Arts and culture

It was really too bad about the audio.

Our press screening of American Reunion here in Washington was saddled with a muted soundtrack, which is unfortunate for any movie, let alone one that revolves around '90s music, loud parties and a school dance. The audience laughed louder at "I love this song!" than at any of Eugene Levy's improv.

Not every human advance is a snare, according to Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress. But some new techniques can lead to something the Canadian author calls a "progress trap" — a development that's ultimately more harmful than helpful.

"God sees abilities in me I don't have," laments the protagonist of Italian writer-director Nanni Moretti's new movie. Such self-doubt is hardly novel, but Melville (Michel Piccoli) has a special stake in God's opinion of him — he's just been elected pope.

'Keyhole': Looking Through (And Into) The Past

Apr 5, 2012

"This kind of weather stirs me up," growls Ulysses, as he looks with caged-tiger menace out of rain-streaked windows at the strobing, manic lightning outside.

"Man's weather," he adds.

As embodied in the chiseled good looks of actor Jason Patric, Ulysses himself is a picture of old Hollywood masculinity, so tough and unwavering that surely only the most primal forces of nature could match him.

Kerry Washington knows that her new drama, Scandal, will inevitably be compared to another drama about D.C.: The West Wing. Scandal tells Audie Cornish on today's All Things Considered that it even has Josh Malina, a West Wing cast member, for a little of what she calls "secret D.C. credibility."

When A.J. Jacobs got sick on a tropical vacation, his wife looked at him in his hospital bed and said, "I don't want to be a widow at 45."

Jacobs was 41, bedridden with tropical pneumonia, and living with what he calls a "python-that-swallowed-a-goat body." He wasn't notably unhealthy, but he'd begun to feel some of the vulnerabilities of age, so he vowed to make himself healthier so that he could be around — and vital — for his wife and three sons.

There's growing controversy over a Burger King ad featuring singer Mary J Blige. Blige apologized for the ad on Thursday, saying she didn't approve the final version.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, there was one man the American public wanted captured: Osama bin Laden. There was also a secret hunt going on for someone else, the real mastermind of the attacks.

That man was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and he's the focus of Josh Meyer and Terry McDermott's new book, The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed."

Lionel Shriver's new novel, called The New Republic, is actually an old manuscript with a star-crossed history. As Shriver explains in a prefatory note, this satire on (among other things) terrorism was finished in 1998, but, back then, publishers weren't interested. That was five years before Shriver's break-through novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin. Then, Sept. 11 happened: sincerity was in; irony was out. Publishers wouldn't touch this story that offered an ironic take on violent extremism.

As part of Tell Me More's series for National Poetry Month, host Michel Martin shares a poetic tweet from Jim Lounsbury of Sydney, Australia. He is a writer and filmmaker who listens to NPR on his iPhone. Listeners are invited to tweet original poems of 140 characters and less to #TMMPoetry.

Artist, Social Justice Activist Dies At 96

Apr 5, 2012

Host Michel Martin remembers American artist Elizabeth Catlett, who died this week at the age of 96. Catlett is known for integrating social justice activism in sculptures and prints. That activism caught the eye of the U.S. government at the height of McCarthyism. For years, she was banned from entering the U.S. from her adopted home of Mexico.

Debt Struggles As Old As America Itself

Apr 5, 2012

As of today, the national debt held by the public is more than $10 trillion. That's more than $30,000 for every man, woman and child living in the United States.

Imagine a Lego as tuna sushi, or a leaf as a pair of acid-washed jeans, or bathroom tiles made to resemble Warhol's Brillo box. These are only a few of the funny, unexpected, cleverly conceived and realized sights that make up Christoph Niemann's Abstract City, a book culled from the renowned illustrator's popular visual blog for The New York Times.

With 'Scandal,' ABC Targets Black Female Viewers

Apr 5, 2012

On Thursday night, ABC's Scandal will step out as a rarity on TV: a show developed by one of the most powerful black women in TV, Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rimes, depicting a powerful black woman in Washington, D.C.: Olivia Pope, a top-flight crisis manager.

She's a "fixer" so impressive, she can negotiate down payments with the Ukrainian mob in a burst of rapid-fire dialogue. She is played by Kerry Washington, whom you might recognize from wife and girlfriend roles in films like The Fantastic Four and Ray.

Since they made their debut in 1971, it's been rare for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to not have a show on Broadway. But now they're ramping it up, with the opening of Evita following fast on the heels of Jesus Christ Superstar.

"It's actually just a coincidence as far as I can tell, because the two shows came from totally different sources," Rice says. "And by sheer chance, they've arrived within two or three weeks of each other on Broadway, which is fun!"

Bill Duke knew he was going to get flak from a lot of people before he ever turned the cameras on to film Dark Girls, a new documentary about the painful encounters dark-skinned black women experience in a society where lighter is usually considered better.

It's a subject that has, more often than not, been considered taboo to discuss outside the black community. So Duke knew making a general-distribution movie about color prejudice within the black community was definitely going to rub some black folks the wrong way.

Former Child Star Fatigue. Many of us have suffered it, given the drug problems, the meltdowns, the awful nude photos.

But then there's Fred Savage, who starred in the ABC show The Wonder Years from 1988 through 1993. Now he's a successful, slightly offbeat 35-five-year-old television producer and director. He works on wicked, slightly warped comedies including Party Down, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and as of today, Best Friends Forever. His first network sitcom premieres tonight on NBC.

New In Paperback April 2-8

Apr 4, 2012

Fiction and nonfiction releases from Julie Otsuka, Kyung-sook Shin, E.L. James, Shirley MacLaine, Shania Twain and Wendy McClure.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

As part of Tell Me More's series celebrating National Poetry Month, host Michel Martin shares a poetic tweet from freelance photographer and administrative assistant Renea Hanna of Bandera, Texas. Listeners are invited to tweet original poems of 140 characters and less to #TMMPoetry.

Of all the things that make me say, "I really don't understand why this is still a thing," wax museums are right up there.

Anne Tyler is the patron saint of misfits. In novel after novel, this wry, warmhearted writer introduces us to awkward, shy, often eccentric or mismatched people, mostly residents of Baltimore. Embarking on an Anne Tyler novel is like heading off on vacation to a favorite destination: You're filled with anticipation of pleasure, even though you know the place is likely to have changed since your last visit.

Carrots: Beyond The Relish Tray

Apr 4, 2012

My first distinct memory of eating carrots is from when I was about 7. Mom and Dad had gone out for the evening, leaving me and my sister in the care of our older brother, whose duty it was to serve us the dinner Mom had prepared. Dinner included her usual chopped salad with shredded lettuce and diced carrots, tomatoes, onions and celery. When serving the salad, my sly brother asked me if I liked carrots. I said yes, and in typical big-brother fashion, he proceeded to pick out every single tiny orange cube and add it to my plate.

A growing number of American professionals have moved to China in the last decade to ride the economic boom. While much of the news coming out of the country is serious stuff — political repression, trade disputes, tainted food — for American expatriates, day-to-day life in China can be chaotic, exciting and often funny.

Storify: Muses And Metaphor

Apr 3, 2012

Poetry and social media join forces in April, as Tell Me More celebrates National Poetry Month with the Muses and Metaphor series. We've asked you to tweet your poems to the hashtag #tmmpoetry. Holly Bass, a Washington, D.C.-based poet and performer, will help us curate our favorites — you can find some of our most recent selections below.

If you follow TV types on Twitter, you've already heard about some recent comments from Lee Aronsohn, who co-created Two And A Half Men with Chuck Lorre and is also a producer of The Big Bang Theory.

Don't Sweat Over Iambic Pentameter

Apr 3, 2012



Today we begin celebrating National Poetry Month by featuring poetry from our listeners. The poems will be tweets, messages 140 characters or less, exchanged via Twitter using the hash tag #TMMPoetry. It's all part of our series that we call Muses and Metaphor, combining two of our passions, poetry and social media.

Journalist Peter Beinart grew up immersed in Zionism. His grandmother — who had to flee Egypt and then the Belgian Congo because of religious persecution — made sure that Beinart realized the importance of supporting Israel from an early age.

You know what they say: You can take the mutating ooze out of four ninjutsu-trained turtles, but you can't pry it out of a fan's greasy, pizza-clutching fists. Or something like that.

It's fitting that in an election year, we would be bombarded by presidential thrillers. Even presidential vampire thrillers. I previously reviewed Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth, which follows the story of a secret vampire agent who is bound by oath to every president of the United States since the 1860s. That novel already has a sequel, The President's Vampire.

Rapid growth in the U.S. Hispanic community has created another boom — in Hispanic media. In recent months, several major media players have announced plans to join the competition for the Hispanic television audience. There's a new Hispanic broadcast TV network coming, plus a host of new cable channels aimed at Latinos.

The numbers tell the story: According to the census, the U.S. Hispanic population jumped by more than 40 percent in the past decade. The nation's 50 million-plus Hispanics now make up 16 percent of the TV-viewing public.