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Last year, the British critic and memoirist Olivia Laing wrote in a review of After Kathy Acker that Acker's punk novels, her body of work, were impossible to imitate. "Radical and uncanny," Laing wrote, "entirely inimitable, a smash and grab on the history of literature." The review came out in The Guardian last August, when Laing was in the middle of writing her exceptional first novel Crudo, a what-I-did-last-summer in Kathy Acker's voice.

Goodness feels so freaking quaint sometimes.

But goodness is indeed what The Good Place, which returned for its third season Thursday night on NBC, is about. It is about people trying to be good — and it's also one of the silliest, cleverest, smartest comedies on TV.

[This is where I tell you that "spoilers," so to speak, abound, in that we're going to talk here about the things that have already happened on this show up to and including the third-season premiere.]

The central event of Monsters and Men is clearly based on the 2014 slaying of Eric Garner by NYPD officers on Staten Island, although writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green has altered both the location and the cause of death. Yet the killing of loose-cigarette peddler Big D (Samel Edwards) takes place literally in the background. This evocative drama is most concerned about the aftermath, viewed from three different angles.

Like many in the stand-up world, Nina Geld (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a comedian whom we meet working the edgier comedy clubs of New York City, is angry. When she's not riffing on menstrual blood and other female troubles nobody else wants to talk about, her potty-mouthed monologues are studded with the case against men, which earns her appreciative laughs from young audiences both male and female. Nina is poised, articulate, funny and unsparing — none of which prevents her from throwing up after every performance.

Let's get the cheap lazy jokes out of the way at the top:

It's Catch Me if You Can on Geritol.

It's The Great Train Robbery (Seniors Discount Fare).

It's The (All-You-Can Eat) Italian (Pasta-Buffet) Job. Okay. Enough.

What writer/director David Lowery's The Old Man & the Gun actually turns out to be, of course, is exactly what it looks like: a defiantly unhurried and genially old-fashioned cops-and-robbers yarn, built around a wry, wistful central performance from Robert Redford.

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Gather Around The Fall Fires With These 4 YA Novels

Sep 27, 2018

Fall has come at last, which means it's time to gather around the fire and tell tall tales about girls who survive, girls who fight, and girls who, if given the chance, may prove to be heroes.

Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and performer. She is a regular reviewer for NPR Books and Quill & Quire.

Wartime Sins And Secrets Haunt 'Transcription'

Sep 27, 2018

Juliet Armstrong was a spy.

Is a spy, will forever be a spy. During the war, in London, 1940, she worked as a typist for MI5, was lifted out of the obscurity of the secretarial pool to be the audio transcriptionist for an operation meant to ensnare British fifth columnists itching for the day that the Wehrmacht marched down the streets of London, then put into the field to infiltrate their anti-Semitic ranks in person.

When Murphy Brown premiered in 1988, Murphy's personality, full as it was of stubbornness, ego, brilliance, defiance, independence and a lack of concern with being liked, was a revelation. Her existence, her very presence on television as a recovering alcoholic who had stopped drinking but had no desire to stop being what other people considered "difficult," was inspiring. She was confident, and she was loved. She was impolite, and she was great at her job. She was loud, and she was the hero.

Aimé Mpane remembers when he first saw the old statues.

It was 1994, and the Congolese visual artist had just moved to Belgium, which once ruled his country. Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mpane says he had been taught in school that the Congolese were descended from the Gauls — "that they were our kings."

"In our schoolbooks, it was as if the Congolese did not exist without Belgian colonialists," says Mpane, 50. His work explores the memory of colonialism in Congo and Belgium. "I wanted to know what [the Belgians] knew about us."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

ElfQuest is something unique in the world of comics: It's one of the longest-running fantasy series ever — and it's been the passion project of just two people for its whole life.

There were few comics shops, fewer conventions, and not a lot of women were making comics when creators Wendy and Richard Pini began their epic quest in 1978. But now that quest is over, and they're on a farewell tour called Forty Years of Pointed Ears.

Editor's note: This review includes a brief account of a character's suicide attempt.

You probably thought that the existing Coldplay version of the Coldplay song "Fix You" — which, by the way, I love — was maudlin enough for any montage-accompaniment needs you could possibly have.

This is because you have not seen NBC's New Amsterdam, which premieres Tuesday night.

Updated at 11 p.m. ET

It took British artist Jason deCaires Taylor nine months to develop his latest work: a 20-foot-tall stainless steel cube decorated with life-size human statues and semi-submerged in a coral lagoon in crystal blue waters off the Maldives islands.

But it took the Maldivian police just a few hours to wreck it.

Fashion company Michael Kors is buying Versace, the Italian luxury brand founded by Gianni Versace in 1978, for $2.12 billion. The two fashion houses made the announcement Tuesday, one day after speculation spread about a potential deal.

Donatella Versace, the artistic director of the Milan-based fashion house who helped lead the company after her brother's death in 1997, said it's the perfect time for the company to join with Michael Kors.

The Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vásquez resembles nobody more in his work than Philip Roth. Mid-career Roth, especially. The two share a vast array of stylistic and thematic preoccupations, and no small number of compulsions. The need to de-mythologize, for example. The desire to pick apart every impulse toward tribalism they see. The constant mining of their personal histories for the political, or the reverse. Both Roth and Vásquez like making themselves into characters, if only to trick the reader. Both like tricking readers. Most of all, they both like conspiracies.

Elliot Ackerman served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's now a journalist and author, sometimes drawing on his own experiences as a U.S. Marine to inspire his fiction.

His new novel, Waiting for Eden, explores the point where life is no longer worth living. Its main character, Eden, is a soldier who has been hospitalized, severely burned and unconscious, for three years. For the first time in those three years, his wife, Mary, leaves his side to spend Christmas with their young daughter, and that departure causes Eden to suffer a stroke.

About 20 years ago, to mark her 60th birthday, Jane Fonda asked for her daughter's help in creating a very short video about her life. Her daughter suggested, "Why don't you just get a chameleon to crawl across the screen?"

"Ouch," Fonda says, recalling the conversation. "She knew what buttons to push and she wasn't wrong."

Fonda has lived many lives. From starlet, to fitness guru, to Vietnam protester — now 80, she's a comedic actress, securing roles at an age when many in Hollywood would have left the screen.

As the son of a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Derek Black was once the heir apparent of the white nationalist movement.

Growing up, he made speeches, hosted a radio show and started the website KidsStormfront — which acted as a companion to Stormfront, the white nationalist website his father, Don Black, created.

Television and film set in dreams and hallucinations struggle with the fundamental limitations of the rational mind. Too often, what people experience as visions in TV and movies aren't strange enough. They're slightly bent, but not as off-balance as real dreams and hallucinations tend to be.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

During World War II, the British were worried about their own countrymen with Nazi sympathies.

That's the historical basis for Kate Atkinson's new novel, Transcription. It follows a character named Juliet Armstrong, who was recruited to the British Secret Service as a teenager to help monitor fascist sympathizers in 1940.

For some, there's a niggling feeling of being inside your own life that attacks you in your late 20s.

You're past your early adolescence, grounded in one place and in friendships, looking at the world around you and thinking: I am on the cusp of becoming exactly the person I am.

New Book: Vaccines Have Always Had Haters

Sep 23, 2018

Vaccinations have saved millions, maybe billions, of lives, says Michael Kinch, associate vice chancellor and director of the Center for Research Innovation in Business at Washington University in St. Louis. Those routine shots every child is expected to get can fill parents with hope that they're protecting their children from serious diseases.

But vaccines also inspire fear that something could go terribly wrong. That's why Kinch's new book is aptly named: Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity.

As a Girl Raised In The South, I grew up knowing the legend of the infamous Unclaimed Baggage Center, the Alabama store that buys and sells lost airline bags. Back in the day, their major claim to fame was the acquisition of a Hoggle puppet from the production of Labyrinth — my favorite character in one of my favorite movies. I never managed to make a pilgrimage, but the title of this book definitely piqued my interest. And what a magnificent gem of a story I found.

When Katharine Briggs — a mother and homemaker — began what she called a "cosmic laboratory of baby training" in her Michigan living room in the early 1900s, she didn't know she was laying the groundwork for what would one day become a multi-million dollar industry. Briggs was just 14 years old when she went to college, and ended up graduating first in her class, explains author Merve Emre. She married the man who graduated just behind her at No. 2 — and while he became a scientist, she was expected to take care of the home.

The second season of Netflix's American Vandal dropped last Friday. The first season proved a slow-build, under-the-radar, word-of-mouth phenomenon; the second arrived to a devoted and vocal fanbase. Season one was something you started hearing about over the course of weeks and months, from disparate friends and family; full, spoilery reviews of season two were posted at 12:01:01 a.m. last Friday.

When Aly Raisman was a little girl, she used to watch and rewatch the 1996 U.S. women's gymnastics team win the Olympic gold and say to herself: Someday, that will be me. She was right, not once — but twice. Raisman won two team gold medals as captain of the U.S. Olympic teams in 2012 and 2016. And she also won gold for her floor exercise in 2012. Raisman chronicles her career the memoir Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything.

You think you're accomplishing something in life until you realize that at age 29, playwright Lorraine Hansberry had a play produced on Broadway. Not only did she have a play, but her drama, A Raisin in the Sun, beat out Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill to win the prestigious New York Drama Critics' Circle for the best play of the year. Let that sink in.

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