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The Political Radioactivity of “Zero Dark Thirty”

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How come a movie as smart and as serious as “Zero Dark Thirty,” directed and scripted by a highly acclaimed team – Mark Bowl and Kathryn Bigelow – is getting so little love this awards season? The answer: the radioactive politics of the film.

The controversy surrounding “Zero Dark Thirty” made the cover of TIME magazine this week. And while that piece of media real estate is not nearly as valuable as it once was once upon a time, it is still an important launching point for conversation among the chattering classes. Washington, certainly, is listening, obsessed even, with this controversy. It is not too often that a movie invades the polite conversation of the morning Sunday talking head shows and muscles its way onto Charlie Rose.

“Zero Dark Thirty” has, in fact, become a sort of cultural Rorschach test in the intellectual argument over the use of extraordinary rendition in the capture of dangerous terrorists as well as its use in the prevention of terrorist acts. The Fox television show “24,” after its own crude fashion a couple of years ago, raised the same controversial set of questions. That was then; this is now. “Zero Dark Thirty,” which takes the most extreme case – the mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, the world’s top terrorist – has faced questions of accuracy as well as questions of philosophy, now that we as a country have had some time and distance from the emotions of September 11.

If you are on the Dick Cheney side of the political-cultural spectrum, you’ll probably think that “Zero Dark Thirty” is “fantastically compelling” — as The National Review’s Rich Lowry did. Further, outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, a hawkish Democrat who headed the CIA in a previous life, loved it and, he says, “lived it.” Panetta liked the way James Gandolfini portrayed him, telling Martha Raddatz on “ABC’s This Week,” “it’s a great movie … I think they did a great job in indicating how this came about.” In fine: if you believe in extraordinary rendition, or enhanced interrogation – flowery ways of expressing a brutal event – then this is the film for you.

On the other side of the spectrum, however, the reviews are more critical, honing in on the motives behind “Zero Dark Thirty.” Natasha Lennard in Salon notes, “(O)f course, the big question driving much criticism of the movie is whether it justifies torture. The argument is rooted in the premise that ‘ZDT’ presents information gleaned from ‘enhanced interrogation’ as crucial in leading the CIA to Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound.” CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen – an unpaid advisor to the film — writes, “’Zero Dark Thirty’ is a great piece of filmmaking and does a valuable public service by raising difficult questions most Hollywood movies shy away from, but as of this writing, it seems that one of its central themes — that torture was instrumental to tracking down bin Laden — is not supported by the facts.” Maybe they should have paid him?

Who is right? And does it even matter in the scope of the mission of a dramatic work of art? Biopics, particularly during awards season, face an unbelievable amount of scrutiny. Clearly “ZD30” is not a totalizing narrative, so let’s get that off the table right away. Kathryn Bigelow maintains to the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins, “What we were attempting is almost a journalistic approach to film.’’ So if this is not a “true story” — an accurate depiction of a single event — then what is it? And why have the critics fixed on this question of accuracy that has already, quite frankly, been answered by the filmmaker? Again, this leads back to the political radioactivity of the film that I mentioned at the outset.

Whatever you might think of them, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal do not play small ball. It is not inconceivable, in fact, that ZD30 might have been too controversial – and thus radioactive – for any major award. How interesting that at this year’s Oscar’s ZD30 – a film fraught with controversy – is set to go mano-a-mano against “Argo,” a universally loved film about a “soft” solution to a political problem in the Middle East, in the Best Picture category. Awards season has turned out to be a battle between two similar films about a troubled region offering different solutions to the problem – one aggressive, the other softer. And it looks as what the juries this awards season want in that category of Best Picture is the Hollywood happy ending.

What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding “Zero Dark Thirty”? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Thank Azaria

Best. Characters. Ever.

Our favorite Hank Azaria characters.

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GIFs via Giphy

Hank Azaria may well be the most prolific voice and character actor of our time. The work he’s done for The Simpsons alone has earned him a permanent place in the pop culture zeitgeist. And now he’s bringing another character to the mainstream: a washed-up sports announcer named Jim Brockmire, in the aptly titled new series Brockmire.

We’re looking forward to it. So much so that we want to look backward, too, with a short-but-sweet retrospective of some of Azaria’s important characters. Shall we begin?

Half The Recurring Simpsons Characters

He’s Comic Book Guy. He’s Chief Wiggum. He’s Apu. He’s Cletus. He’s Snake. He’s Superintendent Chalmers. He’s the Sea Captain. He’s Kurt “Can I Borrow A Feeling” Van Houten. He’s Professor Frink. He’s Carl. And he’s many more. But most importantly he’s Moe Szyslak, the staple character Azaria has voiced since his very first audition for The Simpsons.

Oh, and He’s Frank Grimes

For all the regular Simpsons characters Azaria has played over the years, his most brilliant performance may have been a one-off: Frank Grimes, the scrappy bootstrapper who worked tirelessly all his life for honest, incremental, and easily-undermined success. Azaria’s portrayal of this character was nuanced, emotional, and simply magical.

Patches O’Houlihan

Dodgeball is a “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” as Hank Azaria generously points out in his brief but crucial cameo in Dodgeball. That’s sage wisdom. Try applying his “five D’s” to your life on and off the court and enjoy the results.

Harold Zoid

Of Futurama fame. The crazy uncle of Dr. Zoidberg, Harold Zoid was once a lion (or lobster) of the silver screen until Smell-o-vision forced him into retirement.

Agador

The Birdcage was significant for many reasons, and the comic genius of Hank Azaria’s character “Agador” sits somewhere towards the top of that list. If you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you.

Gargamel

Nobody else could make a live-action Gargamel possible.

Ed Cochran

From Ray Donovan. Great character, great last name [editorial note: the author of this article may be bias].

Kahmunra, The Thinker, Abe Lincoln

All in the Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, a file that let Azaria flex his voice acting and live-action muscles in one fell swoop.

The Blue Raja

Mystery Men has everything, including a fatal case of Smash Mouth. Azaria’s iconic superhero makes the shortlist of redeemable qualities, though.

Dr. Huff

Huff put Azaria in a leading role, and it was good. So good that there is no good gif of it. Internet? More like Inter-not.

Learn more about Hank Azaria’s newest claim to fame right here, and don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Flame Out

Brockmire and Other Public Implosions

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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There’s less than a month until the Brockmire premiere, and to say we’re excited would be an insulting understatement. It’s not just that it stars Hank Azaria, who can do no wrong (and yes, that’s including Mystery Men, which is only cringeworthy because of Smash Mouth). It’s that the whole backstory of the titular character, Jim Brockmire, is the stuff of legends. A one-time iconic sportscaster who won the hearts of fans and players alike, he fell from grace after an unfortunate personal event triggered a seriously public meltdown. See for yourself in the NSFW Funny or Die digital short that spawned the IFC series:

See? NSFW and spectacularly catastrophic in a way that could almost be real. Which got us thinking: What are some real-life sports fails that have nothing to do with botched athletics and everything to do with going tragically off script? The internet is a dark and dirty place, friends, but these three examples are pretty special and mostly safe for work…

Disgruntled Sports Reporter

His co-anchor went offsides and he called it like he saw it.

Jim Rome vs Jim “Not Chris” Everett

You just don’t heckle a professional athlete when you’re within striking distance. Common sense.

Carl Lewis’s National Anthem

He killed it! As in murdered. It’s dead.

To see more moments just like these, we recommend spending a day in your pajamas combing through the muckiness of the internet. But to see something that’s Brockmire-level funny without having to clear your browser history, check out the sneak peeks and extras here.

Don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Mirror, Mirror

Portlandia Season 7 In Hindsight

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available Online and on the IFC App.

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Another season of Portlandia is behind us, and oh what a season it was. We laughed. We cried. And we chuckled uncomfortably while glancing nervously around the room. Like every season before it, the latest Portlandia has held a mirror up to ridiculousness of modern American life, but more than ever that same mirror has reflected our social reality in ways that are at once hysterical and sneakily thought-provoking. Here are just a few of the issues they tackled:

Nationalism

So long, America, Portland is out! And yes, the idea of Portland seceding is still less ludicrous than building a wall.

Men’s Rights

We all saw this coming. Exit gracefully, dudes.

Protests

Whatever you stand for, stand for it together. Or with at least one other person.

Free Love

No matter who we are or how we love, deep down we all have the ability to get stalky.

Social Status

Modern self-esteem basically hinges on likes, so this isn’t really a stretch at all.

These moments are just the tip of the iceberg, and much more can be found in the full seventh season of #Portlandia, available right now #online and on the #IFC app.

via GIPHY

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