1. 
"Starting in 1970 with Even Dwarfs Started Small – an anarchic tale of rebellion by a group of little people — Werner Herzog unleashed a torrent of ten films, including Nosferatu and Fitzcarraldo, that remain the heart of his achievement.


All those movies, and six later ones, are included in the tremendous new boxed-set, Herzog: The Collection.  Some of them are great, others are good, and a couple are truly terrible.  Yet every single one has something going on.  Herzog has never been limited by anybody else’s idea of propriety, good sense, or artistic neatness.  He pushes us into unsettling mental spaces that make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.”
- John Powers, reviewing Herzog: The Collection 


How the “I believe in Werner Herzog” grafiti started  View in High-Res

    "Starting in 1970 with Even Dwarfs Started Small – an anarchic tale of rebellion by a group of little people — Werner Herzog unleashed a torrent of ten films, including Nosferatu and Fitzcarraldo, that remain the heart of his achievement.

    All those movies, and six later ones, are included in the tremendous new boxed-set, Herzog: The Collection.  Some of them are great, others are good, and a couple are truly terrible.  Yet every single one has something going on.  Herzog has never been limited by anybody else’s idea of propriety, good sense, or artistic neatness.  He pushes us into unsettling mental spaces that make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.”

    - John Powers, reviewing Herzog: The Collection 

    How the “I believe in Werner Herzog” grafiti started 

  2. werner herzog

    film

    john powers

    review

    fresh air

  1. For the 50th anniversary of A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles, John Powers reviews the Criterion DVD release:

"In the unmistakable alchemy of their sound – and in their authentic laughter as they run from shrieking fans during the film’s opening credits – The Beatles embodied the hope and vitality the world was looking for then and still loves to this day. Like Louis Armstrong, they created music that, even when sad, is bursting with joy. All those hard days and nights paid off, for more than any band I can think of, they captured the yeah-yeah-yeah of happiness."


Read the full review: 'A Hard Day's Night': A Pop Artifact That Still Crackles With Energy

Photo via Janus films  View in High-Res

    For the 50th anniversary of A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles, John Powers reviews the Criterion DVD release:

    "In the unmistakable alchemy of their sound – and in their authentic laughter as they run from shrieking fans during the film’s opening credits – The Beatles embodied the hope and vitality the world was looking for then and still loves to this day. Like Louis Armstrong, they created music that, even when sad, is bursting with joy. All those hard days and nights paid off, for more than any band I can think of, they captured the yeah-yeah-yeah of happiness."

    Read the full review: 'A Hard Day's Night': A Pop Artifact That Still Crackles With Energy

    Photo via Janus films 

  2. the beatles

    hard day's night

    criterion collection

    john powers

  1. John Powers, Fresh Air’s critic at-large, reviews Violette a film by French director Martin Provost: 

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.



You rarely find such disputes in France, which finds our fetish of likability charmingly simple, rather like our shock at politicians committing adultery.  Hooked on the fervent, the argumentative, even the crazy, the French really like liking unlikable characters.



You find a real doozy in the revelatory, strangely gripping new film Violette.  It’s a fictionalized portrait of Violette Leduc, the trailblazing French novelist who may have been even better at being a pain than she was at writing.  An illegitimate child, Violette felt unwanted by her mother, and lugged her loveless sense of grievance through life like an accordion made of lead.  Her key signature was exasperating self-pity.      
View in High-Res

    John Powers, Fresh Air’s critic at-large, reviews Violette a film by French director Martin Provost: 

    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.

    You rarely find such disputes in France, which finds our fetish of likability charmingly simple, rather like our shock at politicians committing adultery.  Hooked on the fervent, the argumentative, even the crazy, the French really like liking unlikable characters.

    You find a real doozy in the revelatory, strangely gripping new film Violette.  It’s a fictionalized portrait of Violette Leduc, the trailblazing French novelist who may have been even better at being a pain than she was at writing.  An illegitimate child, Violette felt unwanted by her mother, and lugged her loveless sense of grievance through life like an accordion made of lead.  Her key signature was exasperating self-pity.     

  2. violette

    film

    review

    martin provost

    john powers

    violette leduc

  1. John Powers talks with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross about the hottest ticket at this year’s Cannes Film Festival —

"Hilariously, the hottest ticket at Cannes was for Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River… which turned out to be not a good film. You realize that Ryan Gosling has seen a lot of movies and liked a lot of them and so about every minute or two you could identify some other famous director he was copying. It started off a bit like Terrence Malick and Harmony Korine. A few minutes later, it turned into David Lynch and then along the way, it turned into Nicholas Winding Refn, with whom Ryan Gosling has worked a lot and it was this big, bloody or fake bloody, apocalyptic crazy melodrama with bright colors and darkness and bullies and people murdering rats and all sorts of other stuff that would seem powerful if you were putting it together and if you were David Lynch…and so the discussion became: "Was this the worst film a director ever had premiered at Cannes?"
But it wasn’t. … In truth, he was trying to make a genuinely good movie, and I respect that impulse more than somebody cautiously making a small little movie that’s perfectly done for their first film.”  

You can listen to the rest of John Powers’ recap of the festival here. 
Photo credit:Tim P.Whitby/Getty Images Europe View in High-Res

    John Powers talks with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross about the hottest ticket at this year’s Cannes Film Festival

    "Hilariously, the hottest ticket at Cannes was for Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River… which turned out to be not a good film. You realize that Ryan Gosling has seen a lot of movies and liked a lot of them and so about every minute or two you could identify some other famous director he was copying. It started off a bit like Terrence Malick and Harmony Korine. A few minutes later, it turned into David Lynch and then along the way, it turned into Nicholas Winding Refn, with whom Ryan Gosling has worked a lot and it was this big, bloody or fake bloody, apocalyptic crazy melodrama with bright colors and darkness and bullies and people murdering rats and all sorts of other stuff that would seem powerful if you were putting it together and if you were David Lynch…and so the discussion became: "Was this the worst film a director ever had premiered at Cannes?"

    But it wasn’t. … In truth, he was trying to make a genuinely good movie, and I respect that impulse more than somebody cautiously making a small little movie that’s perfectly done for their first film.”  

    You can listen to the rest of John Powers’ recap of the festival here

    Photo credit:Tim P.Whitby/Getty Images Europe

  2. John Powers

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ryan Gosling

    Lost River

    Fresh Air

  1. Fresh Air critic at-large John Powers reviews the Criterion Collection release of the 1962 Italian film Il Sorpasso (The Easy Life):

Il Sorpasso was part of the ’60s explosion in Italian movies when auteurs like Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini and Bernardo Bertolucci became internationally famous. Unlike them, [Director] Risi didn’t make art films — in fact, he has Bruno joke about the dullness of Antonioni. Instead, Risi made commercial hits that, like the great Hollywood movies of the ’70s, were perfectly in synch with what his audience was thinking about. Blessed with a light touch, he captured the realities of everyday life, but did so in the pleasurable, unpretentious, unscolding way of the greatest popular art.

    Fresh Air critic at-large John Powers reviews the Criterion Collection release of the 1962 Italian film Il Sorpasso (The Easy Life):

    Il Sorpasso was part of the ’60s explosion in Italian movies when auteurs like Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini and Bernardo Bertolucci became internationally famous. Unlike them, [Director] Risi didn’t make art films — in fact, he has Bruno joke about the dullness of Antonioni. Instead, Risi made commercial hits that, like the great Hollywood movies of the ’70s, were perfectly in synch with what his audience was thinking about. Blessed with a light touch, he captured the realities of everyday life, but did so in the pleasurable, unpretentious, unscolding way of the greatest popular art.

  2. film

    film history

    criterion collection

    il sorpasso

    john powers

  1. The Japanese horror film, Godzilla, is one of the most famous modern movies, but most people in the U.S. have never seen it in its original form. When it was first released in America in 1956, it was supplemented by new footage with the Hollywood actor Raymond Burr.  In 2004, the original Japanese version was released to theaters. 
For the monster’s 60th anniversary, Rialto Pictures is releasing a new digital restoration of the film, complete with new subtitles.  Seeing Godzilla again, our critic John Powers says it makes him nostalgic for old monster movies.

"Ever since Jaws and Alien and Predator, whose creatures are ruthless murder machines, our monsters have increasingly become soulless things to be destroyed. Consider today’s favorite monster, the zombie. Although zombies could hardly seem more human — heck, they just were human — the walking dead have no individuality and run in packs. They basically exist to have their heads shot off in movies and TV shows that resemble video games.
Godzilla is not remotely like this. In Jim Shepard’s wonderful short story “Gojira, King of the Monsters” — part of his collection titled You Think That’s Bad — Shepard offers a fictionalized account of the making of the movie. At one point, Shepard has director Ishiro Honda explain why the vanquishing of Godzilla feels so sad, and his words sum up brilliantly what gives Godzilla its strange power. “By the time the movie ends,” Honda says, “[Godzilla] is like a hero whose departure we regret. It’s like part of us leaving. That’s what makes it so hard. The monster the child knows best is the monster he feels himself to be.”’
View in High-Res

    The Japanese horror film, Godzilla, is one of the most famous modern movies, but most people in the U.S. have never seen it in its original form. When it was first released in America in 1956, it was supplemented by new footage with the Hollywood actor Raymond Burr.  In 2004, the original Japanese version was released to theaters.

    For the monster’s 60th anniversary, Rialto Pictures is releasing a new digital restoration of the film, complete with new subtitles.  Seeing Godzilla again, our critic John Powers says it makes him nostalgic for old monster movies.

    "Ever since Jaws and Alien and Predator, whose creatures are ruthless murder machines, our monsters have increasingly become soulless things to be destroyed. Consider today’s favorite monster, the zombie. Although zombies could hardly seem more human — heck, they just were human — the walking dead have no individuality and run in packs. They basically exist to have their heads shot off in movies and TV shows that resemble video games.

    Godzilla is not remotely like this. In Jim Shepard’s wonderful short story “Gojira, King of the Monsters” — part of his collection titled You Think That’s Bad — Shepard offers a fictionalized account of the making of the movie. At one point, Shepard has director Ishiro Honda explain why the vanquishing of Godzilla feels so sad, and his words sum up brilliantly what gives Godzilla its strange power. “By the time the movie ends,” Honda says, “[Godzilla] is like a hero whose departure we regret. It’s like part of us leaving. That’s what makes it so hard. The monster the child knows best is the monster he feels himself to be.”’

  2. John Powers

    Godzilla

    Rialto Pictures.

    Monsters

    Jim Shepard

  1. Fresh Air critic at large John Powers reviews the new translation of Italian noir novel A Private Venus: 

Like all good noirs, A Private Venus centers on a disillusioned loner — in this case, Duca Lamberti, a loner with good reason to be disillusioned. Once a doctor, he was imprisoned for murder after compassionately helping a dying woman kill herself. Now free, but forbidden to practice medicine, Duca gets hired by a Milanese plastics mogul who, like most rich men in noir, is a respectable creep. The assignment is to straighten out the mogul’s 22-year-old son, Davide who has gone from being a normal, spoiled heir to a guilty, taciturn young alcoholic.
Duca knows something has driven Davide to such self-destructive straits — probably a woman. And so, he sets about looking into what changed him, enlisting help from a police superintendent who was friends with Duca’s cop father. The investigation takes him from chic nightclubs into the sinister underbelly of fashion-mad Milan where pretty young women exist to have their bodies stripped, sold and carved up by thugs. Along the way, Duca befriends a smart, attractive young woman, Livia, who has her own reasons for bringing the bad guys down. Suffice it to say that everything does not turn out perfectly.
View in High-Res

    Fresh Air critic at large John Powers reviews the new translation of Italian noir novel A Private Venus

    Like all good noirs, A Private Venus centers on a disillusioned loner — in this case, Duca Lamberti, a loner with good reason to be disillusioned. Once a doctor, he was imprisoned for murder after compassionately helping a dying woman kill herself. Now free, but forbidden to practice medicine, Duca gets hired by a Milanese plastics mogul who, like most rich men in noir, is a respectable creep. The assignment is to straighten out the mogul’s 22-year-old son, Davide who has gone from being a normal, spoiled heir to a guilty, taciturn young alcoholic.

    Duca knows something has driven Davide to such self-destructive straits — probably a woman. And so, he sets about looking into what changed him, enlisting help from a police superintendent who was friends with Duca’s cop father. The investigation takes him from chic nightclubs into the sinister underbelly of fashion-mad Milan where pretty young women exist to have their bodies stripped, sold and carved up by thugs. Along the way, Duca befriends a smart, attractive young woman, Livia, who has her own reasons for bringing the bad guys down. Suffice it to say that everything does not turn out perfectly.

  2. noir

    novel

    review

    italy

    literature

    john powers

  1. Fresh Air critic at large John Powers reviews Redeployment by Phil Klay, a short story collection that “addresses the gap between the American soldiers who’ve fought in Iraq and those of us back home:”

Klay makes you feel the physical and psychic cost demanded of our soldiers in Iraq. And he may be even better on what it means to return to an America that pays gaudy lip service to honoring the troops yet doesn’t try to understand their service. Because we have a volunteer army, our soldiers and vets remain weirdly invisible to their fellow countrymen.
View in High-Res

    Fresh Air critic at large John Powers reviews Redeployment by Phil Klay, a short story collection that “addresses the gap between the American soldiers who’ve fought in Iraq and those of us back home:”

    Klay makes you feel the physical and psychic cost demanded of our soldiers in Iraq. And he may be even better on what it means to return to an America that pays gaudy lip service to honoring the troops yet doesn’t try to understand their service. Because we have a volunteer army, our soldiers and vets remain weirdly invisible to their fellow countrymen.

  2. war

    soldiers

    veterans

    iraq

    book

    john powers

  1. Harold Ramis was the master of the smart dumb-movie, which he could only make because he actually was one of the smartest guys around – he could fence, speak Greek, joke about Trotsky, and do the ritual drumming he learned attending Robert Bly’s men’s groups. Like [Bill] Murray, he was always more serious than people originally supposed.

    — John Powers on the late Harold Ramis 

  2. harold ramis

    ghostbusters

    caddyshack

    groundhog day

    john powers

    in memoriam

  1.              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.  
            Those complexities lie at the heart of The Last of the Unjust, the new documentary by Claude Lanzmann, the prickly Frenchman whose 1985 work Shoah is often called the best film about the Holocaust.  But where Shoah is dauntingly austere – its 9 1/2 hours offer no commentary or archival footage – The Last of the Unjust has a vivid immediacy.  It centers on one man, the late Benjamin Murmelstein, a Viennese rabbi reviled for his complicity with the Nazis.  Lanzmann interviewed him for hours back in 1975, getting the pudgy, bespectacled, hyper-verbal Murmelstein to explain his side of the story.

Read John Powers' review of the documentary The Last of the Unjust 

photo by Cohen Media Group via DailyBeast View in High-Res

                 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. 

                Those complexities lie at the heart of The Last of the Unjust, the new documentary by Claude Lanzmann, the prickly Frenchman whose 1985 work Shoah is often called the best film about the Holocaust.  But where Shoah is dauntingly austere – its 9 1/2 hours offer no commentary or archival footage – The Last of the Unjust has a vivid immediacy.  It centers on one man, the late Benjamin Murmelstein, a Viennese rabbi reviled for his complicity with the Nazis.  Lanzmann interviewed him for hours back in 1975, getting the pudgy, bespectacled, hyper-verbal Murmelstein to explain his side of the story.

    Read John Powers' review of the documentary The Last of the Unjust

    photo by Cohen Media Group via DailyBeast

  2. fresh air

    review

    john powers

    the last of the unjust

    holocaust

    hitler

    documentary

    claude lanzmann

    shoah

  1. Fresh Air critic at large John Powers reviews the Danish political drama Borgen, about a woman who unexpectedly becomes Denmark’s prime minister. Borgen sets itself apart from other political dramas like House of Cards, Veep, and The West Wing: 

"I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show that’s better at capturing the personal cost of political life. For Birgitte [above], power doesn’t so much corrupt as isolate. The more successful she becomes as PM, the more her private world dwindles. Her circle of friends shrinks, her children feel neglected, and her marriage to the funny, liberal-minded Philip — a onetime CEO who’s put his career on hold — starts to founder. Losing her knack for intimacy, she begins talking to him like a prime minister making points in a cabinet meeting."
View in High-Res

    Fresh Air critic at large John Powers reviews the Danish political drama Borgen, about a woman who unexpectedly becomes Denmark’s prime minister. Borgen sets itself apart from other political dramas like House of Cards, Veep, and The West Wing: 

    "I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show that’s better at capturing the personal cost of political life. For Birgitte [above], power doesn’t so much corrupt as isolate. The more successful she becomes as PM, the more her private world dwindles. Her circle of friends shrinks, her children feel neglected, and her marriage to the funny, liberal-minded Philip — a onetime CEO who’s put his career on hold — starts to founder. Losing her knack for intimacy, she begins talking to him like a prime minister making points in a cabinet meeting."

  2. borgen

    tv review

    john powers

    denmark

  1. Fresh Air’s critic at large John Powers discusses the documentary The Square by Egyptian filmmaker Jehane Noujaim. The Square takes audiences into the Egyptian revolution and its aftermath by following three protestors’ stories. The film will be streaming on Netflix starting Friday:

    The Square is not a 360-degree portrait of recent Egyptian history. We don’t get to know the hardliners in the Muslim Brotherhood — and there are many of them — who would die, and are dying, to create an Islamic state.

    Nor do we hear from the millions of ordinary people who are now sick of all the demos in Tahrir Square and want life to get back to normal. Noujaim is consciously partial — and clearly on the secularists’ side.

    Yet the movie is no less gripping or revealing for that. As we’re plunged into scenes of both ecstasy and violence, it’s impossible not to be moved by the heroism of those who turned up in Tahrir Square realizing this just might get them killed. I’ve never done anything remotely so brave in pursuit of my own freedom.

  2. fresh air

    john powers

    the square

    jehane noujaim

    egypt

    egyptian revolution

    tahrir square

  1. Critic at-large John Powers wonders where the “road to excess” leads by looking at two films, The Great Beauty of Italy and Narco Cultura of Mexico:

    At first, The Great Beauty (top) plays like an enjoyably exuberant satire of modern Rome. Yet slowly, grandeur starts shining through the decadence. [Director] Sorrentino offers the most ravishing footage of Rome I’ve ever seen — he seems to have free run of every park and palazzo — and the city’s glory puts into perspective the shallowness within it. Scenes that start off satirical, like the one with the nun, wind up containing a vision of transcendence. By film’s end, the road of excess has led Jep to a vision of life’s great beauty and perhaps his own spiritual resurrection.

    Narco Cultura juxtaposes the culture of drug trafficking with the efforts of a CSI cop solving murder crimes in Juárez, Mexico:

    Sure, narcocorrido culture turns drug violence into a show, but there’s also something merely theatrical about what the cops in Juárez are doing, too. Soto is an honorable man, but he and other local police don’t really investigate 97 percent of the murders — to even talk about them would get them killed. Small wonder that so many powerless young Mexicans and Mexican-Americans don’t trust the system, but get seduced by narco culture’s vision of wealth and power and impunity. Heck, even when they’re killed, drug lords get to dwell in self-aggrandizing tombs protected by bullet-proof glass.

    Read the full review

  2. fresh air

    review

    john powers

    the grand beauty

    narco cultura

    italy

    rome

    mexico

    juarez

  1. 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.

    — Critic at-large John Powers discusses the “fearless power” of Elena Ferrante and her new novel, “The Story of a New Name.”

  2. fresh air

    book review

    john powers

    elena ferrante

  1. John Powers reviews Showtime’s new series “Masters of Sex” about sex researchers Masters and Johnson. The series stars Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as the famed duo:

Now, with its selfish hero and spunky heroine working in a male-dominated world, Masters of Sex pretty clearly aspires to be the Mad Men of sex.  Like that show, it bridges the ‘50s and 60s, letting us see a change in American values with a story about those helping to change them.  And like Mad Men, it lets us feel superior to those who were so foolish as to be born into values less enlightened than we were born into.  But Masters of Sex is missing Mad Men’s ruthless clarity and sense of detail. Where Matthew Weiner wasn’t shy about making Don and Betty Draper the nastiest married couple in TV history, this show’s creator, Michelle Ashford, appears worried lest her show seem too serious, too grown-up, too unlikable.  Clumsily juggling tones, she interlaces genuinely powerful scenes – Masters’ ruthless showdown with the provost or Haas striking Johnson – with silliness and cliches.  

Want to learn more about Masters and Johnson and their research? We interviewed the author (Thomas Maier) about the book “Masters of Sex” on which the show is based. View in High-Res

    John Powers reviews Showtime’s new series “Masters of Sex about sex researchers Masters and Johnson. The series stars Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as the famed duo:

    Now, with its selfish hero and spunky heroine working in a male-dominated world, Masters of Sex pretty clearly aspires to be the Mad Men of sex.  Like that show, it bridges the ‘50s and 60s, letting us see a change in American values with a story about those helping to change them.  And like Mad Men, it lets us feel superior to those who were so foolish as to be born into values less enlightened than we were born into.
     But Masters of Sex is missing Mad Men’s ruthless clarity and sense of detail. Where Matthew Weiner wasn’t shy about making Don and Betty Draper the nastiest married couple in TV history, this show’s creator, Michelle Ashford, appears worried lest her show seem too serious, too grown-up, too unlikable.  Clumsily juggling tones, she interlaces genuinely powerful scenes – Masters’ ruthless showdown with the provost or Haas striking Johnson – with silliness and cliches.  

    Want to learn more about Masters and Johnson and their research? We interviewed the author (Thomas Maier) about the book “Masters of Sex” on which the show is based.

  2. fresh air

    review

    john powers

    masters of sex

    showtime

    michael sheen

    lizzy caplan

    masters and johnson