Arts

Arts and culture

Japanese toilets have come a long way from the early 20th century, when many people in Japan still used "squatters," which were built into the floor.

Western toilets became popular after World War II. And today, signature Japanese toilets offer the world's most futuristic and automated technology when nature calls.

Nearly 2,000 years after he held sway over ancient Rome, a notorious emperor is again causing outrage. The reason: Italian authorities approved construction of a massive stage amid the ruins over the Roman Forum for a rock opera about Nero, who ruled from 54 to 68 A.D.

Archaeologists and art historians are up in arms, denouncing what they see as the commercialization of the country's heritage.

The multi-billion-dollar success of Pixar's Cars series can be chalked up to a great many things, but don't discount the little vroom-vroom frowns the cars make with their dashboard eyes when they want to go fast. When Lightning McQueen, the Owen Wilson-voiced stock car with the bright flames decal, guns for pole position, he squints so much that any human who might be driving him wouldn't be able to see the road.

Partisans on either side of Northern Ireland's "Troubles" will naturally gravitate to one of The Journey's two principals: Republican Martin McGuinness or Unionist Ian Paisley. But for those watching at a certain distance — from across the Atlantic, say — the movie is as much a clash of acting styles as a political debate.

Playing McGuinness, Colm Meaney emphasizes warmth, humor, and naturalness. As the older and chillier Paisley, Timothy Spall is more mannered, relying on such gear as false teeth that make his occasional grin even more menacing than his frequent scowl.

Kate McKinnon plays an Australian in Rough Night, a shrewd gender-reversal of sloppy-drunk bro comedies like Bachelor Party, Very Bad Things, and The Hangover. There's no particular reason for her to play an Australian, beyond a thin running joke about cultural insensitivity of failing to distinguish between Aussies and Kiwis. And yet it's funny. McKinnon merrily swishes her dialogue around the accent and makes her character's jet lag and fish-out-of-water misunderstanding to keep her a beat behind the action, like the caboose of the comedy train.

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The title of Maile Meloy's new novel is misleading: Do Not Become Alarmed sounds like a suspense story. Granted, I did read it in two nights; but, while I'm a unapologetic fan of thrillers, Meloy's novel is something else, something trickier to characterize. I'd call it a very smart work of literary fiction that exposes how very thin the layer of good luck is that keeps most of us from falling into the abyss.

In 1974, McDonald's set its sights on opening a new franchise in Manhattan's Upper East Side at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 66th Street. This location wouldn't be anything like the ketchup and mustard colored buildings in the suburbs. It would be tasteful and blend in with the townhouses surrounding it. Regardless of aesthetics, Upper East Siders were having none of it.

Allegra Goodman's characters tend to become obsessed with whatever belief systems they espouse, and for nearly 20 years, her novels have followed them into their cultural bubbles — whether it's the separatist Orthodox Judaism in a small Catskills community in Kaaterskill Falls, the secular faith in science in a tight-knit medical research laboratory in Intuition, or the adrenaline-fueled, competitive Silicon Valley startup culture in The Cookbook Collector. In The Chalk Artist, her sixth novel, Goodman, who holds a PhD.

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It is a good time for the spoken word. There's a whole lot out there - from radio to podcasts to audio books. Turns out there are lots of choices out there for young audiophiles too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WOW IN THE WORLD")

In books and movies, a monster is often more than just a monster. Maybe it represents anxiety, or corruption, or the id — all of which are themes that slither under the surface of Sarah Perry's new book, The Essex Serpent. Set in England at the end of the 19th century, "it's about the return of a mythical beast that's menacing the local villages," Perry tells me.

When it comes to comedy, Late Night host Seth Meyers is clear about what drew him in: "I got into it because it looked like the most fun job in the world," he says. "And it has not led me astray."

Indeed, Meyers' resume is packed with fun. Before taking over the reins at Late Night, he spent 13 years at Saturday Night Live, first as a performer, then as head writer and the co-host, alongside Amy Poehler, of the show's "Weekend Update" segment.

If it seems like there's an explosion of TV coming at you this summer, that's because there is. And it's a trend that's been building for quite a while.

Back in the day — say five or 10 years ago — summer was a time of experimentation and slowing down. Network TV aired shows that would keep the lights on while reserving its best stuff for the fall, and cable TV took advantage by debuting more new shows as an alternative.

'Mormama' Is A House Built On Quicksand

Jun 14, 2017

For years now I've been engaged in a conversation with myself about horror and what I want from it.

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The Library of Congress today named Tracy K. Smith as the nation's new poet laureate. NPR's Lynn Neary spoke with her about her new role.

Tracy K. Smith knows many readers are intimidated by line breaks. She knows people don't like identifying consonance, assonance or alliteration.

But Smith — the newly announced 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry of the United States — wants to help America push past that anxiety.

"What do you hear? What do you feel? What does this remind you of?" she asks NPR. "These are all real and valid reactions to a poem."

Whenever Esteban Castillo visited his grandparents in Colima, Mexico, he'd sit by his grandfather's taco stand and watch him cook. He'd also see his grandmother carry her homemade cheeses on her back and go door to door, selling them in different neighborhoods. To this day, his grandparents still make a living off of food.

"They basically transform their living room into a restaurant during the weekends to make ends meet," says Castillo.

Murder. For writer Anthony Horowitz, that's where it all starts. He says everyone is fascinated by murder — just look at Foyle's War, his BBC mystery series. The show is set in the U.K. during World War II, but that wasn't its selling point.

"If I had gone to the BBC and said I wanted write about, I don't know, the social history of 1940 to '47, they would have probably said no," Horowitz explains. "When I said, 'I've got a whole series of terrific murders which take place in that time,' they opened the door."

Conservative critics are attacking a production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” that’s running in New York. The basics of the play are the same as they’ve been since 1599 — the title character is deemed “ambitious” and is murdered in the Roman Senate on the Ides of March. But that’s not what has drawn controversy to the latest production.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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Over the course of more than three decades, Percival Everett has written almost 30 books. They've included mysteries (Assumption), Westerns (Watershed) and biting political satire (the hilarious and memorably titled A History of the African-American People [Proposed] by Strom Thurmond as Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid). It's impossible to predict what the next Everett book will bring, but it's always a safe bet that it's going to be great.

The Stoneview Nature Center is a lovely new five-acre public park in Los Angeles with seven different types of orange trees, avocados, figs, grapes, lemons, blackberries, lemonade berries, and blueberries galore. An open path snakes around the manicured space. There's a birdhouse for quails to lay their eggs, a hotel for native bees to drop in, a hand-drawn maze on asphalt for the kids and picnic tables for the families.

David Weigel is known primarily as a political reporter for The Washington Post and a regular commentator on MSNBC. In 2012, though, he indulged in an entirely different passion for Slate: He wrote a five-part series of essays about progressive rock called Prog Spring, chronicling the rise and fall of prog in the '60s and '70s.

South Korea in recent years has become the hot place for beauty product innovation, and it is often called the cosmetic surgery capital of the world.

Fifty years ago, on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court's decision in Loving v. Virginia legalized interracial marriage. Just two weeks earlier, shooting had been completed on a movie about that very subject — Stanley Kramer's soon-to-be-classic, Oscar-winning, box-office smash Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A noted art collector and philanthropist has sold a major painting for an eye-popping $165 million to raise money for criminal justice reform.

Agnes Gund sold Roy Lichtenstein's 1962 work Masterpiece, reportedly to billionaire hedge fund manager and art collector Steve Cohen. The sale apparently took place months ago; an art industry newsletter reported on the transaction in January, but Gund would not confirm it.

Two major corporate sponsors have pulled their support for a New York City production of Julius Caesar. At issue: The titular role has an unmistakably Trumpian air. And, um, spoiler alert: He gets assassinated.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN LAURENCE: What kind of fighting is it going to be?

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