John Podhoretz Articles

Character Is King

Abe Vigoda, master of the second fiddle.
Feb 08, 2016

There’s a great joke about acting. One actor says to another actor, Hey, I just got cast in Hamlet. The other actor says, I know this is embarrassing, but I've never read or seen it. What's it about? The first one says, It's about this guy, Gravedigger #2 .  .  .

Nobody goes into acting to specialize in small parts, just as no one seeks a career as a middle-inning reliever in baseball or as a third-string quarterback in football. All actors want to be stars, the fixed points around which all other action revolves, onstage and off.

Stars are the primary recipients of the fame and adoration all performers falsely believe will sate the desperate hunger for attention that drives them to expose

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Hell Reconsidered

'Mad Max: Fury Road' earns a second look.
Feb 01, 2016

My friend the movie producer is a major fan of Mad Max: Fury Road. He says it’s the best film he thinks he's seen in five years. This is interesting, because it's not the kind of movie he makes; he produces "indies," meaning films with relatively modest budgets that center on character rather than spectacle. By contrast, Mad Max: Fury Road cost $150 million, has very little dialogue, and has a story you have to piece together in your head because the film itself makes almost no effort to piece it together for you.

My friend the movie producer thinks this is beside the point and that my review of the movie ("Max Redux," May 25) did not do it justice.

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Ah, Wilderness!

Early-19th-century capitalism takes a $135 million hit.
Jan 25, 2016

The Revenant is beautifully photographed. Really. It’s beautiful. I mean, you've never seen such beauty. We're talking nature here, people. Rivers. Mountains. Snow. Even an avalanche. Some fog, both early morning and late afternoon. Also, it's supposed to be set in 1823, so the idea is we're seeing land that few if any human beings have ever walked on. No footprints! No signs about cleaning up your campsite!

The Oscar-winning director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and the star, Leonardo DiCaprio, have done nothing for months but talk about how difficult it was to film The Revenant. It was so difficult, you wouldn't believe. They were out. In the cold. They had to haul equipment up mountains.

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Bad Day at Red Rock

An 'itsy-bitsy whodunit' with blood.
Jan 18, 2016

Two years ago, the writer-director Quentin Tarantino announced his next picture would be a Western called The Hateful Eight. He sent his script to a few people, and it was leaked. Tarantino announced that he would not be making The Hateful Eight after all because he was so furious. Then he reversed his decision and made The Hateful Eight anyway. Having now seen the product of his filmmaking labor, I can only wonder whether his initial impulse to kill the project truly resulted from his anger—or whether it was because some part of him knew the script was terrible and the movie he would make from it would be a train wreck.

Because the script is terrible. And The Hateful Eight is a train wreck.

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It Takes a Village

The ‘auteur theory’ meets the life and work of Charles Walters
Apr 06, 2015

Fifty years ago, a wildly heated cultural battle broke out between two movie critics: a New Yorker named Andrew Sarris and a San Franciscan named Pauline Kael. Sarris was the chief American expositor of the “auteur theory,” which emerged from French film magazines in the 1950s and asserted that the director of a movie should be considered its author.

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Awaken and Sing

Forget the plot. It’s the acting that matters.
Jan 11, 2016

There’s no upside for me in reviewing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If I say anything interesting about its plot, I'll be criticized for publishing spoilers. If I say anything critical, I'll be accused of raining on everybody's parade. If I praise it, I'll be attacked for excessive kindness and sentimentality. So let me just say that I thought it was pretty good, that I enjoyed watching it, and that it has all the strengths and weaknesses of every project with which its cowriter and director,

J. J. Abrams, is involved. Which is to say: Its first 45 minutes are sensational; it plays on the viewer's emotions expertly; and it is cast brilliantly.

Good acting is something new for the Star Wars franchise.

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The Best Men

Political life imitates cinematic art.
Dec 28, 2015

There is a video on the World Wrestling Entertainment's website called "Donald Trump's Greatest WWE Moments," which invites you to "Watch Donald Trump put his money where his mouth is in some of his most memorable WWE appearances." The video lasts for three minutes. In it, you can watch Trump slam into and pummel Vince McMahon, WWE's color commentator and commissioner, and later shave McMahon's head in the ring. This was all part of what the WWE itself calls a "storyline," in which Trump "bought" the fake sports league from McMahon and then sold it back to him in 2009.

Three years earlier, a movie called Idiocracy sent its protagonist, a totally average guy named Joe, from the present day into an America 500 years in the future.

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Rocky VII

Once a generation, Sylvester Stallone excels.
Dec 14, 2015

Ryan Coogler, who conceived and directed the new hit film Creed, is up to something very tricky with this effort to update the Rocky films to the 21st century. Creed is not a Cinderella story about a working-class chump who gets an unexpected shot at glory, as the original Rocky was. Instead, it's a character study of a soul in quiet torment.

He is Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), and he's the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, the publicity-mad heavyweight champ who plucked the hangdog mug Rocky Balboa from the streets of Philadelphia to be his opponent in a bicentennial fight back in 1976.

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Her New Life

From Ireland to Brooklyn, in a minor key.
Nov 30, 2015

Colm Tóibín did something interesting and unusual when he wrote his novel Brooklyn, which was published in 2009. He chose to tell an immigration story about an Irish girl just out of her teens who has no particular desire to go to America, no particular drive once she arrives in America, and no particular ideological experience of America. What this girl, Eilis Lacey, goes through is far truer to the American immigrant experience than the grander existential and political dramas around which most such novels have been built.

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Dark Victory

A scandal, a newspaper, an 'utterly riveting piece of entertainment.'
Nov 23, 2015

I went to see Spotlight out of a sense of dreary duty. The movie is being touted as an Oscar possibility and has received rapturous reviews, neither of which is any guarantee of quality or enjoyment. Quite the opposite, in fact: Last year’s Oscar winner, Birdman, was similarly praised; I found it annoyingly pretentious and overdone. In addition, I’ve found the past work of its director and cowriter, Tom McCarthy, unsatisfying.

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A Critic’s Confession

In a lifetime of viewing, some things can’t be watched.
Nov 09, 2015

You readers flatter me. You send me emails and letters asking me to review certain movies you’ve seen because you want to know what I have to say about them. At times these missives make me feel guilty, because I know I’m going to let you down. Because it’s often the case that you want to hear my views on a movie I have simply decided I cannot bear to see.

Consider this a critic’s confession.

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Is He, or Isn’t He?

Steve Jobs gets the Aaron Sorkin treatment.
Oct 26, 2015

Five years ago in these pages, I called The Social Network  “a two-hour exploration of a single question: Is Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, an assh—?” Now Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter of The Social Network, has just written a movie called Steve Jobs. It is a two-hour exploration of a single question: Was Steve Jobs, the man behind Apple Inc., an assh—? Steve Jobs has a fancy director in Danny Boyle, who made Slumdog Millionaire.

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Lost and Found

Unexpected bliss from interplanetary angst.
Oct 19, 2015

When was the last time a movie was just, you know, lovable? Guardians of the Galaxy, maybe—all the more so because its lovability was so unexpected, coming as it did from the Marvel comic book movie factory. The same is true of The Martian, a movie so spectacularly winsome it’s almost beyond criticism. How could this have happened with this piece of hard science fiction, full of talk about orbiting distances and vectors and botany, derived from a nerdy novel first published chapter by chapter on the writer Andy Weir’s blog?

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Funny or Die

If you don’t see this movie—well, you know what happens.
Oct 12, 2015

If you are a person of a certain age—by which I mean a person who receives unsolicited mailings from AARP—and you don’t mind old-fashioned dirty talk, you will likely find yourself utterly entranced by a wonderful new documentary called Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead. That’s especially true if you watch Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead On Demand, which you can right now, because you can pause it to take those restroom breaks you are probably finding an increasingly urgent call on your attention.

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Tiny Caesar

Any ways left to make mobster-monsters interesting?
Oct 05, 2015

Black Mass is the latest cinematic portrayal of the life and career of James “Whitey” Bulger, the gangster who ran roughshod over Boston for nearly 20 years with the odd assistance of an F B I agent whose secret informant he was. Nine years ago, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed merged the plotline of a Hong Kong movie called Infernal Affairs with l’affaire Bulger and came out with a terrific Oscar-winning picture.

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AARP Rocker

Breathing new life into a very old story.
Sep 21, 2015

Meryl Streep is so extraordinary she can do anything​—​anything, that is, except play an ordinary person. She’s only tried to do so twice in her 35-year career as a leading lady, and in both cases she was called upon to embody an unsatisfied suburban wife, first in 1984’s Falling in Love and almost three decades later in Hope Springs (2012).

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Attitude Adjustment

The irresistible rise of gangsta rap.
Sep 14, 2015

Just as Philip Larkin sighed that the sexual revolution “came too late for me,” I had already aged out of rap as it emerged with enormous force in the 1980s. I was then in my twenties and, listening to it, I felt for the first time the same sort of generational disdain that adults of the 1950s had felt upon listening to rock ’n’ roll. It was a lot of noise, you couldn’t understand the words, and everybody who performed it was just too angry and hyper-sexualized.

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Gem of Discomfort

The return of the classic thriller.
Sep 07, 2015

The Gift​—​a compact picture written and directed by the Australian actor Joel Edgerton​—​is the best American thriller in 20 years or more. On its own limited terms, The Gift is an almost perfect piece of work; in an extraordinarily controlled debut behind the camera, Edgerton doesn’t make a false move.

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Another Op’nin, Another Show

But is anyone noticing?
Aug 24, 2015

Right now, in New York, the big news is the Broadway opening of a musical biography of Alexander Hamilton told in hip-hop. Such a deliberately anachronistic retelling of American history is automatic grounds for deep skepticism. And yet the chorus of raves for Hamilton—which extend from Barack Obama to the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout, and even to Brian Anderson, the brilliant editor of the conservative Manhattan Institute’s City Journal—has generated a kind of cultural excitement that itself seems anachronistic.

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Mission Improbable

The increasingly unwilling suspension of disbelief.
Aug 17, 2015

Mission: ImpossibleRogue Nation makes no sense. Even more striking, this fifth installment in the Tom Cruise movie series based on the 1960s television show doesn’t even try to make sense. 

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Auteur, Auteur

Amy Schumer benefits from Judd Apatow’s formula.
Aug 03, 2015

With Trainwreck, the comedy impresario Judd Apatow has once again made a movie about an irresponsible adult-child who is compelled to grow up by the end of the film. This was the plotline of both The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, the two box-office sensations that made Apatow’s career, and it resurfaces here.

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Genius Is Pain

But there are fewer laurels for craftsmanship.
Jul 27, 2015

Every now and then, on Twitter or Facebook, I find myself referring to something I really enjoyed as “genius” or “a work of genius” or “pure genius.” Why do I do this? After all, I don’t actually think Richard Benjamin’s performance as an unhinged Jewish Van Helsing in the 1979 Dracula parody Love at First Bite is “genius.” I think it’s hilarious and unexpected and that Benjamin’s turn raises the movie’s comic game.

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Bland Exterior

Inside Riley Anderson is the better place to be.
Jul 20, 2015

The new Pixar film about an 11-year-old girl’s moment of crisis and change is called Inside Out, and it’s a perfect title—maybe too perfect for its own good. Everything the movie shows going on inside Riley’s head is glorious. And that’s most of what we see, so Inside Out deserves to be called the best American movie of the year so far.

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Monster Mash

The dinosaur quality of a blockbuster franchise.
Jun 29, 2015

Jurassic World is a movie about itself. It tells a story about the difficulty of making special effects exciting when it seems like audiences have already seen it all. In the movie, the titular theme park has been built on the same island that hosted the old Jurassic Park back in the day when people would gasp upon seeing a realistic-looking T. rex—just as many of the same multiplexes that are showing Jurassic World showed Jurassic Park 22 years ago.

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Company Gal

Not for the first time, the star outshines the movie.
Jun 22, 2015

As a comic actress, Melissa McCarthy resembles a first-rate baseball pitcher—because, unlike many of her brethren, who have a singular shtick and stick with it, she has both a curve and a fastball. 

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Blythe Spirit

The heart and soul of a late revelation.
Jun 15, 2015

William Butler Yeats might have described an old person as a “paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick,” but then Yeats didn’t live to see the 72-year-old actress Blythe Danner bloom like a bird of paradise in the first starring role she’s had on screen in her 43-year career. I’ll See You in My Dreams was made over the course of 18 days for $500,000, and its modesty is evident in every frame.

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Max Redux

The first postapocalyptic vision remains the best.
May 25, 2015

One Friday evening in 1980, I journeyed to the far West Side of Chicago to a drive-in on Cicero Avenue and attended what may have been the strangest double feature in the history of the world. The top of the bill was The Gong Show Movie, a film written by, directed by, and starring Chuck Barris, the host of the TV show of the same name. The B-picture was something called Mad Max.

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Comic Opera

When the superheroes join forces, it’s time to head for the hills.
May 18, 2015

Offering an opinion of Avengers: Age of Ultron is like reviewing Chex Mix. According to what stand-ard should one judge this mixture of breakfast cereal and pretzels and croutons and salt? Even if you find it bland or uninteresting you’ll probably have a few handfuls anyway. And if you love it, you love it uncritically and unreservedly—until, perhaps, you eat too much of it and then feel a little sick.

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Immovable Force

The camera as chronicler of marital deadlock.
May 11, 2015

There are several key shots in movies—the visual strategies directors and cinematographers and editors use to establish scene, mood, movement, and dramatic tension, guiding the viewer’s eye to important information. 

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Mind Over Matter

A robot by any other name .  .  .
Apr 27, 2015