John Powers

John Powers is the pop culture and critic-at-large on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He previously served for six years as the film critic.

Powers covers film and politics for Vogue and Vogue.com. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Harper's BAZAAR, The Nation, Gourmet, The Washington Post, The New York Times and L.A. Weekly, where he spent twelve years as a critic and columnist.

A former professor at Georgetown University, Powers is the author of Sore Winners, a study of American culture during President George W. Bush's administration.

He lives in Pasadena, California, with his wife, Sandi Tan.

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2:31pm

Fri August 22, 2014
Movie Reviews

Werner Herzog's Audacious Early Films Showcased In New Boxed Collection

Originally published on Fri August 22, 2014 3:51 pm

Werner Herzog's 1972 film Aguirre, the Wrath of God was shot along the Amazon in Peru. It probes one of the filmmaker's themes: an unsentimental look at humankind's relationship to landscape and nature.
Courtesy of The Shout! Factory

There are lots of good filmmakers, but only a handful are always, unmistakably themselves. One of these is Werner Herzog, the 71-year-old German director who now lives in L.A. Herzog has done things nobody else would do for a film — like trying to tug a 350-ton steamship over a small mountain. This has made him notorious as a wild, love-him-or-hate-him monomaniac — an image he's been canny enough to milk.

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3:14pm

Thu August 14, 2014
Movie Reviews

British Comedians Take A 'Trip To Italy' And Make Fun Of Each Other

Originally published on Thu August 14, 2014 4:44 pm

Compared with The Trip, in The Trip to Italy Coogan (right) is gloomier and Brydon is more ambitious.
Courtesy of IFC Films

Back in the '90s, there was a Hollywood comedy — I can't remember which one, I'm afraid — that became a surprise hit. Afterward, the movie's producer had this great line. He said, "If we'd known it was going to be so popular, we would've tried to make it good."

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3:15pm

Wed July 23, 2014
Movie Reviews

'A Hard Day's Night': A Pop Artifact That Still Crackles With Energy

Originally published on Wed July 23, 2014 5:19 pm

The Beatles perform one of their songs while filming A Hard Day's Night in 1964.
Evening Standard Getty Images

Back in 1964, movie audiences were treated to three hit musicals. Two of them — Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady — won scads of Oscars. But it was the third that announced the future, and it did so from its opening chord.

What followed from that chord was what we call The Sixties.

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3:44pm

Tue July 8, 2014
Movie Reviews

'Violette' Evokes Exasperating Self-Pity, A Trait The French Like

Originally published on Tue July 8, 2014 7:03 pm

In the new French film Violette, Emmanuelle Devos plays a fictionalized character based on Violette Leduc, the trailblazing French novelist.
Courtesy of Adopt Films

Americans put a lot of stock in being likable. Pollsters take surveys of the president's likability. Test screenings check whether we like the characters in movies. And when a literary novelist like Claire Messud mocks the notion that fictional characters should be someone we'd like to be friends with, writers of popular fiction attack her for snootiness.

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1:26pm

Thu May 8, 2014
Movie Reviews

Two Italys Take A Road Trip In 'Il Sorpasso'

Originally published on Thu May 8, 2014 8:33 pm

Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

If the road movie has a home, it's surely the United States. After all, the settling of America was itself a kind of humongous road picture — all those wagons rolling across the new continent's spectacular vastness. And with our ceaseless love of movement, we became the first people to be transported — in every sense — by the automobile. Small wonder, then, that so many famous Hollywood films, from It Happened One Night to Thelma & Louise, are all about hitting the road.

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11:07am

Fri May 2, 2014
Movies

Movie Monsters, Monster Movies And Why 'Godzilla' Endures

Originally published on Wed May 7, 2014 9:59 am

Critic John Powers writes, "There's an amoral pleasure to be had in watching Godzilla reduce Tokyo to fiery rubble."
Toho The Kobal Collection

There have been hundreds of monster movies over the years, but only a handful of enduringly great movie monsters. Of those, only two were created for the screen: King Kong, the giant ape atop the Empire State Building, and his Japanese heir, Godzilla, the city-flattening sea monster who's a genuinely terrific pop icon. He not only stars in movies — Hollywood is bringing out a new Godzilla on May 16 — but he's even played basketball with Charles Barkley in a commercial for Nike.

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3:24pm

Wed April 16, 2014
Book Reviews

Exploring Life's Incurable Soiledness With The Father Of Italian Noir

Originally published on Wed April 16, 2014 3:33 pm

Crime writer Giorgio Scerbanenco was born in Kiev in 1911, grew up in Rome and worked for decades as a journalist in Milan.
Olycom Melville House

Although there's no rigid dividing line, fans of the crime genre generally fall into two camps. There are those who prefer stories which, after titillating us with dark transgressions, end by restoring order — the show Law & Order is an aptly named example. And then there are those who prefer stories which, even after the mystery is solved, leave you swimming in the murk — think Chinatown. This is the male-dominated realm of noir.

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2:50pm

Wed March 26, 2014
Book Reviews

'Redeployment' Explores Iraq War's Physical And Psychic Costs

Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 8:13 pm

Joe Raedle Getty Images

Here's an old joke you may have heard: "How many Vietnam vets does it take to screw in a light bulb?" Answer: "You wouldn't know, you weren't there."

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2:35pm

Wed February 19, 2014
Movie Reviews

For A Rabbi Who Worked With The Nazis, Is Judgment 'Unjust'?

Originally published on Wed February 19, 2014 2:38 pm

In 1975, Shoah director Claude Lanzmann (left) interviewed Benjmain Murmelstein, the last surviving Elder of the Jews of the Czech Theresienstadt ghetto, at his home in Rome. The resulting film is The Last of the Unjust.
Cohen Media Group

When you're faced with something as heinous as the Holocaust, it's tempting to turn it into a simple morality play. This isn't to say one can't pass moral judgments — Hitler and his cohort were undeniably evil. But judging can become a form of lazy evasion, a way of closing the book on the tricky realities of failure, guilt and complicity.

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12:48pm

Tue February 4, 2014
Television

'Borgen' Is Denmark's 'West Wing' (But Even Better)

Originally published on Wed February 5, 2014 11:10 am

Borgen's heroine is Birgitte Nyborg, superbly played by Sidse Babett Knudsen. Pilou Asbaek plays Don Draper-ish spin doctor Kasper Juul.
MHz Networks

The Danish television series Borgen about a female party leader who unexpectedly becomes Denmark's prime minister was a hit in its home country and in the U.K. It won numerous international prizes, and a cult following in the U.S. after its sporadic TV broadcasts — Stephen King named it his favorite piece of pop culture of 2012. The third and final season has just been released on DVD by MHz Networks, which also brought out seasons one and two.

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