Arts

Arts and culture

The Fireworks Of 'Illusionarium' Never Quite Feel Real

May 23, 2015

Reading Heather Dixon's Illusionarium feels like riding a particularly rough roller coaster, and the first few hills are doozies. Dixon barely establishes the book's fantasy world — a hastily sketched British-derived steampunk setting, with the requisite airships and an alternate version of London called Arthurise — before she upends it.

This week, the Brooklyn Museum is wrapping up its mid-career retrospective of artist Kehinde Wiley — which means 14 years of work and something like 60 paintings.

It's been drawing a diverse and large crowd, partly because Wiley's work has been featured on the TV show Empire, and partly because he is a well-known and, in some ways, controversial figure in the art world. Wiley takes contemporary figures — oftentimes young black men and women — and places them in old European art traditions: Oil paintings, portraits, stained glass and even bronze sculpture.

Much of Brad Bird's Disney sci-fi adventure Tomorrowland is terrific fun, but it's one of the strangest family movies I've seen: Bird's not just making a case for hope, he's making a furious, near-hysterical case against anti-hope.

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

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This week's taping presented us with a few conundrums: Host Linda Holmes had already begun her vacation, while I know jack-all about the seven accumulated seasons of Mad Men, whose finale we were duty-bound to discuss. Our solution involved a pair of our most beloved guest panelists — Gene Demby and, from a studio in L.A., Barrie Hardymon — and a brief interregnum in poor Linda's vacation. (I stayed home and ate snacks.)

What Are The Secrets of Centenarians?

May 22, 2015

Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Fountain Of Youth

About Dan Buettner's TED Talk

To find the path to long life and health, Dan Buettner studies the world's "Blue Zones," communities whose elders live longer than anyone else on the planet.

About Dan Buettner

Can Aging Be Cured?

May 22, 2015

Part 2 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Fountain Of Youth

About Aubrey de Grey's TED Talk

Cambridge researcher Aubrey de Grey argues that aging is merely a disease — and a curable one at that.

About Aubrey de Grey

Every once in a while, NPR's go-to books guru Nancy Pearl sends Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep a tall stack of books. They're generally "under-the-radar" reads — titles she thinks deserve more attention than they've been getting.

"I just think that it's so important that readers learn about books that haven't been heavily promoted – what we would call mid-list books," Pearl says.

Here are some of her fiction picks, to kick off your summer reading list:

For generations of Americans, Detroit was the place where people made things: powerful cars, amazing architecture, beautiful music. But now Detroit is entering a new chapter. After months of often tense and difficult negotiations, Detroit is now formally out of bankruptcy. Millions of dollars of contributions from private foundations and corporations helped the city preserve its acclaimed art collection. A new generation of artists and entrepreneurs, doers and makers is calling Detroit home. So we'd like to ask, what's next? What will drive Detroit's future now?

Cary Fowler is an easygoing, soft-spoken Tennessee native who travels the world with an urgent message: The human race may starve to death. If that threat becomes likely, however, people can turn to the biological archive that director Sandy McLeod's documentary calls The Seeds of Time.

The adolescent girl at the heart of Hiromasa Yonebayashi's haunting When Marnie Was There has the cropped dark hair, wide eyes and square-peg awkwardness that will be familiar to fans of Studio Ghibli animated movies. Unlike the feisty, willful sprites of Kiki's Delivery Service, Spirited Away and many other Ghibli treasures though, Anna is a cowed, sensitive soul with artistic leanings. At school she's friendless and bullied.

The first scene of Aloft is one of the more haunting movie openings in recent years. It's a bitter cold day in northern Canada; against a barren snowscape, a single mother named Nana (Jennifer Connolly) and her two young sons hitch rides in vans from morose men toward an increasingly remote location. With little dialogue, we discover they are on their way to visit a faith healer named The Architect, who performs rituals for a cult of believers in an igloo-like structure built from twigs.

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

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Rob Burnett started working with David Letterman as an intern in 1985 and never left, even when the talk-show host moved from NBC to CBS. During the course of his 29-year tenure, Burnett evolved from intern to head writer to executive producer of the Late Show with David Letterman, a position he held through last night's final show.

Another sequel, another chance for Hollywood to hurl metal hither and yon and make with the flashy summer blockbuster blow-'em-ups. Yawn, right?

A new batch of 6,500 words are now available to Scrabble players, after publishing house Collins updated its widely used Official Scrabble Words list Thursday. The list includes tech jargon and slang, such as pwn, twerk and shizzle.

Also added: aji (the pepper), coqui (the frog) and the more old-fashioned ixnay and zowee. (See a longer list at the bottom of this post.)

It's just 15 miles south of Rome, but it looks more like ancient Jerusalem.

Welcome to the vast backlot at Cinecittà, the sprawling movie metropolis where the original Ben-Hur was filmed, and a remake is currently in production.

When the final episode came, after weeks of accolades and tributes to his genius, David Letterman made sure he punctured the emotion of the moment with a little old-fashioned, self-deprecating sarcasm.

Kirsty Logan is no stranger to secrets. The Glasgow-based author's award-winning short-story collection, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, beautifully brought together myth, magic, and the muted fantasy of the everyday. It also dealt with curious topics like circuses and worldwide floods — two things that resurface in her captivating debut novel, The Gracekeepers.

An artist has just converted a legendary piece of 19th-century art into an utter ruin. And two Smithsonian institutions — the Freer and Sackler galleries of Asian art — have given their blessings.

The Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery is an actual dining room from London, decorated by James McNeill Whistler in 1876. Its blue-green walls are covered with golden designs and painted peacocks. Gilded shelves hold priceless Asian ceramics. It's an expensive, lavish cocoon, rich in beauty with a dab of menace.

You can't miss it as you drive down I-85. The Peachoid, as it's called, is a massive peach-shape water tower near the North Carolina border.

When maintenance crews sandblasted the paint off the water tower recently, people were furious.

Just ask Claire Huminski, with the city of Gaffney.

When a Broadway musical feels as effortlessly right as Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's did to audiences in 1956, it's easy to imagine that it simply sprang to life that way. Not My Fair Lady. The musical, based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, is filled to bursting with some of the best-known songs in Broadway history — "The Rain In Spain," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "On the Street Where You Live" — but it turns out the show originally had other tunes that almost nobody knows.

In the crowded field of postwar cinema, Satyajit Ray broke through barriers of language and culture to become the most celebrated Indian filmmaker in the West.

Update, 1:10 a.m. ET:

David Letterman approached his final, hour-plus of late-night TV on Wednesday with the same self-deprecation he displayed in the previous 6,027 episodes, but leavened the snark with heaps of nostalgia and praise.

Earlier this month, almost 2,000 radio fanatics gathered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) to listen in as Marc Maron, the neurotic and sometimes gruff comedian and podcast host, interviewed Fresh Air's Terry Gross. He is known for being vulnerable and bringing his personal life into his interviews; she tends to keep her personal life separate from her work. The conversation that resulted blurs those two styles and ends up revealing aspects of Gross' life that even the biggest Fresh Air fans may find surprising.

"The moon blew up with no warning and with no apparent reason."

That's the beginning of Neal Stephenson's newest epic, Seveneves. And in terms of opening hooks, it's up there. I mean, he isn't destroying LA or merely reducing some single nation to slag. No, Stephenson goes old-school mad scientist — straight for the pulp main vein and buried Saturday morning memories of Thundarr the Barbarian still ticking along in the heads of his audience, and blows up the moon.

The Science Of 'Collected Fiction' Is Pure Magic

May 20, 2015

I have just finished Hannu Rajaniemi's Collected Fiction and I am still recovering.

My mind feels constellated. I am keenly, weirdly, expansively aware of explosions still taking place inside my head. The world has shifted while I read, and the quartz in the necklace I wear is full of super computers breathing sentience against my skin. There are eyes threaded through scarves over the windowsill. I want to learn everything.

There are two drinks most people associate with Russia — vodka and tea, prepared in a giant hot-water urn known as a samovar.

Yet while vodka may have actually originated in Russia (Poland is another contender), tea is a thoroughly foreign product.

Most historians believe the Chinese first brought tea to Russia sometime in the 1600s. As for the samovar? "The origins are shrouded in mystery," says Maria Zavilova, curator at the Museum of Russian Art in Minnesota.

A critic once called Jules Feiffer "one of the best cartoonists now writing" and "the best writer now cartooning." That quote is in Out of Line, a new book about Feiffer, a man who does both words and pictures.

The most luscious watermelon the Deep South has ever produced was once so coveted, 19th-century growers used poison or electrocuting wires to thwart potential thieves, or simply stood guard with guns in the thick of night. The legendary Bradford was delectable — but the melon didn't ship well, and it all but disappeared by the 1920s. Now, eight generations later, a great-great-great-grandson of its creator is bringing it back.

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