Arts and culture

Pepsi should have chosen a different slogan for its ads during this year's Super Bowl.

The company's slogan was "More than OK." Well, not really. In fact, most of the high-priced commercials we saw between the football plays were just OK. They were so careful to avoid scandal and backlash that they felt leached of originality or bite.

That's pretty much what Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer of PepsiCo Beverages North America, predicted when I asked him last week what this year's spots would look like: nothing controversial.

"Schizophrenia terrifies."

Those are the first two words of The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang's new book — part memoir, part scientific chronicle of her journey towards a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.

Farel Dalrymple is an excellent artist with an intriguing problem. He can't stop circling obsessively around the same theme: the difficulty of growing up and moving on. But while there's nothing fresh about feeling stuck, Dalrymple explores stuckness so compulsively — and illustrates it so memorably — that it gains new interest. Ironically, by being so good at what he does, Dalrymple makes arrested development all the more seductive.

Richard E. Grant is one of those actors who's appeared in everything — from Gosford Park to Game of Thrones. He's been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

We've invited him to answer three questions about another famous Grant — President Ulysses S. Grant.

Click the audio link above to see how he does.

On the outside, The Dead Queens Club seems like typical angsty YA fare. The cover image looks like it might be a section of any bulletin board in any teen's room in America. The basic plot attracts readers just like every other YA book we know and love: Quirky teen journalist Annie Marck moves from Cleveland to a small town in Indiana and hobnobs with the rich, popular, and beautiful crowd. Her "in" is Henry, the magnetic genius bad-boy jock she hit it off with at Overachiever Camp several summers ago, and with whom she is now best friends.

The library is open, and it's time to read Caleb Roehrig's new YA thriller, Death Prefers Blondes.

Margo Manning is a wealthy teen socialite by day and a badass thief by night. Whether it's rococo paintings at the Los Angeles Museum of Fine Art or the czarist diamond collection of a Russian mobster, no target is safe from Margo and her expert team of cat burglars. In addition to being very good at what they do, her crew has the benefit of knowing they're the most fabulous thieves in the business — quite literally, because they pull off all their heists in drag!

Domestic dramas have to walk a fine line between sweetness and pathos, and the shaggy-yet-lovable new film Dear Ex succeeds at this balance more than others. The Taiwanese heartstring-tugger, now available on Netflix after only being acquired by the service a week ago, circles around three complicated, hard-to-love characters, allowing their complexities to cloud their better natures.

Director Dan Gilroy is back with a new film called Velvet Buzzsaw.

Like his last movie, Nightcrawler, Gilroy is the writer and director. And also like his last film, this one stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. Gyllenhaal plays an art critic named Morf Vandewalt, Russo a gallery owner named Rhodora Haze. And the movie hinges around the work of the late artist Vetril Dease.

As the names may give away, Velvet Buzzsaw is a comedy. It's also a horror movie, where the killer is — wait for it — the works of art.

Remembering Character Actor Dick Miller

Feb 1, 2019

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.


Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie's first novel featuring fictional detective Hercule Poirot.

An acutely observant crime-solver in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, Poirot has since been played on screen by such actors as Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov and, most famously, David Suchet, who starred in Poirot, a lengthy series presented in the U.S. by PBS.

Midway through her game with fellow drag queen Monét X Change, Bob the Drag Queen made an announcement. "For the listeners at home: I'm wearing a full-length Bob Mackie gown," she proclaimed sarcastically to Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York. "My hair is up in an elegant bun. And Monét... is wearing the sponge dress." This comedic sensibility — a blend of quick wit and warm snark — has defined both Bob's and Monét's time on RuPaul's Drag Race. Humor, as well as success.

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode Gender, Power And Fairness.

About Jackson Katz's TED Talk

Anti-sexism educator Jackson Katz refuses to see gender violence issues as women's issues that "good men help out with." He implores men to examine their privilege and their role in sexual assault.

About Jackson Katz

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode Gender, Power And Fairness.

About Ashley Judd's TED Talk

Ashley Judd has experienced many forms of gendered discrimination, from intense online harassment to assault. Despite her experiences, she says she's optimistic about a future without sexual violence.

About Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd is an American actor and political activist.

Part 2 of the TED Radio Hour episode Gender, Power And Fairness.

About Laura Bates' TED Talk

Most women experience sexism and harassment on a regular basis — daily acts that are often ignored. With her Everyday Sexism Project, writer Laura Bates wanted to give women an outlet to speak up.

About Laura Bates

'King Of Scars' Muses On The Monstrous

Feb 1, 2019

It begins with a simple farm boy, youngest of a crop of brothers, sent out into the storm to close a barn door that has blown open in the wind. Inside, there's a monster waiting for him.

It ends ... later. In a very different place. With very different people. But the monster? It's still there.

King of Scars, the latest from Leigh Bardugo and her Grishaverse, is a story all about monstrousness — about the regrets, the resentments, the terrible things that live inside everyone and what happens when those things come out to play.

A woman whose curly red hair spills past her shoulders stands in front of a bathroom mirror as a party rages outside. She looks at her reflection. People bang on the door to get in. She turns and leaves, through a door with a handgun for a handle, out of the bathroom where the areas of the walls and door glow with blotches of chilly blue light. As she leaves, two women push their way past her into the bathroom, and she moves into the room where the party is. Friends swarm around her. A woman cooking in the kitchen offers her a joint laced with cocaine. Something is wrong.

Back in August, when Behrouz Boochani was speaking with NPR over the phone, the Kurdish-Iranian journalist said his debut book, written mostly with texts he sent from an Australian detention center, was meant "to make a challenge against this system, to tell the truth to people." He wasn't motivated by money.

On Thursday, his work earned him some money anyway.

When teacher Alicia D. Williams asked kindergartners to pick out a crayon that reflected their skin tone, she says something heartbreaking happened: Out of a spectrum of multicultural options, "Never, never, never do our kids of color choose a skin tone that's close to theirs. They go as light as possible."

Liam Neeson is 66 years old, but someday he will be dead, and reluctant-hero midwinter action flicks will need a new standard-bearer. Miss Bala — director Catherine Hardwicke's efficient PG-13 remake of an R-rated Mexican thriller from 2011, also called Miss Bala — pleads the case that Gina Rodriguez, whom we saw handle a rifle in Annihilation just last year, has all the qualifications for the job if she wants it.

He's been there for weeks. Since the plane crash that stranded him somewhere near the North Pole, the protagonist of Arctic has had time to carve a giant "SOS" in the snow, turn the damaged fuselage into a sort of cabin, and set up an semi-automatic ice-fishing apparatus that yields fresh protein on a regular basis.

The man whose heavy winter jacket identifies him as Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen) knows that staying in place is safer than trying to walk to — where? He doesn't even have a map.

Nothing Is Taboo In 'Twenty-Ninth Year'

Jan 31, 2019

"...there's always a dark darker than the dark you know."

Three days after reading those words in Hala Alyan's The Twenty-Ninth Year, I was still thinking about them. It's a short line and alliteration makes it easy to memorize, but the reason it stuck with me is that it points to something deeper: the differences in the way people experience life, the variances that remain unseen by those who haven't gone through certain events but that can become crucial for those who have.

It's always interesting, as readers, to see what we remember about books years after we've read them. I recall reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger several years after it came out, and loving it — for the romance, yes, and its variously tragic and joyful twists and turns, but mostly because I was so impressed with the complexity of the time travel narrative, the way its pieces fit together. In other words, what's remained with me are the book's mechanics.

"Critique is so limiting and emotionally draining." — Morf

Say this much about L.A. art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) — he's right about the act of criticism. It's reductive by nature, and it can take a psychic toll on the critic, who, if they're any damn good at all, worries that their zeal for identifying the essence of a work may prove inadequate, if not flat-out wrong.

From the cello-laden soundtrack of If Beale Street Could Talk to the symphony of "wrong notes" he created for Vice, composer Nicholas Britell seeks out sounds that capture each film's essence. His process involves many discussions with a film's director before the film has even been shot — and a lot of experimenting.

April will mark the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a 100-day period in which world leaders stood idly by as more than 800,000 people — Tutsi minorities and moderate Hutus — were murdered by the majority Hutus, who had been whipped into a homicidal frenzy by their leaders.

'Underground' Digs Deep Into The World Beneath Our Feet

Jan 30, 2019

Space, the unknown above, is a subject of fascination for millions of people. It has captured the interest of the general public — and is at the center of a great deal of science fiction.

In Underground, Will Hunt demonstrates that there is a world nearly as exciting just below our feet.

The unnamed narrator of Maurice Carlos Ruffin's We Cast a Shadow has two great loves. The first is wife, Penny, with whom he enjoys a playful, passionate relationship. The other is their young son, Nigel, a sensitive, intelligent 11-year-old boy with a sweet nature and a childlike sense of curiosity. Nigel, the narrator thinks, is perfect.

Updated at 6:02 p.m. ET

Jussie Smollett, one of the stars of the TV show Empire, reportedly was brutally attacked early Tuesday in what Chicago police are investigating as a possible hate crime. The 36-year-old actor took himself to the hospital directly after what police called a "possible racially-charged assault and battery"; authorities say he is in good condition.

While raising her young daughter as a single mother, Stephanie Land cleaned houses through an agency to scrape by. It was back-aching work and the pay — $8.55 an hour to start, $9.25 an hour two years in — just wasn't enough.

Land, who had left an abusive relationship, lived for a time in a homeless shelter with her daughter. She supplemented her housecleaning income with government assistance, at one point accruing seven types of aid simultaneously, including housing and utility assistance, food stamps, child care grants and Medicaid.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made headlines in early 2016 when he dropped out of the presidential race and subsequently became the first major Republican to endorse Donald Trump.

Soon after, he found himself leading then-candidate Trump's transition team. By the time Trump won the election in November, Christie says, he and about 140 other staff members had compiled some 30 binders filled with shortlists for various positions and strategies for legislative undertakings.

But days after the election, Christie was out — and so were his binders.