John Powers http://ktep.org en 'A Hard Day's Night': A Pop Artifact That Still Crackles With Energy http://ktep.org/post/hard-days-night-pop-artifact-still-crackles-energy <p>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHas50cupCA</p> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:57:00 +0000 John Powers 45253 at http://ktep.org 'A Hard Day's Night': A Pop Artifact That Still Crackles With Energy 'Violette' Evokes Exasperating Self-Pity, A Trait The French Like http://ktep.org/post/violette-evokes-exasperating-self-pity-trait-french 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.<p>You rarely find such disputes in France, which finds our fetish of likability charmingly simple, rather like our shock at politicians committing adultery. Tue, 08 Jul 2014 19:44:00 +0000 John Powers 44250 at http://ktep.org 'Violette' Evokes Exasperating Self-Pity, A Trait The French Like Two Italys Take A Road Trip In 'Il Sorpasso' http://ktep.org/post/two-italys-take-road-trip-il-sorpasso 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. Thu, 08 May 2014 17:26:00 +0000 John Powers 40238 at http://ktep.org Two Italys Take A Road Trip In 'Il Sorpasso' Movie Monsters, Monster Movies And Why 'Godzilla' Endures http://ktep.org/post/movie-monsters-monster-movies-and-why-godzilla-endures There have been hundreds of monster movies over the years, but only a handful of enduringly great movie <em>monsters</em>. 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. Fri, 02 May 2014 15:07:00 +0000 John Powers 39863 at http://ktep.org Movie Monsters, Monster Movies And Why 'Godzilla' Endures Exploring Life's Incurable Soiledness With The Father Of Italian Noir http://ktep.org/post/exploring-lifes-incurable-soiledness-father-italian-noir 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 <em>Law & Order</em> 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 <em>Chinatown</em>. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 19:33:00 +0000 John Powers 38783 at http://ktep.org Exploring Life's Incurable Soiledness With The Father Of Italian Noir 'Redeployment' Explores Iraq War's Physical And Psychic Costs http://ktep.org/post/redeployment-explores-iraq-wars-physical-and-psychic-costs 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."<p>This joke gets told in <em>Redeployment</em>, a stingingly sharp short story collection that itself addresses the gap between the American soldiers who've fought in Iraq and those of us back home. It was written by Phil Klay who <em>does</em> know because he <em>was</em> there. After graduating from Dartmouth, he enlisted in the Marines and served as a public affairs officer in Anbar province during the 2007 troop surge. Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:50:00 +0000 John Powers 37431 at http://ktep.org 'Redeployment' Explores Iraq War's Physical And Psychic Costs Remembering Harold Ramis, Master Of The 'Smart Dumb-Movie' http://ktep.org/post/remembering-harold-ramis-master-smart-dumb-movie Transcript <p>DAVE DAVIES, HOST: <p>This is FRESH AIR. Harold Ramis, who died earlier this week, was a writer, director and actor who played a key role in several of the most popular comedies of the last half-century. His list of credits includes "Animal House," "Caddyshack," "Meatballs," "Stripes," "Ghostbusters," and of course "Groundhog Day." Our critic-at-large John Powers is a fan and says there was more going on in Ramis' work than you might think.<p>JOHN POWERS, BYLINE: Back in the '90s I was talking to a DP who'd been working on a Hollywood comedy. Thu, 27 Feb 2014 19:36:00 +0000 John Powers 35652 at http://ktep.org For A Rabbi Who Worked With The Nazis, Is Judgment 'Unjust'? http://ktep.org/post/rabbi-who-worked-nazis-judgment-unjust 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.<p>Those complexities lie at the heart of <em>The Last of the Unjust</em>, the new documentary by Claude Lanzmann, the prickly Frenchman whose 1985 work <em>Shoah</em> is often called the best film about the Holocaust. Wed, 19 Feb 2014 19:04:00 +0000 John Powers 35101 at http://ktep.org For A Rabbi Who Worked With The Nazis, Is Judgment 'Unjust'? 'Borgen' Is Denmark's 'West Wing' (But Even Better) http://ktep.org/post/borgen-denmarks-west-wing-even-better <em>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. Tue, 04 Feb 2014 17:48:00 +0000 John Powers 34121 at http://ktep.org 'Borgen' Is Denmark's 'West Wing' (But Even Better) Three Protesters, One 'Square': Film Goes Inside Egypt's Revolution http://ktep.org/post/three-protesters-one-square-film-goes-inside-egypts-revolution A revolution is a bit like a writing a mystery novel. It's hard to start but even harder to come up with a satisfying ending.<p>They're still working on that in Egypt. Three years after the toppling of dictator Hosni Mubarak — the crowning moment of the Arab Spring — the army's running the country again; the elected president, Mohammed Morsi, has been arrested and charged with treason; the Muslim Brotherhood has been banned; and Tahrir Square's secular protesters are getting arrested. Mon, 13 Jan 2014 19:01:00 +0000 John Powers 32684 at http://ktep.org Three Protesters, One 'Square': Film Goes Inside Egypt's Revolution Frustrating Heroine Stars In Fresh, Feminist 'Nightingale' http://ktep.org/post/danish-nightingale-freshly-femininst-and-also-frustrating There's an unforgettable moment in the diary of the great Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz. He's on the beach and he spots a beetle that's been blown on its back by the wind and now lies there helplessly, legs wiggling, unable to right itself. Gombrowicz saves it by turning it over. He sees another upside-down beetle, and turns <em>it</em> over. Then, another. Looking along the sand, he realizes that there are so many beetles he can't possibly save them all. Eventually, he gives up trying.<p>Most of us would do the same. But not everyone is capable of stopping. Tue, 10 Dec 2013 18:00:00 +0000 John Powers 30600 at http://ktep.org Frustrating Heroine Stars In Fresh, Feminist 'Nightingale' 'Great Beauty,' 'Narco Cultura': Excess, Succeeding Wildly http://ktep.org/post/great-beauty-narco-cultura-excess-succeeding-wildly In <em>The Marriage of Heaven and Hell</em>, William Blake served up one of those mind-bending proverbs he's known for: "The road of excess leads," he wrote, "to the palace of wisdom." I thought about this line as I watched two terrific new movies that put Blake's words to the test.<p>Paolo Sorrentino's thrillingly good <em>The Great Beauty</em> tackles the idea head-on — it's an excessive film about excess. Sorrentino doesn't merely aim to update one of the most famous movies of all time (Fellini's portrait of decadent Rome, <em>La Dolce Vita</em>). Tue, 19 Nov 2013 18:23:00 +0000 John Powers 29330 at http://ktep.org 'Great Beauty,' 'Narco Cultura': Excess, Succeeding Wildly Female Friendship Puts 'New' Angle On Italian Classism And Machismo http://ktep.org/post/female-friendship-puts-new-angle-italian-classism-and-machismo Some writers you read and move on, but every now and then you read one whose work knocks you back against the wall. This happened to me with the great Italian novelist Elena Ferrante.<p>I first encountered her through her scalding 2002 novel, <em>The Days Of Abandonment</em>, whose narrator, Olga, may be the scariest jilted wife since Medea. Mon, 04 Nov 2013 20:01:00 +0000 John Powers 28345 at http://ktep.org Female Friendship Puts 'New' Angle On Italian Classism And Machismo 'Masters Of Sex' Get Unmasterful Treatment On Showtime http://ktep.org/post/masters-sex-get-unmasterful-treatment-showtime Way back in the 1950s — before people tweeted snapshots of their privates or posted their hookup diaries online — it was considered inappropriate to talk too much about sex. The guardians of culture treated it as something better kept in the dark.<p>Two pioneers who helped bring sexuality into the light were William Masters and his colleague turned wife, Virginia Johnson, who became perhaps the '60s' unlikeliest icons. Thu, 26 Sep 2013 19:34:00 +0000 John Powers 25838 at http://ktep.org 'Masters Of Sex' Get Unmasterful Treatment On Showtime Aussie Detective Jack Irish Is More Than Old-School Macho http://ktep.org/post/aussie-detective-jack-irish-more-old-school-macho When Raymond Chandler first set Philip Marlowe walking down the mean streets of L.A., he couldn't have imagined that eventually <a href="http://www.npr.org/series/13795507/crime-in-the-city"><em>every</em> city</a>, from ancient Athens to 21st<sup></sup> century <a href="http://www.npr.org/2007/08/21/13761137/beyond-sex-and-tourists-in-john-burdetts-bangkok">Bangkok</a>, would have its own detective series. Of course, they're not all equally good. Thu, 22 Aug 2013 17:29:00 +0000 John Powers 23541 at http://ktep.org Aussie Detective Jack Irish Is More Than Old-School Macho Addictive 'Infatuations' Takes A Metaphysical Look At Crime http://ktep.org/post/addictive-infatuations-takes-metaphysical-look-crime If you're like me, you probably feel exhausted just thinking about how much cultural stuff is out there. A friend recently told me he was reading an acclaimed Hungarian novelist whose books I've never opened. "Please tell me he stinks," I begged, "so I don't have to read him."<p>"Actually, he's great," came the reply, and I groaned. Mon, 12 Aug 2013 16:43:00 +0000 John Powers 22864 at http://ktep.org Addictive 'Infatuations' Takes A Metaphysical Look At Crime 'My Lunches With Orson' Puts You At The Table With Welles http://ktep.org/post/my-lunches-orson-puts-you-table-welles If you asked me to name my favorite movie scene, I'd choose the one in <em>Citizen Kane</em> when newspaper owner Charles Foster Kane steals his rivals' best reporters, then throws a party in his own honor. As musicians literally sing his praises, we watch Kane dance with chorus girls wearing a look of radiant delight. It's a moment bursting with promise and cockiness and <em>joie de vivre,</em> made all the more exuberant because Kane's pleasure is so obviously shared by Welles himself. Wed, 24 Jul 2013 18:44:00 +0000 John Powers 21642 at http://ktep.org 'My Lunches With Orson' Puts You At The Table With Welles 'The Bling Ring': Celebrity Culture And Its Little Monsters http://ktep.org/post/bling-ring-celebrity-culture-and-its-little-monsters We live in a world filled with crimes, but most of them don't have much to tell us. They're cases of mere stupidity, cruelty or greed. But every now and then one comes along that invites larger thoughts about the culture.<p>Think of the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, stabbed to death while nearly 40 witnesses heard her screams but didn't want to get involved. Or the 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst, which felt like the final, mad curdling of the '60s political dream. Or the Ponzi scheming of Bernard Madoff, that hollow pillar of the community who came to personify the 2008 financial crisis. Tue, 25 Jun 2013 18:19:00 +0000 John Powers 19645 at http://ktep.org 'The Bling Ring': Celebrity Culture And Its Little Monsters Peeling Away The Layers In A 'Portrait Of Jason' http://ktep.org/post/peeling-away-layers-portrait-jason If reality TV has a redeeming value, it's that it teaches you to be suspicious of claims that you're seeing real people doing real things. This is especially so in an age when memoirs bristle with made-up events, and everyone from the Kardashians to the Obamas orchestrate their media coverage. Thu, 02 May 2013 19:20:00 +0000 John Powers 16005 at http://ktep.org Peeling Away The Layers In A 'Portrait Of Jason' Hunting For Secrets In 'The Shining's' Room 237 http://ktep.org/post/hunting-secrets-shinings-room-237 Awhile back, I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see its show on filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. It was jammed with visitors poring over his letters, eyeing the dresses worn by the spooky twins in <em>The Shining</em>, and posing for photos in front of the sexy-futuristic decor of the Korova Milk Bar from <em>A Clockwork Orange</em>.<p>Although I was surprised at the crowd, I shouldn't have been. Kubrick is one of the rare dead directors — Hitchcock is another — whose work is still watched by those younger than 40. Fri, 29 Mar 2013 18:05:00 +0000 John Powers 13776 at http://ktep.org Hunting For Secrets In 'The Shining's' Room 237 A Measured Look At Roth As The Writer Turns 80 http://ktep.org/post/measured-look-roth-writer-turns-80 In Chinua Achebe's novel <em>The Anthills of the Savannah</em>, one of the characters says, "Poets don't give prescriptions. They give headaches."<p>The same is true of novelists, and none more so than Philip Roth. If any writer has ever enjoyed rattling people's skulls, it's this son of Newark, N.J., who's currently enjoying something of a victory lap in the media on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Tue, 19 Mar 2013 15:27:00 +0000 John Powers 13040 at http://ktep.org A Measured Look At Roth As The Writer Turns 80 Voting Pinochet Out Was More Than Just A Yes Or 'No' http://ktep.org/post/voting-pinochet-out-was-more-just-yes-or-no These days politics and advertising go hand in hand. Mayors stage photo ops. The Bush administration compared the Iraq war to rolling out a new product. And just last year, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent nearly a billion dollars running for president. If you're an American, such wall-to-wall marketing has come to seem a <em>natural</em> phenomenon, like Hurricane Sandy or LeBron James.<p>Of course, it's not natural. It's as man-made as any building. I've never seen this shown any more clearly than in <em>No,</em> the Oscar-nominated film by the Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain. Wed, 20 Feb 2013 18:40:00 +0000 John Powers 11239 at http://ktep.org Voting Pinochet Out Was More Than Just A Yes Or 'No' A Mystery That Explores 'The Rage' Of New Ireland http://ktep.org/post/mystery-explores-rage-new-ireland The Irish novelist John McGahern once remarked that his country stayed a 19th-century society for so long that it nearly missed the 20th century. But in the mid-1990s, Ireland's economy took off, turning the country from a poor backwater into a so-called Celtic Tiger with fancy restaurants, chrome-clad shops and soaring real estate values. The country was transformed — until things came tumbling down during the 2008 financial crisis.<p>This rapid rise and even rapider fall may have taken its toll on ordinary people, but it was a godsend for a mystery writer. Wed, 06 Feb 2013 16:58:00 +0000 John Powers 10337 at http://ktep.org A Mystery That Explores 'The Rage' Of New Ireland Revisiting, Reappraising Cimino's 'Heaven's Gate' http://ktep.org/post/revisiting-reappraising-ciminos-heavens-gate The director Francois Truffaut once remarked that it takes as much time and energy to make a bad movie as to make a good one. He was right, but I would add one thing: It takes extraordinary effort to make a truly memorable flop.<p>The best example is <em>Heaven's Gate,</em> the hugely expensive 1980 movie by Michael Cimino that is the most famous cinematic disaster of my lifetime. Wed, 05 Dec 2012 20:44:00 +0000 John Powers 6484 at http://ktep.org Revisiting, Reappraising Cimino's 'Heaven's Gate' The New British Empire: Pop-Culture Powerhouses http://ktep.org/post/new-british-empire-pop-culture-powerhouses It seems that every time you turn around, you find another anniversary of some big cultural or historical event. I'm weary of the media's habit of playing all these things up, so I'm abashed to admit I'm about to do just that.<p>But you see, in the same three-day period I recently saw the new James Bond picture, <em>Skyfall</em>, and <em>Crossfire Hurricane</em>, a new HBO documentary about The Rolling Stones. Thu, 15 Nov 2012 19:47:00 +0000 John Powers 5296 at http://ktep.org The New British Empire: Pop-Culture Powerhouses Being 'Joseph Anton,' Rediscovering Salman Rushdie http://ktep.org/post/being-joseph-anton-rediscovering-salman-rushdie In the fall of 1989, I was walking down a London street when someone handed me a flier that asked, "Should Rushdie Die?" The following afternoon, I headed over to the Royal Albert Hall to hear that question answered by a renowned Islamic scholar.<p>Waiting to get in, I began talking to a group of young Muslims of Pakistani origin wearing Air Jordans, listening to Public Enemy on their boombox and talking with East London accents. They could hardly have seemed more Westernized, but when I asked if they thought Rushdie should be killed, they said, "Yes." He had insulted the word of God. Mon, 01 Oct 2012 15:29:00 +0000 John Powers 2255 at http://ktep.org Being 'Joseph Anton,' Rediscovering Salman Rushdie How Brazil Lives Now, In 'Neighboring Sounds' http://ktep.org/post/how-brazil-lives-now-neighboring-sounds Between mass tourism and the Internet, it's never been easier to learn about other cultures. Yet we often stay on the surface. Fri, 24 Aug 2012 16:41:00 +0000 John Powers 351 at http://ktep.org How Brazil Lives Now, In 'Neighboring Sounds' In China, A Persistent Thorn In The State's Side http://ktep.org/post/china-persistent-thorn-states-side A couple of months ago, I visited Beijing, and like so many before me, I was stunned by how hypercapitalist Communist China has become — the hundreds of glossy highrises, the countless shops selling Prada and Apple, the traffic jams filled with brand new Audis. You felt you could be in L.A. or Tokyo — until you wanted some information. Then you discovered that Facebook was permanently blocked, certain words in Google searches always crashed your browser, and, as my wife joked, it was easier to buy a Rolls-Royce than a real newspaper. Thu, 26 Jul 2012 17:10:00 +0000 John Powers 65 at http://ktep.org In China, A Persistent Thorn In The State's Side