Arts

Arts and culture

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

God And Sex Workers — Plus Cartoons — In 'Mary Wept'

Apr 16, 2016

It would be tough to size up Chester Brown's new graphic novel, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, even if it weren't about prostitution. This book of lay Biblical scholarship is simultaneously idiosyncratic, meticulous, imaginative and heretical. It's also deeply emotional, which may come as a surprise to readers of Brown's last book, Paying For It. In that work, about his own experiences hiring prostitutes, Brown came across as impassive, even robotic.

The camera pulls back from an old-looking, animated incarnation of Disney's Cinderella castle logo directly into a very real-looking 3-D jungle at the outset of The Jungle Book. Critters, plants waterfalls, a teeming environment through which is plunging one little flesh-and-blood boy, Mowgli, running for his life, scampering up tree-trunks, swinging from vines to get away — the camera careening after him, also trying to get away — from a huge black panther.

A new version of a classic Disney animated movie, The Jungle Book, opens Friday. It features a live-action Mowgli and digitally created animals. The new movie is a feat of animation and technical magic — the new smoke and mirrors of Hollywood. Combining multiple animating techniques into a seamless, life-like experience in the jungle, director Jon Favreau called on some of the industry's biggest talents to bring Rudyard Kipling's animals to life.

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Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

On this week's show, Stephen Thompson takes the week off to tend to his house full of cats while both All Things Considered host Audie Cornish and superlibrarian and Two Bossy Dames co-writer Margaret H. "Hulahoop" Willison join me and Glen Weldon to talk about romantic comedy.

In 1991, a political drama mesmerized the nation. A law professor named Anita Hill had made a stunning accusation — that Clarence Thomas, then a Supreme Court nominee, had sexually harassed her when she worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The events that ensued are now the subject of the HBO film Confirmation, which premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. Kerry Washington, who you probably know best as Olivia Pope on Scandal, plays Hill, who was very reluctant to reveal this decade-old secret.

The farm-to-table trend has exploded recently. Across the country, menus proudly boast chicken raised by local farmers, pork from heritage breed pigs, vegetables grown from heirloom varieties. These restaurants are catering to diners who increasingly want to know where their food comes from — and that it is ethically, sustainably sourced.

But are these eateries just serving up lies?

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There are all the other storybook villains who have prowled their way into the Disney canon, and then there's Shere Khan the tiger. In Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, the savage cat will stop at nothing to hunt down Mowgli, the young "man-cub" who was orphaned in the wilderness of India's impossibly lush Madhya Pradesh region and raised by wolves.

Here's a recipe for the ideal man: Take the speed and ruthlessness of a brain-damaged sociopath and combine them with the smarts and tenderness of a CIA agent who's also a husband and father. Yet for some reason, the new movie about this champion is titled not The Perfect Guy, but Criminal.

You can spend perfectly lovely time with Our Last Tango purely as a dance movie, with all the sexy pleasures that tango delivers. But for Maria Nieves Rego, one half of Argentina's premier tango couple, the dance of love in her 50-year partnership with choreographer Juan Carlos Copes curdled into a long-running duet of hate.

There's a great running joke in Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room where a college journalist from the Pacific Northwest asks members of The Ain't Rights, a touring punk band from Arlington, Va., what they'd choose as their "desert island" band. The expected answers might be Black Flag or Misfits or Minor Threat, but after giving it some thought, their choices are mostly popular favorites like Prince or Madonna, street credibility be damned. The implication is that punk doesn't fully live on a record, where its energy and spontaneity are inherently bottled up.

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Comic W. Kamau Bell finds humor in the parts of America that make him uncomfortable. Speaking to Fresh Air's Terry Gross, Bell likens his new CNN series, United Shades of America, to a travel show that takes him "to all sorts of different places that I [am] either afraid to go, or you wouldn't expect me to go."

"I've always been a fan of [Parts Unknown host Anthony] Bourdain," Bell says. "I always thought if I had a show like that, you would replace food with racism. Instead of sampling the food, I would sample the racism or the culture."

Gothic Family Drama At 'The Border Of Paradise'

Apr 14, 2016

The Border of Paradise by Esme Weijun Wang opens with an imminent suicide. It's one that Jia-Hui, wife of the man who is about to die, has been attempting to stave off for years. "With David," she says later, "I learned that suicide was an utterly uncontrollable act disguised as the most controllable death possible."

If ever a man had a theme song, it would be Julian Fellowes — and the theme tune from his hit show Downton Abbey.

But now that Downton has ended, Fellowes has turned his flair for historical drama and romance to another story, set in another era. His new novel Belgravia is named for one of London's poshest neighborhoods. It's the story of a striving family harboring a big secret.

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One would think we wouldn't be needing to have this conversation right about now, but apparently we do.

As you've surely heard by now, this time the peg comes courtesy of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose appearance in a comedy skit during a black-tie dinner over the weekend culminated with a "surprise" onstage visit from Hillary Clinton and Hizzoner's use of the phrase "C.P. Time."

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

There are places where old stories linger close to the surface, and a longing for magic is rewarded with revelations both strange and beautiful. Samantha Mabry's debut novel offers up a lush vision of just such a place, providing an atmospheric glimpse into a Caribbean island that runs deep with mysteries, while simultaneously asking us to consider the cost of that glimpse.

Los Angeles is home to the largest Thai community outside of Thailand. This week, Thai-Americans are celebrating the traditional three-day water festival called Songkran to mark the new year. And many of them regularly shop at LA's landmark Bangkok Market, the first Thai food store in the U.S.

The so-called Panama Papers have shined a light on the hundreds of thousands of shell companies used to circulate assets around the world. One of those assets is fine art, and the leaked papers show how collectors and companies have secretly bought and sold famous works by artists like Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso, among others.

Growing up, comics Nadia Manzoor and Radhika Vaz never dreamed that they would one day co-star in a sketch-comedy series about two women in Brooklyn.

In the "Prologue" to her 2012 autobiography, Country Girl, Edna O'Brien tells readers about being tested for deafness a few years ago at a National Health clinic in London where she lives.

O'Brien was told by the technician there that in terms of her hearing, "she's a broken piano." That dismissive phrase haunted O'Brien and, somewhat in defiance, she wrote what turned out to be a spectacular memoir.

Every writer knows the paralyzing terror of the blank page. For poet Tess Taylor, the antidote to fear came through farming.

Taylor is the author of Work & Days, a new volume of poetry inspired by her year spent working on a farm in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. She was there living alone in a cabin as part of a writer's residency, finishing her first book of verse, and "had nothing to do but write," she says. "The idea of facing the blank page for that much time really scared me."

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