President Obama has nominated his adviser John O. Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan has operated behind closed doors at the White House for four years, and has been perhaps the single most important person shaping the administration’s counterterrorism policy. Before he moves to the even more secretive confines of Langley, here are twelve questions he should be asked to answer on the public record.
Twelve Questions for John Brennan by David Cole
Photo: White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, Arlington, Virginia, December 21, 2011. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Zero Dark Thirty was constructed to bring viewers to the edges of their seats, and for many viewers it has succeeded in that respect. Its faults as journalism matter because they may well affect the unresolved public debate about torture, to which the film makes a distorted contribution.
Steve Coll: ‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading’
Photo: Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal on the set of Zero Dark Thirty (Jonathan Olley/Columbia Pictures)
The Oscar nominations have been announced. Here’s what our critics had to say about several films in contention.
Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western about slavery got nominations for best picture and for supporting actor Christoph Walz. Christopher Benfey found it a film ”in love with European allusions,” from Wagner to Dumas.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The first installment of Peter Jackson’s take on Tolkien’s The Hobbit earned a nod for best visual effects, which J. Hoberman predicted. The movie “features endless digital battles predicated on space-warping virtual camera moves and chute-and-ladder sudden escapes.”
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The fantastical tale of a young New Orleans girl is up for best picture and best adapted screenplay. The film’s star, Quvenzhané Wallis, is up for best actress for her portrayal of Hushpuppy which Geoffrey O’Brien called "intense, unflinching, incapable of meek submission."
Michael Haneke’s film portrays a happily married Parisian couple dealing with "the shocks, the cruelties and indignities" of old age, writes Francine Prose. She said the French film, up for best picture, “stays with you long after you might have chosen to forget it.”
Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for best actor, and Philip Seymour Hoffman for best supporting actor, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s story of a cult leader. The character of Freddie Quell, Geoffrey O’Brien writes, is “a mass of tics and sexual compulsions who improvises his life from second to second. As played by Joaquin Phoenix—‘played’ seems too light a word—he inhabits his body as if it were ill-fitting armor he’d been saddled with.”
Steven Spielberg’s epic had the most Oscar nominations with twelve, including best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay. “The combination of Lincoln’s many elements is effected with a deliberation and exactness that consistently skirts the abyss of empty heart-stirring sentiment, the favorite destination of patriotic epics,” writes Geoffrey O’Brien of its depiction of the early months of 1865. Daniel Day-Lewis also received a nod for his portrayal, which David Bromwich called "a commanding performance and a credible one."
Jonathan Mirsky: I felt a shudder of déjà vu watching the mounting protests inside China this week of the Communist Party for censoring an editorial in Southern Weekend, a well-known liberal newspaper in the southern city of Guangzhou. It is all too similar to the disciplining in April 1989 of another Chinese paper, The World Economic Herald in Shanghai, and its editor, Qin Benli—events that played an important part in the gathering unrest in Tiananmen Square.
Photo: Students protesting in Tiananmen Square following the death of former Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang, Beijing, April, 1989 (Rene Burri/Magnum Photos)
Martin Gardner had this to say of the legendary physicist back in 1988: “He is already a legend, not just because of his brilliant contributions to theoretical physics, but also for his courage, optimism, and humor in the face of a crippling illness. Lou Gehrig’s disease may be gnawing away at his body, but it has left his mind intact.”
The Ultimate Turtle by Martin Gardner
Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ is the ultimate horror film. With its portrayal of the shocks, the cruelties and indignities to which old age and disease subject a happily married Parisian couple, it’s far scarier and more disturbing than Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho,’ Kubrick’s ‘The Shining,’ or Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ and like those films, it stays with you long after you might have chosen to forget it.
Francine Prose: A Masterpiece You Might Not Want to See
The tidy little endings in sitcoms are reassuring us, much of the time, that the characters are not alone even when they remain romantically unattached and hapless; they have friends, family, colleagues—stability, in other words, even without being married. Sitcoms offer a salve for the bruises of urban single life.
Elaine Blair: Single Women and the Sitcom
Heavily dependent on computer-generated imagery, The Hobbit has also been ballyhooed for introducing a new technology. Projected at forty-eight frames per second rather than the usual twenty-four, Jackson’s movie bombards the retina with twice the visual information of a standard film. Does it matter? It does seem as though this innovation has solved the problem of the dark polaroid glasses needed for stereo visions. The 3D struck me as brighter, if disconcertingly sharp. Others have described the image quality as thin or shiny. (The critic Dave Kehr called it “a heightened video look.”) In any case, this improvement was overwhelmed by the repetitive violence of the digital carnage and the ugliness of the CGI.
J. Hoberman on Tolkien vs. Technology
Photo: Martin Freeman, left, and Andy Serkis on the set of The Hobbit (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Exactly two years have passed since the self-immolation of a fruit-seller in a depressed provincial town spurred Tunisians to topple their authoritarian president. But the mood on the anniversary of that richly symbolic martyrdom is somber, even defeatist. To many Tunisians, the goals that animated the revolution no longer seem within reach.
Christopher de Bellaigue, Tunisia: ‘Did We Make the Revolution For This?’
Photo: Protesters against the UGTT labor union and the former ruling party, Tunis, December 8, 2012 (Chedly Ben Ibrahim/Demotix/Corbis)