When director Lauren Greenfield started filming The Queen of Versailles, a documentary about 74-year-old David Siegel, a billionaire timeshare magnate from Orlando, and Jackie, a trophy wife 30 years his junior, they had outgrown their 26,000-square-foot home.
Maybe we have Frank Capra to thank for the notion that in politics, at least as it plays out in the movies, the little guy is always the good guy. Stephen Gyllenhaal swallows that idea hook, line and sinker in Grassroots, in which an out-of-work Seattle music critic (Joel David Moore) runs for city council without bothering to think the issues through: He assumes he'll automatically change the status quo by donning a polar-bear costume and making an impassioned plea for extending the city's monorail system.
Japanese cinematic extremist Takashi Miike is known for movies that go too far — often because they can't figure out where else to go. So it was revealing when last year's 13 Assassins, a remake of a 1963 samurai adventure, demonstrated a traditionalist streak in Miike's tastes. But that movie is a crystal-meth freakout compared with the director's latest effort, the stately Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai.
Here's your vocabulary word for the week: zoonosis. It describes an infection that is transmitted between species. For example, the disease that the husband and wife team of Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy have written about in their new book, Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus.
Pam Houston directs the Creative Writing Program at U.C. Davis. Her most recent novel is Contents May Have Shifted.
Luang Prabang, Laos, is so close to the equator that daybreak happens at the same time each day. Also each day, a few dozen women set up rice cookers on small collapsible tables on street corners next to the more than 30 monasteries that grace this riverside town. If you get up with them and walk the silent streets in the misty Mekong predawn, you smell, under the sweetness of the frangipani blossoms, the thick odor of cooked starch.
Misha Dichter is a man of many talents, though you probably know him as the gifted pianist who won the silver medal at 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition, spurring an international career that has lasted more than 40 years.
Celeste Holm, the actress of stage and screen, passed away of a heart attack on July 15. She was 95 years old.
Made famous on Broadway for her role as Ado Annie in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, Holm earned more fans for her performances in All About Eve (1950), The Tender Trap (1955) and High Society (1956).