that day.

We didn't get to tape our Oscars Omnibus live the way we planned (stay tuned for a make-up date for ticketholders), but we did get to sit down with our friend Bob Mondello to talk about all eight contenders in the Best Picture race.

Here's a tough Oscar trivia question: Who is the only person to twice achieve the feat of receiving nominations for acting, writing and directing on the same film?

Wait. Was that not hard enough? Try naming the four worst-performing best picture winners from the past 10 years.

Trivia champions live for questions like this. That's why they flock to O'Brien's Pub in Santa Monica, Calif. Regulars such as Brad Rutter (Jeopardy!'s leading all-time money winner) and Daniel Avila (a game show staple since 1984) compete over a $75 bar tab.

On today's All Things Considered, NPR film critic Bob Mondello and I have a chat with Audie Cornish about the inevitable, inscrutable Oscars.

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Harris Wittels died Thursday. He was a stand-up comic, a television writer/producer, a musician, a frequent and dependably hilarious guest on comedy podcasts, and an author who unleashed the concept of the #humblebrag upon the cultural landscape.

He was 30 years old.

When anyone dies, our sadness is tinged with something darker and more selfish; we resent the time we'll never get to spend with that person, the days and months and years that will pile up without their presence.

It's said that every writer spends his or her entire life working on a single poem or one story. Figuratively, of course, this means that writers are each possessed by a certain obsession. As such, their entire body of work, in one way or another, is generally an attempt to dimension some part of that obsession, ask questions about it, answer them and then ask many new questions.

It's been 10 years since we launched the annual Hollywood Jobs series, in which we explore odd movie jobs — you know, the ones you see in the closing credits. In the last decade, producer Cindy Carpien and I have talked to key grips, animal wranglers, focus pullers, foley artists, shoemakers, slate operators, loopers, food stylists and many more. Today we check back with some folks we've profiled in the past, to ask how their jobs have changed since we last met.

After Sept. 11, President George Bush made a speech about America's enemies — Iran, Iraq and North Korea — in which he referred to them as the "Axis of Evil." At first, that name worried Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani. But then he decided to do what he always does: laugh about it. He and some friends even started the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, which featured comedians of Middle Eastern descent.

With all his homemade gadgets and cool scientific tricks, MacGyver is an engineering superhero.

Argentina has been in the news lately for the bizarre circumstances surrounding the death of a special prosecutor. So perhaps it makes sense that the country's Oscar nominee for best foreign language film is called Relatos salvajes, Spanish for Wild Tales. The film is an anthology — a collection of six separate and unrelated stories — every one of which lives up to that title.

Larry Wilmore has been consumed with making his new late-night show prime viewing. And he wants to make one thing clear: He has "no desire" to host The Daily Show when Jon Stewart leaves later this year.

"I'm doing my show right now," Wilmore tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I'm very happy doing it."

As CBS' Two and a Half Men airs its final episode tonight, capping its 12th season, critics like me are stuck trying to answer a single, niggling question:

How did a show like this end up as the longest-running multicamera comedy in television history?

At heart, mainstream superhero comics are about adolescent wish-fulfillment, "a power fantasy for people who feel powerless," as Astro City author Kurt Busiek once put it. Heroes like the ones in Busiek's comics overcome obstacles and break down barriers. They revel in great power and deal with great responsibility. They fight villains as colorful and outsized as themselves. And they represent a form of escapism from the mundane world.

Creepy, Brilliant 'Touch' Will Possess You

Feb 19, 2015

There are at least two reasons why I should hate this book.

One: I have a horror of impersonation narratives. The idea of someone looking like me but running around being a jerk to my friends and family is so profoundly unsettling that I still haven't watched more than the pilot of Orphan Black.

Two: I hate stories about memory loss.

When the Oscars are handed out on Sunday, the red carpet, the ceremony, the films and people who are honored, will be all about being seen. But there's a group of actors who will never be seen on screen. They're only heard — and barely.

Loopers are voice actors whose work begins after the show or film is shot and edited. Their job is to record what people in the background of a scene could be saying. Their dialogue is never really heard at full volume — and it's mostly ad-libbed.

When David Remnick took the job as editor of The New Yorker in 1998, he learned quickly to make firm decisions about contentious stories. Just a few months into the position, Remnick called Si Newhouse, the magazine's owner, to tell him about a piece he was running that was accusing "all kinds of high-level chicanery."

"The first requisite of civilization ... is that of justice," wrote Sigmund Freud in his 1930 book Civilization and Its Discontents. Ideally, this is true, but it often seems like some civilizations never got the message. Though maybe it depends on what you mean by justice, and how you define "civilization" — if you can at all. In his new book, novelist and essayist Mohsin Hamid expresses some doubts: "Civilizations are illusions, but these illusions are pervasive, dangerous, and powerful. They contribute to globalization's brutality. ...

'Tales Of The Marvellous' Is Indeed Very Strange

Feb 18, 2015

"I have come in search of a gazelle with white feet or a man in a shirt."

In the parking lot of a small Los Angeles studio, food stylist Melissa McSorley is re-creating the dish that saved the day for the hero of a recent film. "The Cubano sandwich ... was the heart and soul of the movie Chef," she says.

Popular Mexican actress Lorena Rojas has died of cancer at age 44.

Rojas was born Seydi Lorena Rojas González in Mexico City and got her big break in the 1990s with the telenovela Alcanzar Una Estrella. She later starred in Azul Tequila, El Cuerpo del Deseo and Pecados Ajenos. Her most recent telenovela was Rosario.

On Saturday evening, I found myself in a white-out blizzard, driving up steep and curvy West Virginia back roads. Normally, I would have admitted defeat and turned back. But I kept going, propelled up the mountain by thoughts of the unique Mardi Gras foods and festivities that awaited me in an improbable-seeming Swiss village at top.

Anna Lyndsey — a pseudonym — was once an enviably ordinary woman. She had a good career working for the British government, a loving partner, and most importantly, she could walk outside, under the sun, whenever she wanted to. But then she developed a rare disorder: even the faintest light causes an agonizing burning sensation in her skin, making her a virtual prisoner in darkened rooms and smothering clothes.

Richard Price used a pseudonym for his new novel, The Whites, but in retrospect, he wishes he hadn't. "It was going to be different from my other books and I wanted to signal that," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. But by the time he realized it was just "another damn book by me" it was too late to withdraw the pen name.

Price is the author of Clockers, the novel about police detectives and drug dealers that Price and Spike Lee adapted into a film. He also wrote for the HBO series The Wire, which was about police detectives and drug dealers.

So here we are, many of us in the D.C. area, doing what many in the Northeast — particularly New England — have been doing lately: looking out the window.

Forget the all-night boozing, the spicy jambalaya and the gaudy-colored king cake. And definitely forget the scantily clad debauchery that is Mardi Gras.

Like the setup of a Garrison Keillor joke, I'm here to tell you about Lutherans and their sweet February buns. Welcome to Fat Tuesday, Nordic-style.

'Find Me' Gets Lost Along The Way

Feb 17, 2015

America's recent tussle with Ebola — and the current resurgence of measles — has made pandemics a major issue, and a major fear. Not that you'd know it from Laura Van Den Berg's Find Me. In it, a haunted young woman named Joy winds up in a hospital in rural Kansas, following the onset of a mysterious, fatal disease, one that erases people's memories.

There's a small subgenre of young-adult novels that treat suicide as a mystery left behind for the survivors. From John Green's 2006 debut Looking For Alaska and Jay Asher's 2007 bestseller Thirteen Reasons Why to more recent titles like Michelle Falkoff's Playlist For The Dead, survivors try to unravel the causes and meaning of a purposeful death, through clues the victim left behind.