Arts & Life

Taika Waititi is an actor and director whose offbeat sense of humor is well-known in his native New Zealand. And while he doesn't enjoy the same recognition in the U.S., he does have something of a cult following here.

An ancient variety of squash that was all but lost to history is now being rediscovered. Native Americans in the Great Lakes region have cultivated this squash for centuries, and now tribes are sharing the seeds with each other and with small farmers to bring the plant back.

Eighth Day Farm in Holland, Mich., is among those that acquired seeds from this mystery squash. And the farm's Sarah Hofman-Graham says they didn't know what to expect when they planted it last year.

The Shallows, the second-best aquatic adventure now playing at a theater near you, looks at first glance like an attempt to restore a modicum of respectability to the genre Jaws wrought. (I mean shark-flicks specifically, not the predatory, invasive species of the sensation-driven summer blockbuster.)

Is there anything to be learned from watching the same scenario play out multiple times? Regular viewers of Hong Sang-soo's psychologically acute work have probably been asking themselves that for years, as many of the Korean filmmaker's movies spin variations on a single setup: a middle-aged art-film director dallies, often inconclusively, with a pretty young woman (or two).

The great critic Robert Warshaw once pegged the gangster movie as "the no to the great American yes that is stamped so large over our official culture."

In the shimmering Tinseltown gothic of Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, beauty is a commodity both precious and volatile, subject to runway trends and the ravages of age, with just a blemish, a wrinkle, or a sliver of fat separating today's "It Girl" from tomorrow's bus back to Indiana.

A wannabe-gangster foster kid develops an uneasy bond with a reluctant parental figure as they trek through the New Zealand bush in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a familiar sort of coming-of-age movie made more interesting by the uniqueness of its setting and its off-kilter Kiwi humor. The film has already broken box office records in its native New Zealand. It's a bit too tame to catch fire here in the same way, however, despite writer-director Taika Waititi's growing track record as a cult comedy hero.

The mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando has led to a revival of the debate over assault weapons, but journalist Evan Osnos says the real growth in gun ownership is from small, concealed handguns.

"Something really profound has changed in the way that we use guns," Osnos tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "Concealed carry, as it's known, is now legal in all 50 states."

The rant is a staple of sports fandom. At Thanksgiving, at the office, in bars, via text, on Twitter — wherever sports fans go, rants go, too.

It makes sense, then, that the biggest headline out of Wednesday's premiere of Bill Simmons' new HBO talk show Any Given Wednesday was a sports rant. And it wasn't from the first guest, Charles Barkley. It was from the second guest, Ben Affleck.

"No matter how long they've been there, the people who live out here believe that whatever life demands of them they can meet it on their own," writes Larry Watson in his new novel, As Good as Gone. "Here" is the badlands of eastern Montana, a famously desolate and unforgiving region; those who inhabit it tend to learn self-reliance quickly, and by necessity.

The moment my boyfriend — now husband — and I got serious about our future together, my father-in-law got serious about teaching me to cook Indian cuisine. My boyfriend was already skilled in the kitchen. But Dr. Jashwant Sharma wanted extra assurance that the dishes from his native country would always have a place in our home. Plus, as he told me recently, he thought I'd like it.

"We mix four, five, six different spices in a single dish. These create a taste and aroma that you don't get in any other food. People exposed to it usually like it," he said.

Actor Tony Hale is really comfortable playing doormat characters. The two roles he's gotten the most attention for — Gary Walsh on HBO's Veep and Buster Bluth on Fox's Arrested Development — both fall squarely into that category.

"I guess I just do emasculated and meek very well," Hale tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

"The Keepers of the House" By Shirley Ann Grau

Jun 22, 2016

“The Keepers of the House”

Author: Shirley Ann Grau

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf     

Pages: 309 pp.

Price: $16.00 (Paper)

This year, 2016, marks the 100th year of the Pulitzer Prize.

For the first 31 years only novels were eligible for the fiction prize. Then the category was expanded to include short story collections.

“Lulu’s Kitchen: A Taste of the Gulf Coast Good Life”

Author: Lucy Buffett, Foreword by Jimmy Buffet

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing   

Pages: 264

Price: $19.99 (Paperback)

“Lulu’s Kitchen” is a revised edition of “Crazy Sista Cooking” which Lucy Buffett had self-published some time ago.

For this week's episode, I sat down with my Code Switch teammate Gene Demby to dig into one of our favorite topics: rep sweats. It's the feeling of anxiety that can come with watching TV shows or movies starring people who look like you, especially when People Who Look Like You tend not to get a lot of screen time.

Things are not what they seem: That idea is the building block of thriller and horror novels. Paul Tremblay exploited uncertainty to its utmost in his breakthrough book, last year's Bram Stoker Award-winning A Head Full of Ghosts, in which a teenage girl shows all the telltale signs of demonic possession.

There is a moment, a little ways into tonight's first episode of the Oprah Winfrey Network's new drama, Greenleaf, which sums up all the things that work — and don't — in this ambitious nighttime soap.

Merle Dandridge plays the show's heroine, Grace Greenleaf. Her father, Bishop James Greenleaf, and mother, Lady Mae Greenleaf, founded a powerful, predominantly black megachurch in Memphis, Tenn., where she preached as a child. After 20 years away from home, she has come back — for the funeral of her sister Faith, who killed herself.

On June 23, the United Kingdom will vote on whether or not to split from the European Union.

Those on the Remain Team, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, say Britain will be richer, safer and stronger if it stays with Europe. Those who want Britain to exit — Team Brexit — argue that the British should be able to control their own destiny. We haven't fought two world wars, they sniff, to be pushed around by the bosses in Brussels and told what sort of bananas to eat. Yes, you read that right: bananas.

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

Hot Dogs Against Conformity In 'Taste Test'

Jun 21, 2016

If you're a fan of the Hot Dog Princess, you're going to love Hot Dog Taste Test. Lisa Hanawalt's lushly illustrated, stream-of-consciousness diary reveals a soul cut from the same vibrant cloth as that of the 6-year-old who wore a hot dog costume to a princess-themed dance recital. Both the 6-year-old and the grownup diarist understand that there's only one option for a free spirit confronted by the forces of conformity: You've got to go completely orthogonal.

Despite its ever-controversial sexism, The Taming of the Shrew remains one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies — in both the original and its many modern adaptations, including Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate. And now Anne Tyler, as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series of novels based on the major plays, has tamed the Bard's shrewish battle of the sexes into a far more politically correct screwball comedy of manners that actually channels Jane Austen more than Shakespeare. It's clear that she had fun with Vinegar Girl, and readers will too.

Terry McMillan's characters have grown along with her. So it's not surprising that her latest book — I Almost Forgot About You — is about middle age. Her protagonist, Georgia Young, is an optometrist. Dr. Georgia is attractive, successful and economically secure. But, McMillan says, Georgia's accumulation of fine things has left her wondering why she bothered.

The Cuddle Party

Jun 20, 2016
Cuddleparty.com

We live in a time and society where touching someone is usually associated with one thing, and that’s sex. However there is a growing trend aimed at removing the stigma of physical contact. Alabama Public Radio’s Stan Ingold did some research and has this report on an activity known as the “Cuddle Party.”

It's not every day that an actress has a television show written specifically for her, but that's exactly what happened with Ellie Kemper and the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

"I still am not sure what in my face screams 'bunker-cult victim' to [show creators Robert Carlock and Tina Fey], but something did, so they went with that," Kemper jokes to Fresh Air's Ann Marie Baldonado.

When you think about fish, it's probably at dinnertime. Author Jonathan Balcombe, on the other hand, spends a lot of time pondering the emotional lives of fish. Balcombe, who serves as the director of animal sentience for the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that humans are closer to understanding fish than ever before.

"Thanks to the breakthroughs in ethology, sociobiology, neurobiology and ecology, we can now better understand what the world looks like to fish," Balcombe says.

"Specificity is the soul of narrative" is a thing John Hodgman likes to say when he's hearing cases on the smart and funny Judge John Hodgman podcast, and it's applicable to documentary film, too. Documentaries devoted to a topic with heft do better if they can find a particular angle, a particular way into the question.

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

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

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