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. 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, Sandi Tan.

If any image haunts TV news, and perhaps our conscience, it's the seemingly ceaseless river of migrants seeking refuge from war, dictatorship and poverty. These desperate souls inspire pity, fear and election-year arguments about whether to offer them welcome or keep them out. Not surprisingly, many artists feel compelled to confront this refugee crisis. But the big question is: How do you engage a humanitarian tragedy without haranguing the audience or laying on a guilt trip? You get...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air .

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Our critic-at-large, John Powers, has a review of "13th," Ava DuVernay's new documentary that opened the New York Film Festival and is currently playing in selected theaters and on Netflix. In "13th," DuVernay, who's best known for directing "Selma," explores how the United States became the country with the world's largest prison population and why a hugely disproportional number of those prisoners...

I have a friend in London who's at war with her car's GPS. Although she nearly always puts it on, she's driven mad by its voice, which is female, and refuses to follow its directions. She spends whole trips arguing with, barking at, and sometimes cursing this imaginary woman. She'd never be this rude to an actual human being. But, of course, a GPS doesn't have feelings. But what if it did? That's one of the many timely questions raised by Westworld , the darkly exciting new series that's HBO...

Television used to be careful when it told fictional stories about the presidency. It was bound by a sense of decorum. But things changed forever with the famous commercial for the movie Independence Day that wowed those watching the 1996 Super Bowl by blowing the White House sky high. Ever since, presidents have been fair game. You can portray them as thugs, schemers or murderers — or knock them off to boost ratings. The latest show to occupy the White House is Designated Survivor, a new ABC...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. The new film comedy "War Dogs" takes a new angle on America's wars in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Directed by Todd Phillips, who's best known for "The Hangover," it stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as two unlikely arms dealers. Our critic at large John Powers says the movie's at its best when the characters are at their worst. JOHN POWERS, BYLINE: War may be hell, but it can be heaven for...

Novelists have always put their heroines through awful ordeals. But over time, these tribulations change. Where the 19 th Century was filled with fictional women trapped in punishing marriages — think of Middlemarch or The Portrait of a Lady — today's heroines face trials that are bigger, more political, and more physically demanding. They fight in hunger games. This fight takes a different form in The Natural Way of Things , a ferocious new novel by the Australian Charlotte Wood whose...

When most of us think about computer hacking, we picture Julian Assange leaking government secrets or a shadowy, bad-shave crook in some former Soviet republic hoovering up credit card info from a chain store. But while folks like these do stir up all manner of trouble, a much deeper danger lies elsewhere. That danger is the theme of Zero Days , a chilling new film by Alex Gibney , who sometimes seems to turn out documentaries as quickly as tweets. This latest one may be his finest and most...

To judge from our media coverage, you'd think that Mexico isn't so much a country as a problem. But if you look beyond the endless talk of drug wars and The Wall , you discover that Mexico has a booming culture. In recent years, there's been an explosion of literary talent — from the sly provocateur Mario Bellatin to the brainy and funny Valeria Luiselli . This writing makes most American literary fiction feel pale and cannily packaged. Much of this work is now appearing in English thanks to...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air .

Every movie is set somewhere, yet most movies feel as if they're happening nowhere at all. They're set in a Manhattan so generic that the filming was actually done in Toronto, or in a Paris we only know is Paris because we get a shot of the Eiffel Tower, or in an imaginary small town from some unnamed state whose purpose is to be every small town. Such settings have no presence, no weight, no humidity, no purpose — they're background. If you want to enjoy a location being used properly — and...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air .

Brazil has been in the news a lot these days, but not for happy reasons. As it prepares to host the Olympics this August, the economy is tanking, the president is heading toward impeachment and the country has become ground zero for the Zika virus. All this is enough to make one recall Charles de Gaulle's famously dismissive remark, "Brazil is not a serious country." He was, of course, wrong. Brazil is one of the world's greatest and most exciting cultures, one in which the drama of modernity...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air .

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . Transcript TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Our critic-at-large John Powers has a review of a new graphic novel that he describes as an astonishing work of imagination. It's by the Singaporean writer and illustrator Sonny Liew, who was born in Malaysia, studied philosophy at Cambridge University and is best known in the U.S. for his DC Comics series Doctor Fate about an Egyptian-American superhero. His new graphic novel, his...

Back in the early 1960s, Philip Roth wrote a famous essay declaring that modern American life had gotten so delirious that it dwarfed fiction's ability to match it. Never did his words seem truer than in 1994, when O.J. Simpson — football god, mediocre movie actor and amiable pitchman for Hertz — was charged with butchering his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. From the discovery of the bodies in well-heeled Brentwood to the rapid verdict of "not guilty" — which...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . Transcript DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. From James Bond to George Smiley, England's known for its attraction spy stories. The latest is "London Spy," a new series beginning tonight on BBC America. It stars Ben Whishaw as a young clubber who suddenly finds himself plunged into the middle high-level espionage. Our critic-at-large John Powers has seen all five episodes. He says this is a spy thriller unlike any he's ever seen....

"Money doesn't talk," said Bob Dylan. "It swears." This is almost literally true in the blizzard of books, movies and TV shows about our financial one-percenters. If our wolves of Wall Street love anything more than obscene wealth, it's obscene language. These guys — and they are mainly guys — don't trust anyone who's shy about dropping F-bombs. Who's effing who — and how — is one of the governing metaphors of Billions , a new Showtime series whose opening shot features one of its lead...

It's that time of the year when critics proudly unveil their "10 Best" lists. But every December, I find myself compiling a private list that's different and guiltier. I call it my Ghost List, and it's composed of all the terrific things I've read, watched or heard that, for reasons ranging from bad timing to laziness — yes, critics can be lazy — I didn't get around to praising on Fresh Air . This year, I've decided to rectify that by conjuring up six ghosts I wish I'd shared with you earlier...

The most intractable conflict in modern life is the battle between those who want society to be somehow pure — religiously, say, or racially — and those who see society as an ever-changing mix and actually prefer it that way. You could hardly find a more horrific example of this split than the Islamic State's terror attack on the proudly diverse city of Paris. We find a less bloody version of this conflict in Mustang , the debut feature of the gifted young female director Deniz Gamze Ergüven....

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