Arts & Life

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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Every year, summer gives way to fall, and in movie theaters, blockbusters give way to awards contenders. On this week's Pop Culture Happy Hour, film critic Bob Mondello of All Things Considered and I spoke with Tasha Robinson of The Verge and film writer Bilal Qureshi about some of what we all saw at the Toronto International Film Festival, which kicks off the fall movie season.

'Kingsman' Sequel: This Time, A Flat 'Golden Circle'

Sep 22, 2017

You might have to go all the way back to RoboCop — the 1987 Paul Verhoeven one that got resubmitted to the MPAA a double-digit number of times before its comically grisly violence was deemed tame enough to warrant a mere R-rating— to find a trigger-happy popcorn flick as deeply cynical as the two Kingsman super-spy adventures, the second of which is subtitled The Golden Circle.

Pop Culture Happy Hour discussed Battle Of The Sexes on this week's episode. To hear the episode, click the play button.

In the story of Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs, told again in Battle Of The Sexes, it's often forgotten that she didn't particularly want to do it. In fact, she didn't do it until Riggs had badly beaten Margaret Court, who was one of the greatest players in women's tennis at the time.

Victoria & Abdul is not the first movie to show the Queen of England cavorting with the help. And you don't have to be a cynic to read Stephen Frears' new film as a brazen attempt to piggyback on the runaway success of 1997's Mrs. Brown.

In 2014, the directing/screenwriting team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller surprised a cynical, jaded nation that was expecting, from The LEGO Movie, a cynical, jaded toy commercial.

It was that, to be clear. But it was also frenetic, funny, colorful, clever and desperately eager-to-please: a hugely imaginative joyride through a riotous landscape of Warner Bros.-owned intellectual property. Movie as theme park.

When filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick began research for a 10-part PBS documentary on the Vietnam War, they thought they knew the material. After all, Burns was of draft age in 1970, though his draft number was too high for him to be called to serve.

But as they began interviewing subjects and sorting through archival footage, Burns and Novick soon came to appreciate just how complicated the war was. "We went in, both of us, with this kind of arrogance about it, and immediately had that blown out of the water," Burns says. "We realized we knew nothing."

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Bedecked in fondant and flowers, modern wedding cakes are the centerpiece of the marriage feast — an edible form of art. But are they also an expression of free speech?

That is the question the Supreme Court will consider this fall when it hears the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple because he said it would violate his religious beliefs.

"You'd think cake would be apolitical, and yet here we are," muses baker Catherine George of Catherine George Cakes.

In one beautifully observed, quietly absorbing novel after another, Alice McDermott has made the insular world of New York's Irish Catholic immigrants in the first half of the 20th century her own, much as Anne Tyler has laid claim to Baltimore's middle class. And, like Tyler, in focusing tightly on a close-knit community of ordinary people, she leads us to a deeper understanding of the human condition.

Jake LaMotta, the middleweight champion boxer famed for his ferocity in the ring in the 1940s and early '50s, died this week — nearly 40 years after his obituary was written.

That obituary, of course, is Raging Bull.

LaMotta published a memoir of that title in 1970, but it was Martin Scorsese's adaptation of the book, released late in 1980 to critical acclaim and commercial indifference, that became the lasting monument to his life.

In the fictional county of Cotton, Georgia, a pair of twins is born, one white and one black. "They looked like a pair of baby chicks ... Only if you looked closely — and people did — could you see that the girl is pink as a piglet, and the boy was brown." In the summer of 1930, in segregated Georgia, they become a sensation, nicknamed the Gemini twins by the press for Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Leda by different fathers.

Eighteen doughnuts, toasted Brazil nuts, a can of deviled ham, an avocado "pear," and Worcestershire sauce: No, this list doesn't comprise an especially malicious ingredient basket for competitors on the Food Network's Chopped.

Instead, they are the makings for the "Goblin sandwich," a Halloween recipe published in a donut-maker's 1946 cooking pamphlet. The donuts are sliced like bread, and the other ingredients are mixed into a highly seasoned spread.

Many plays have been called "kitchen sink" dramas because of their attempts at realism, but Oh My Sweet Land takes that to the extreme. It uses not just the sink but also the stove, the refrigerator, a chopping board and a very big knife — and it's being performed in kitchens across New York.

There's one extraordinarily beautiful shot in Stronger that helps account for why this inspirational drama, about a man who lost both his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing, stands out from other films of its kind. As the city of Boston processes this traumatic event and the manhunt that followed, Jeff Bauman, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, braces himself for the agony of having the dressing removed from his amputated limbs for the first time.

Fall is when the publishing industry gets serious, when it leaves beach books in the sand and turns to weightier topics. And what could be weightier than the greatest question of all: the meaning of life. Two new books — one a novel; one a (sort of) memoir — tackle that ultimate question through experimental forms of writing.

I know, I know: "Experimental writing" is surely one of the least enticing literary terms. But don't be put off, because both of these odd new books offer something special, something that more "broken in" forms of writing can't provide.

On television, Jerry Seinfeld has not only been astoundingly successful, he's also been amazingly consistent in pursuing and presenting his particular comic vision. He doesn't do big shows or specials about grand ideas and giant themes. He does narrowly focused TV programs about specific concepts — then, within those narrow confines, he finds humor, honesty and sometimes even art.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel thwacked the latest Republican health care proposal Tuesday night after one of the senators sponsoring the bill invoked Kimmel's name.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., touted Tuesday on Capitol Hill that his plan passes the "Jimmy Kimmel test."

Zine And Heard: In 'Moxie,' A Young Woman Fights Back

Sep 20, 2017

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

The slogan "Moxie Girls Fight Back!" is a call to arms for all the girls slipping quietly through the halls, biting their lips to contain their anger, striving to keep invisible and get through the day.

Amal El-Mohtar is the Hugo Award-winning author of The Honey Month and the editor of Goblin Fruit, an online poetry magazine.

To open a book with an Arrogant Worms song and improve from there is no small feat.

Can a human run a marathon in two hours flat? The documentary Breaking2 follows three elite runners as they attempt to break one of the most famous barriers in sport — maintaining 26.2 four-minute, 34-second miles.

One of those runners, Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge, of Kenya, came 25 seconds shy of the two-hour mark with a time of 2:00:25. "The world now is just 25 seconds away," Kipchoge says in the film.

"I'm not afraid to say when he crossed the line I cried," filmmaker Martin Desmond Roe tells NPR.

Gucci Mane has an extensive resume. As a founding father of trap music, Mane's been carving out the rap genre since 2001 when he put out his first underground release: Str8 Drop Records Presents Gucci Mane La Flare. Since then, he has amassed a long list of musical achievements: dozens of mixtapes, singles, collaborations and eight studio albums.

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

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Last month, professional wrestling fans were shocked to hear that Ric Flair, the WWE legend who many consider the greatest professional wrestler of all time, was in a medically induced coma. The outlook wasn't great, the media reported, and stunned fans took to Twitter and Facebook to post memories of "the Nature Boy," who gleefully annihilated his opponents with his signature figure-four leglock and seemingly bottomless bag of dirty tricks.

Back in 2006, Minna Zallman Proctor was hit by a landslide of woes that left her reeling. Heavily pregnant with her first child, she was going through a divorce from the child's father while her own mother was dying after 15 years of fighting various cancers. What made matters more painful was that some of her troubles were of her own making: She'd had an affair with another man, and had chosen to leave her husband for him.

It was the lawsuit that rocked Silicon Valley.

In 2012, tech investor Ellen Pao sued her employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, for gender bias. She accused her bosses of not promoting her because she was a woman — and then retaliating against her when she complained.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Last night's Emmys had the usual song and dance plus a dose of politics. From the opening monologue to a cameo by former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, the political mood even extended to the biggest winner of the night.

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