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.

That 70s Show Superfriends

That '70s Spoofs

8 Movie and TV Parodies From That ’70s Show

Catch That '70s Show Mondays & Tuesdays from 6-11P on IFC.

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That ’70s Show never missed the chance to make a mockery of major movies and TV shows from the Me Decade. Before you dive into IFC’s Thanksgiving Day Sweatsgiving That ’70s Show marathon, check out some of the show’s best spoofs of Star Wars, the Superfriends and more.

8. Star Wars

Star Wars That 70s Show

The 1977 release of Star Wars affects the That ’70s gang as much as it affects the rest of society: totally and awesomely. The season one episode “A New Hope” sends the gang to a galaxy far, far away (well, the cinema), leading Eric to star in his own Force-powered dream with everything from Red Kenobi to a R2-D2 vacuum.

7. Batman

Batman That 70s Show

When a drunken Jackie makes Fez‘s dreams come true by hitting on him, he faces a superheroic internal struggle starring himself as a tiny Batman and Riddler. Of course, Fez-man hasn’t always been so heroic.

Fez That 70s Show

6. The Super Friends

Superfriends That 70s Show

Kelso gets to be Batman in an entire ’70s gang of Super-pals in a super-powered fantasy. Though their battle against Red Luthor — who, let’s be honest, would triumph over the REAL Super Friends — is weakened when all Wonder Twins Hyde and Jackie want to do is make out.

5. Shaft

Isaac Hayes, who wrote and performed the original and incomparable theme for the ’70s flick Shaft, provides a significantly less tough “Theme for Fez” in the episode “Spread Your Wings.”

4. The Continental

Big Rhonda That 70s Show

When Fez tries to get to third base with Big Rhonda in the basement, the camera switches to second-person as she watches him making his attempts in the style of Renzo Casena in the TV series The Continental. (The 1950s series was also famously parodied by Christopher Walken on SNL.)

3. Psycho and other Hitchcock classics

Psycho That 70s Show

Halloween episodes are always a good excuse for costumes and parodies. “Too Old to Trick or Treat, Too Young to Die”  memorably parodied Hitchcock classics like Rear Window, The Birds and, of course, Psycho‘s iconic shower scene.

2. Annie Hall

Eric and Donna took on the roles of Alvy Singer and Annie Hall in a spoof of a memorable scene from the classic Woody Allen and Diane Keaton comedy.

1. I Love Lucy

In a fun take on the Lucille Ball sitcom classic, Fez’s fantasies veer all the way to monochrome, creating an alternate world where he has a relationship and Red might even talk to him for two sentences without calling him a dumbass.


Read Carrie's Book

Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl Is Out Now

Carrie's moving memoir is out now.

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Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, is out now at fine local book shops and at online retailers like iBooks, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

The book, a “deeply personal and revealing narrative of Brownstein’s life in music,” is getting rave reviews. The Washington Post writes that, “It’s impossible not to like Brownstein” in their review of her “engaging and witty” memoir. The AV Club called the book “engrossing,” adding that “for fans of Sleater-Kinney, it’s immensely compelling, particularly because Brownstein writes crisply, insightfully, and without vanity.” She even dedicated the book to her Sleater-Kinney bandmates (and Portlandiaregulars) Janet Weiss and Corin Tucker.

Pick up a copy of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl in stores today, and be sure to catch Carrie on her nationwide book tour at one of the dates below where she will be joined by specials guests like Questlove, Amy Poehler and more.


WORD Bookstore at Saint Vitus Bar

In conversation with Questlove


Barnes & Noble Union Square

In conversation with Gaby Hoffman


Philadelphia Free Library at The Merriam Theater

In conversation with Aidy Bryant


Pitchfork at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

In conversation with Jessica Hopper


BookPeople at Central Presbyterian Church

In conversation with Liz Lambert


Vroman’s Bookstore at Pasadena Presbyterian

In conversation with Amy Poehler


Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

In conversation with Dave Eggers


Powell’s Books at The Newmark Theatre

In conversation with a Special Guest TBA


Elliott Bay Book Company at The Neptune Theater

In conversation with Maria Semple


Drawn & Quarterly at The Rialto Theatre

In conversation with Jessica Hopper


Toronto Public Library’s Appel Salon

In conversation with Johanna Schneller


Super Awkward

The 10 Most Hilariously Awkward Sex Comedies

Get racy with Gigi Does It Mondays at 10:30P.

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Let’s face it: sex is innately funny. Body parts squishing together is always a recipe for potential awkwardness. So it’s only natural that Hollywood has mined the beast with two backs for comedy since the mid-­1950s. With Gigi getting her groove back on this week’s Gigi Does It, we thought we’d spotlight the 10 most hilariously awkward sex comedies ever lensed, from sci­fi parodies to touching teen romances.

10. Porky’s

Set in the 1950s, Bob Clark’s 1981 hit comedy follows a group of high school kids who want to lose their virginity, and travel to a nightclub in the Florida Everglades to do it. This kicks off a string of comical events that includes a “peeping on the girls locker room” scene that has been endlessly homaged and parodied. Porky’s was a massive critical flop on release, but thanks to VHS and cable airings it became a sweaty ’80s classic.

9. The Virginity Hit

The 2010 comedy The Virginity Hit takes the found­ footage approach from flicks like Paranormal Activity and transplants it into the much scarier world of high school sex and YouTube humiliation. This underrated movie laid the groundwork for a potential “third wave” of sex comedies.

8. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

Woody Allen took a best­selling advice book and transformed it into this episodic comedy that cast a baleful eye on sex in the Free Love decade. The stellar cast (Gene Wilder! Burt Reynolds! Lynn Redgrave!) deliver some of the bits that rank among the best in Allen’s career. The rapid­-fire pace lets The Woodman touch on all manner of sexual deviancy, and the movie’s climax — in which the director plays a sperm getting ready to blast off into the throes of orgasm –­ is one of cinema’s most iconic moments.

7. Orgazmo

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have never shied away from getting explicit, and their NC­-17 sex comedy was an early taste of the duo’s outrageous humor. A young Mormon missionary comes to Los Angeles to try and save souls and winds up getting hired to star in a superhero-­themed porno. When his costar invents a ray gun that gives people orgasms, all Hell (and hilarity) breaks loose.

6. Superbad

This Judd Apatow-produced hit brought teen comedies into the age of the overshare with its mix of teenage awkwardness, uproarious gags and a healthy bromance between leads Michael Cera and Jonah Hill.

5. American Pie

The second great era of sex comedies kicked off in 1999 with this remarkably ribald ensenble flick about a quartet of friends trying to lose their virginity before they graduate high school. American Pie takes its name from the scene where Jason Biggs gets caught in a compromising position with some pastry, but the movie has multiple unforgettable bits, particularly Alyson Hannigan’s reverie about band camp.

4. There’s Something About Mary

The Farrelly Brothers cemented their position as a comedic powerhouse with this still hilarious Ben Stiller/Cameron Diaz rom com. Rarely has a film that involves testicular injury and unfortunate choices in hair gel been so sweet.

3. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Judd Apatow proved that sex comedies aren’t just for teens with his breakthrough big screen comedy which cast Steve Carell as the titular middle-aged virgin. Although there’s plenty of erotic tomfoolery in this flick, it’s the real sense of heart and emotional consequence that makes it a classic.

2. The Girl Next Door

The normalization of pornography has drastically changed the way we think about sex, and 2004’s The Girl Next Door wrings tons of laughs from what happens when dirty movies hit a little too close to home. Elisha Cuthbert is the not-so-innocent girl next door who helps Emile Hirsch find new purpose in his life. A surprisingly dark and high-­quality outing for a film that was marketed as “American Porn.”

1. The Graduate

Single­-handedly responsible for introducing the concept of the “MILF” to American culture, Mike Nichols’ 1967 comedy features genre­-defining performances from Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft as a recent college graduate and the older woman he hooks up with. Sex is integral to The Graduate‘s plot and premise — it’s the fulcrum of the emotional conflict, not just thrown in for titillation, making for one of the best comedies of all time.

Dodgeball 1920 Everett

Grab Life by the Ball

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Dodgeball

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There was a time, not long ago, when Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and their “Frat Pack” of fast-talking comedians ruled Hollywood. From Zoolander to Anchorman, these cut-ups couldn’t help but churn out hit after hit. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story itself grossed $124 millon at the box office, even after every studio in town initially turned it down. Thanks to a wrench throwing Rip Torn and a Lance Armstrong cameo that’s more uncomfortable in hindsight, this little comedy that could has grown into a much-loved classic. To celebrate Comedy Crib’s new dodgeball comedy Ball or Nothing, here are a few fun facts you may not know about the comedy that told us to “grab life by the ball.”

10. The Hoff’s Cameo Was Last Minute Magic

David Hasselhoff’s cameo as coach of the German team was a last minute addition, after stunt coordinator Alex Daniel mentioned he knew the Baywatch beefcake personally.

9. Roadhouse Was An Inspiration

Stiller is a film connoisseur, so it’s no surprise he chose to honor the seminal ’80s action classic Roadhouse by using Patrick Swayze’s hairdo as inspiration for his character, calling it a “super quaffed power mullet.”

8. Justin Long Took One For The Team

Rip Torn played the wheelchair-bound coach Patches O’Houlihan who motivated the team by hurling wrenches at them. The prop wrenches were made out of rubber, but that didn’t make things easier for Justin Long, who had his eyebrow split open after one particularly hard throw. Patches (and Torn) doesn’t mess around.

7. The Director Pulled A Hitchcock

For his feature film debut, writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber made a cameo appearance as the guy who throws a drink at Steve the Pirate in Vegas.

6. Happy Accidents Helped Make It A Classic

Vaughn’s character, Peter LaFleur, makes a unique first impression in the movie, having a group of guys push his stalled car up to the Average Joe’s gym. This was in fact a last minute addition after the car on set actually broke down.

5. Norm Macdonald Made a Cameo

In a film chock full of cameos, the most unheralded probably goes to Norm Macdonald, who was supposedly an extra in the background during the Globo Gym ad. Is that him in the clip above lifting weights next to some musclebound bro-dude? Sure looks like Norm.

4. The Film Gave a WWE Diva Her Big Break

Future WWE Diva Candice Michelle briefly appeared as a sideline dancer, long before taking her talents to the ring.

3. Patches O’Houlihan Was Inspired By The “Miracle on Ice”

Patches insults his players by saying “it’s like watching a bunch of retards trying to hump a doorknob.” This was in fact a reference to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey coach Herb Brooks, who once said “it’s like watching a monkey trying to hump a football.”

2. The Writer/Director Made the Terry Tate Office Linebaker Ads

Dodgeball wasn’t Rawson Marshall Thurber first time tackling sports comedy — he got noticed after directing the memorable Reebok ads where NFL player Terry Tate enforces office etiquette through punishing tackles.

1. Dodgeball Will Be Back!

It was announced in 2013 that Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story would be getting a sequel, which will no doubt be called Dodgeball 2: The Search for Patches’ Golden Wrench.

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