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.
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    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

  1. John Powers on Australian crime drama series Jack Irish, starring Guy Pearce, only on Acorn TV: 

[Jack] Irish’s blend of old and new masculinity is perfectly conveyed by Pearce, who’s not merely the best reason to watch these movies, but one of the best reasons to watch anything. When younger, he was a bit tightly wound and his prettiness could make him seem slightly sinister.  But the years have made him more weathered and relaxed, and he slips into Irish’s skin with a movie star’s confident ease.  What we want most from a detective is that he or she be good company, and Pearce’s Jack Irish is that.


image via Sydney Morning Harold View in High-Res

    John Powers on Australian crime drama series Jack Irish, starring Guy Pearce, only on Acorn TV:

    [Jack] Irish’s blend of old and new masculinity is perfectly conveyed by Pearce, who’s not merely the best reason to watch these movies, but one of the best reasons to watch anything. When younger, he was a bit tightly wound and his prettiness could make him seem slightly sinister.  But the years have made him more weathered and relaxed, and he slips into Irish’s skin with a movie star’s confident ease.  What we want most from a detective is that he or she be good company, and Pearce’s Jack Irish is that.

    image via Sydney Morning Harold

  2. fresh air

    review

    john powers

    jack irish

    guy pearce

    acorn tv

    acorn media

    australia

  1. John Powers reviews Javier Marías’ newest novel, The Infatuations:

Like all of all of Marías’s work, The Infatuations is unsettling, even slightly sinister, because it confronts us with thoughts we’d rather not hear.  That morality is provisional and can be corrupted by many things, including love.  That to survive, we invariably start forgetting the lost loved ones whose memory we once clung to – if the murdered Miguel returned, Luisa might actually find his presence inconvenient.  Most unsettling of all, Marías suggests that our self, this thing we call “I,” is not something solid and immutable.  Like our narrator, we cobble ourselves together from moment to moment out of malleable memories, stories we’ve heard, and fictions we tell ourselves to impose meaning on what’s going on around us.     

    John Powers reviews Javier Marías’ newest novel, The Infatuations:

    Like all of all of Marías’s work, The Infatuations is unsettling, even slightly sinister, because it confronts us with thoughts we’d rather not hear.  That morality is provisional and can be corrupted by many things, including love.  That to survive, we invariably start forgetting the lost loved ones whose memory we once clung to – if the murdered Miguel returned, Luisa might actually find his presence inconvenient.  Most unsettling of all, Marías suggests that our self, this thing we call “I,” is not something solid and immutable.  Like our narrator, we cobble ourselves together from moment to moment out of malleable memories, stories we’ve heard, and fictions we tell ourselves to impose meaning on what’s going on around us.     

  2. review

    fresh air

    The Infatuations

    Javier Marias

    John Powers

  1. Critic John Powers’ favorite movie scene is in Orson Welles’Citizen Kane (1941) when newspaper owner Charles Foster Kane (played by Orson Welles himself) steals his rivals’ best reporters, and then throws a party in his own honor. Powers says:

"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 joie de vivre, made all the more exuberant because Kane’s pleasure is so obviously shared by Welles’ himself.  Only 25 – but already famous from Broadway and radio – Welles has the air of a man who knows he’s making a movie that would one day be named the greatest of all time." 

Powers reviews My Lunches with Orson, a new book that collects and edits the table talk between Welles and his friend, filmmaker Henry Jaglom. 

Image via brightwalldarkroom

    Critic John Powers’ favorite movie scene is in Orson WellesCitizen Kane (1941) when newspaper owner Charles Foster Kane (played by Orson Welles himself) steals his rivals’ best reporters, and then throws a party in his own honor. Powers says:

    "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 joie de vivre, made all the more exuberant because Kane’s pleasure is so obviously shared by Welles’ himself.  Only 25 – but already famous from Broadway and radio – Welles has the air of a man who knows he’s making a movie that would one day be named the greatest of all time." 

    Powers reviews My Lunches with Orson, a new book that collects and edits the table talk between Welles and his friend, filmmaker Henry Jaglom. 

    Image via brightwalldarkroom

  2. orson welles

    citizen kane

    john powers

    my lunches with orson

    henry jaglom

    fresh air

  1. Posted on 25 June, 2013

    249 notes | Permalink

    Reblogged from miscellaneous7

    John Powers on Sofia Coppola's new film, The Bling Ring:

Now, Coppola is no incisive social analyst, but her movie does get you thinking about the society that could produce the Bling Ring. After all, its young robbers aren’t that far out of the American mainstream. Indeed, they’re an almost natural offshoot of a consumption-crazy culture that incessantly celebrates the idea of owning fancy cars, fancy watches, fancy clothes. They are driven by the same heedless desire to live large that led grown-ups to run up vast, unpayable credit-card bills or to make millions selling off shares in worthless mortgages.
View in High-Res

    John Powers on Sofia Coppola's new film, The Bling Ring:

    Now, Coppola is no incisive social analyst, but her movie does get you thinking about the society that could produce the Bling Ring. After all, its young robbers aren’t that far out of the American mainstream. Indeed, they’re an almost natural offshoot of a consumption-crazy culture that incessantly celebrates the idea of owning fancy cars, fancy watches, fancy clothes. They are driven by the same heedless desire to live large that led grown-ups to run up vast, unpayable credit-card bills or to make millions selling off shares in worthless mortgages.

  2. Fresh Air

    Reviews

    John Powers

    The Bling Ring

    Sofia Coppola

  1. John Powers tells Terry Gross about the best party he attended at Cannes:

My favorite party was a party for the AIDS research organization amFAR and every year they hold a sumptuous party somewhere. This year it was at the hotel Cap d’Antibes and you turn up where hundreds of people are dressed in black tie, including me — I was very James Bond, I must tell everyone. … You turn up and two things happen: There’s entertainment and there’s an auction of various things. The entertainment of the night was you got to hear Shirley Bassey sing ‘Goldfinger,’ so she came out and belted out ‘Goldfinger’ and did it better than she did at the Oscars. … You also got to see one of the rare appearances by Duran Duran singing ‘Hungry Like the Wolf.’ Really, in terms of the Great Gatsby with those crazy parties, at some level you haven’t lived until you’ve been in this huge building filled with black-tie rich people leaping from their dinner table to boogie to ‘Hungry Like the Wolf.’

Image via The Telegraph

    John Powers tells Terry Gross about the best party he attended at Cannes:

    My favorite party was a party for the AIDS research organization amFAR and every year they hold a sumptuous party somewhere. This year it was at the hotel Cap d’Antibes and you turn up where hundreds of people are dressed in black tie, including me — I was very James Bond, I must tell everyone. … You turn up and two things happen: There’s entertainment and there’s an auction of various things. The entertainment of the night was you got to hear Shirley Bassey sing ‘Goldfinger,’ so she came out and belted out ‘Goldfinger’ and did it better than she did at the Oscars. … You also got to see one of the rare appearances by Duran Duran singing ‘Hungry Like the Wolf.’ Really, in terms of the Great Gatsby with those crazy parties, at some level you haven’t lived until you’ve been in this huge building filled with black-tie rich people leaping from their dinner table to boogie to ‘Hungry Like the Wolf.’

    Image via The Telegraph

  2. Fresh Air

    Interviews

    John Powers

    Cannes Film Festival

    Parties

    Duran Duran

    Hungry Like the Wolf

  1. Fresh Air critic-at-large John Powers on the new Coen brothers' film, Inside Llewyn Davis, that he recently saw at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival:

I have not been a great Coen champion or detractor. I’ve been kind of up and down on them. I think this may be their best film. … It’s really, really funny. It’s funny in a way that the Coen brothers often aren’t funny, which is it’s not snide-funny, it’s kind of warm, sly funny. … It’s the most muted, quiet, sweet film they’ve ever made, I think, in part, because they actually love the folk songs.

still from Inside Llewyn Davis via Hollywood.com View in High-Res

    Fresh Air critic-at-large John Powers on the new Coen brothers' film, Inside Llewyn Davis, that he recently saw at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival:

    I have not been a great Coen champion or detractor. I’ve been kind of up and down on them. I think this may be their best film. … It’s really, really funny. It’s funny in a way that the Coen brothers often aren’t funny, which is it’s not snide-funny, it’s kind of warm, sly funny. … It’s the most muted, quiet, sweet film they’ve ever made, I think, in part, because they actually love the folk songs.

    still from Inside Llewyn Davis via Hollywood.com

  2. Fresh Air

    Interviews

    John Powers

    Cannes Film Festival

    Coen Brothers

    Inside Llewyn Davis

    Carrie Mulligan

    Justin Timberlake