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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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Keep America Weird

Watch “Weird Al” in the Trailer for Hidden America With Jonah Ray

Weird Al comes to Comedy Bang! Bang! starting June 3rd at 11P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: SeeSo

Jonah Ray, Nerdist podcaster and future resident of the Satellite of Love on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot, is motoring across the country as part of a new travel parody show on SeeSo. And “Weird Al” is coming along for the journey.

Hidden America with Jonah Ray takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to tourism travel logs as the comedian visits and fumbles through cities like Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Denver, and Austin. Along the way, Ray will meet up with Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader “Weird Al” Yankovic, Randall Park, David Koechner, and more.

Check out the trailer below. For more “Weird Al,” be sure to catch the premiere of Comedy Bang! Bang! season five on June 3rd at 11P.

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Back to the Future Jaws Parody

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10 Hilarious Jaws Spoofs

Catch the Jaws movies during IFC's Memorial Day Shark Half-A-Day Marathon.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

How much is Jaws a part of our culture? Over 40 years after its release, it’s still prompting parodies that get laughs. To get you ready for IFC’s Memorial Day Shark Half-A-Day Marathon, check out our favorite spoofs of Jaws from across pop culture. Want more? You’re gonna need a bigger list…

1. “Mr. Jaws,” Dickie Goodman

Released just a few months after the movie’s debut on June 20th, 1975, this novelty record spent ten weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at #4. In one of the earliest examples of sampling, comedian Dickie Goodman spliced in snippets of pop songs to answer interview questions with the Great White himself.


2. Jaws II (Land Shark), Saturday Night Live

It took only the fourth episode ever of SNL to establish one of its iconic recurring bits and play into the hysterical fear of sharks that Jaws prompted. A big punchline of this sketch: A sequel to Jaws! Who in 1975 could imagine such a thing??


3. “Jowls,” The Carol Burnett Show

Exactly one week after SNL spoofed Jaws, Carol Burnett and company did their take. Looking back now, what’s most amazing is that network TV allowed a sketch to go on for eleven minutes.


4. Mad Magazine

Mad Magazine Jaws
Mad Magazine/DC Comics

Even Jaws wouldn’t want to take a bite of Alfred E. Neuman in this issue from 1976. The comic inside spoofed the movie with a musical version -– an idea that took off over 30 years later.


5. 1941

How many times has this happened to you? You make a legendary movie, you see people parody it, and you want in! That’s the unlikely scenario that led to Jaws director Steven Spielberg making his own spoof as part of his 1979 war comedy 1941. How authentic did Spielberg get? Yes, that’s Susan Backlinie, the original lady in the water from Jaws, meeting up with trouble in the moonlight yet again.


6. Airplane!

One of the greatest disaster comedies of all time sets the tone for hilarity with its opening sequence. Even before the title appears, you know you’re in for a movie that winks at its place in film history.


7. Back to the Future Part II

1989 brought us this blockbuster sequel making fun of blockbuster sequels, as Marty McFly finds himself in a futuristic 2015 showing Jaws 19. While the actual 2015 came and went with Jaws only having three sequels, Universal treated fans of both movies to a trailer for the film that might have been…


8. Clerks

Kevin Smith was one of a generation of filmmakers influenced by Jaws. Many of his films contain references to his love of the original film, but only Clerks has the salsa shark.


9. Giant Killer Shark: The Musical

Mad Magazine Jaws

Why should live theater be without a spoof of Jaws? Just because of the risk of a massive lawsuit over intellectual property infringement? That may help explain the please-don’t-sue-us title of Giant Killer Shark: The Musical, which debuted in 2006. Just to drive the point home: the action takes place on and around Copyright-Protected Island. Scary!


10. Bill Murray’s Jaws Love Theme, SNL 40

The star-studded SNL 40th anniversary special marked four decades since the debut of SNL and of Jaws. It featured not one but two references to the movie, with Bill Murray as lounge singer Nick Ocean singing the love theme from Jaws we never knew we were missing. (He reprised the song at the event above.) Later, the Land Shark himself appeared on “Weekend Update.” Jaws: The gift that keeps on giving laughs.

Spend Memorial Day with IFC’s Shark Half-A-Day Marathon featuring “fin facts” from “sharks-pert” Jason Alexander!

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5 Funniest Gifs From Last Night’s Maron

Watch last night's all new Maron right now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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It’s out of the guilt-ridden frying pan and into the shame-filled fire as Marc travels down to Florida to visit his mother Toni (Sally Kellerman) in last night’s episode of Maron. And if matriarchal angst didn’t deliver enough pain — does it ever? — Marc also had to deal with Toni’s annoying boyfriend.

Here are the 5 funniest GIFs from last night’s Maron episode, which you can watch right now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

1. Things were tense, to say the least.

Marc Asshole


2. Marc acknowledges his feminine side.

Marc Girly


3. But also shows he’s from the street.

Marc Handshake


4. On the other hand, urban fashion statements are lost on him.

Marc Snapback


5. But at the end of the day, the treatment is clearly working.

Marc Wahh

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