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 spent the last 25 years as a critic and columnist, first for LA Weekly, then Vogue. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Harper's BAZAAR, The Nation, Gourmet, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

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. His latest book, WKW: The Cinema of Wong Kar Wai (co-written with Wong Kar Wai), is an April 2016 release by Rizzoli.

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

Ever since I was young, I've loved stories set in the far-flung reaches of the West's many empires — from the British Raj of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India to the surreal Vietnam of Apocalypse Now. And I still love them, though I now realize that they usually look at other cultures from the vantage point of outsiders, even intruders.

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Near the end of John Le Carré's great spy novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, one of the agents notices that his car's passenger door is unlocked. He instantly begins wondering how that happened. "Survival," he thinks, "is an infinite capacity for suspicion."

That capacity gets put to the test in Bodyguard, a new BBC series created by Jed Mercurio, who's known for his compelling shows about the dark side of public institutions.

Everyone is familiar with the official film genres, like the Western or the romantic comedy. But most of us divide movies into less intellectual categories.

There are movies that everybody has to see, like A Star is Born. There are movies you couldn't pay me to see; in my case, that's anything with the word "Saw" in its title. And then there are movies we know we ought to see but dread having to go.

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Near the end of Philip Roth's novel Operation Shylock, a Mossad agent makes light of the modern penchant for conspiracy theories. "It's a paranoid universe," the spy says, "but don't overdo it."

Hollywood never overdid it more than in the 1970s. In the years after Richard Nixon's tarnished presidency, movie screens were flooded with conspiracy thrillers — from Chinatown and The Parallax View to All the President's Men.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, who was married nine times, once joked that diamonds aren't a girl's best friend — divorce lawyers are. The price and permutations of breaking up are the theme of The Split, a sleek new British series showing on Sundance TV. Created by Abi Morgan, who wrote The Iron Lady and The Hour, this six-part show centers around members of the Defoe family, high-end lawyers specializing in marital issues whose own private lives are — don't be shocked now! — as furtive and messy as the cases they're handling.

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Near the beginning of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, a big black monolith appears in an African desert, leaving a group of prehistoric ape-men standing there baffled. And that was pretty much the reaction that greeted the film itself when it premiered 50 years ago this week.

Nobody was quite sure what to make of it. The critics were harsh, with Variety dismissively saying flatly, "2001 is not a cinematic landmark." It's hard to imagine being more wrong.

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

If you're a fan of thrillers, you know that they're defined by two extremes. At one end are the plot-driven worlds that work like clockwork machines (for instance, Murder on the Orient Express); at the other are the stories that sprawl outward to offer a portrait of the larger society (like James Ellroy's Los Angeles or Stieg Larsson's Sweden). As it turns out, I've recently come across an enjoyable example of each extreme.

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

I don't believe in ghosts, but sometimes when I walk through my house I think I hear the forlorn cries of all the books, movies and TV shows that I've loved over the past few months but never got around to talking about. And so, every December, I try to silence those cries with my annual "Ghost List" of favorites I've ignored — a group that in 2017 ranges in spirit from cosmic surrealism to ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy.

National Treasure, Hulu

There's an unforgettable scene in the Netflix documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. Filmmaker Griffin Dunne asks Didion about the legendary moment when, while reporting a piece on the counter-culture in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, she came across a 5-year-old girl tripping on LSD.

"What was that like?" Dunne wonders. Didion pauses, and replies, "It was gold." Which is to say that the little girl was great material.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Pages