John Powers

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Back when the Nazis were running roughshod over his homeland, Bertolt Brecht wrote a short poem that asked, "In the dark times, will there still be singing?" And it gave a reply: "Yes, there will be singing. About the dark times."

For nearly a century, spy stories were a male preserve, one dominated by the likes of James Bond, or — at the classier end — John le Carré. That has finally begun to change, especially on television.

The U.S. and Iran have had contentious relations ever since the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s overthrowing the shah, and the subsequent hostage crisis — in which militants held 52 U.S. citizens for more than a year. Decades of scenes showing mobs burning the U.S. flag on the streets of Tehran have led many Americans to wonder why people in such a faraway country are so angry with the United States.

For an answer, you couldn't do better than to start with Coup 53, an exhilarating new historical documentary that unfolds with the pace and complexity of a thriller.

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The Russian poet Joseph Brodsky once said that prison is a lack of space counterbalanced by a surplus of time. Our current lockdown can't be compared to being locked up, but with so much surplus time on our hands, many of us are eager for stories that will help us escape endless thoughts of COVID-19. Here are three that did that for me:

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The other day I went to a party and wound up talking to some millennials who are backing Bernie Sanders. The conversation turned to the movies Parasite and Joker, and one of them wondered if the popularity of their shared theme — the abyss between the haves and have nots — meant we might be returning to the rebellious 1960s.

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The first foreign filmmaker I ever heard of was Federico Fellini. Back then, he was an international brand name, and aside from Hitchcock, probably the most famous director in the world.

If I had to make a list of the most important figures in pop culture over the last half-century, I would put Stephen King near the top. Since publishing his first novel, Carrie, in 1974, the 72-year-old writer has been a literary juggernaut whose books have spawned more than 20 TV shows and more than 40 movies. Still going strong, King is best known for tapping into and exploring that most primal of emotions — fear.

Few things haunt a critic more than loving something and not being able to share it. Every year, I wind up being plagued by the ghosts of the things I wasn't able to review — dog-eared books, dust-covered DVDs, TV shows and songs that rattle the windows of my playlists. Each December, I try to placate them with this ghost list before time runs out.

The films of Hayao Miyazaki (GKIDS)

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Spy stories vary hugely in their respect for the real world. James Bond movies are timelessly cartoonish, with villains who make their headquarters inside disused volcanoes.

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This is FRESH AIR. "Heaven, My Home" is the latest crime novel by Attica Locke, a prize-winning novelist also known for her television work, which includes writing for the hit series "Empire" and the recent Netflix mini series "When They See Us." This new book is the second in a series about an African American Texas ranger. And our critic-at-large John Powers says that Locke knows how to write a mystery novel that stings.

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In the 1960s, there was a terrific comedy in which a teenage Maoist scrawls a bit of graffiti that would become famous: "CHINA IS NEAR." Half a century on, China is here. It's here on our screens, where Hong Kong protests domination by the Communist mainland.

I'm not sure that any creature is more marvelous than the honeybee, with its highly evolved social organization, its ability to create honey, and, of course, the stinger that causes us to take heed whenever we hear buzzing. The pain it threatens makes it easy to think you need an almost-monastic devotion to become a beekeeper.

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