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I'd never before seen "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012), and only knew - or thought I only knew - that it was about what the U.S. did with captives suspected of Al Qaeda involvement, so I went in with a very clean slate. Note this thread about torture (and feel free to comment there), which does *not* reflect my personal views on anything, much less torture - I only mention it because it's probably related to this film. In my opinion, this is very much related to our thread about Lt. William Calley as well. "The Saudi Group" is mentioned prominently at the beginning of the film, and I'd never even heard of the term before (and I've always considered myself pretty well-informed about current events, especially things such as this). Some important (real-life) names you may want to familiarize yourself with - or at least have the Wikipedia links handy while watching the film), aside from the obvious, are: Ammar al-Balauchi (brilliantly played by Reda Kateb), Hazem al-Kashmiri, Ramzi Yousef, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Hamza Rabia, Khabab al-Masri, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulai al-Balawi, and Abu Ahmed (I'm writing as I watch, trying not to pause the film, so I'm bound to make some typos, and will also probably miss some key people). You should also know about the general concept of "Black Sites," and what "ISI" is. Note: It's not at all essential to the plot of the movie to know who these people are - in terms of the film itself, most of them are "mix-and-match" high-level Al Qaeda operatives, and that's more than sufficient to watch Zero Dark Thirty - if you hear a name mentioned multiple times (for example, Abu Ahmed (pronounced "Ahkmed")), then you can make a stronger mental note. When Mark Strong (George, the senior CIA supervisor) was chewing out his group for not eliminating more Al Qaeda personnel, I was thinking to myself, "Well, who's in charge of the group, you brain-dead dork?" Mark Strong also played Maj. Gen. Stewart Manzies in "The Imitation Game," who was the man that made Alan Turing's life (more) helllish, so he's good at playing power-hungry authority figures, and these are two pretty huge roles in a short period of time. Jessica Chastain is a terrible choice to play Maya, the quiet, passive girl who becomes psycho-edgy the longer she stays in the group - her acting is terrible, and she's about as believable as watching Geena Davis playing Ronda Rousey (of course, Ronda Rousey isn't very believable playing Ronda Rousey, either, so ....). Ninety more minutes have passed since I wrote the previous paragraph, and the film is almost over. While lauded by both critics and the public, I'm taking a dissenting view and saying that "Zero Dark Thirty" is a stupid, Hollywood rendition of something that could have been made into a great film. Jessica Chastain was laughably bad in her role - she was miscast, plain and simple, and carries about as much gravitas when she uses big, aggressive words around high-up CIA operatives as an Englishman prancing his French poodle around in a dog show. Furthermore, she was a completely fictional character, and the producers had a chance to make her into anything they wanted - and they chose *this*?! In a way, the film is like the absolutely abysmal "Airport '77" in that the ending is terrific - the final hunt for UBL is brilliantly filmed, believable, and dripping with tension even though we all know what's going to happen. It was the same way in Airport '77 with the rescue, which was filmed using actual military techniques, and was the only good part of the movie. This film is like a wrapped piece of toffee - it's really strong at the beginning, and at the end, and there are nearly two hours of Hollywood tedium, over-acted dreck, and God-awful Jessica Chastain who, inexplicably, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress - I can certainly see "Zero Dark Thirty" winning awards for lighting, editing, sound and the like, but acting? Not unless it's either Reda Kateb or perhaps even Jason Clarke, but nominating Jessica Chastain shows just how much the Academy Awards are dumbed down for the masses, and should never be taken as anything more than "notoriety." Go to Rotten Tomatoes, and you'll think this is a great movie - a can't-miss movie - but to this viewer, it was "okay" at best, and very typical Hollywood: big, bold special effects, and story-driven rather than concerning itself with character development, nuance, or subtlety. If anyone thinks Jessica Chastain was successful in her role as Maya, please offer up your opinion - I'd like to know what you think.
I would normally never watch a film such as "The Martian," (an implausible Hollywood blockbuster about a crazy thing), but a trusted friend saw it, and told me I might like it more than I'd think (actually, the exact words were, "The Martian was not a great film. But my expectations were very low, and it surpassed them. It was amusing escapism on a day when I really needed some"), so given that I like to remain at least somewhat in touch with popular culture, why not? Plus, I've liked Matt Damon ever since "Good Will Hunting," - an underachieving film that has an interesting premise, sort of like Patrick Swayze in "Roadhouse" (a black-belt "cooler" who drives a Mercedes 560SEC and has a degree in Philosophy?) Plus, sometimes you have to just enjoy cheap (actually, not-so-cheap) escapism for its own sake, you know what I mean? Some of these tidbits I got from, or was inspired by, Amazon X-Ray, so instead of citing each of them, I'll give a global citation here. I mention Amazon X-Ray in greater detail here. In the opening credits, the title "THE MARTIAN" slowly fades away, but the bottom part of the "T" in Martian lingers on the screen by itself for about one second, forming an "I." This is both similar to what happened in Alien (the letters fading), and obviously a foreshadowing of what is about to occur in the movie. The spaceship in The Martian is named Hermes, the Greek God of Scarves and Neckties, and also the Protector of Travelers. The Roman equivalent of Hermes is Mercury. The Latin name for Mark (Mark Watney is Matt Damon's character) is Marcus, which means, "of Mars." I have to admit that when Watney pulled the object out from inside of him (which I think might have been some vague tribute to the infamous scene in Ridley Scott's "Alien"), and was sitting in the chair, staring at the ceiling, with his predicament slowly dawning on him, and he said, "Fuck," I laughed out loud. So far (I'm writing this as I watch), I like the comic relief in this movie, e.g., when Mark threw up his arms in triumph while working with hydrazine. In the preview for The Martian, which I first saw many months before it was released, they used the eye-rolling line, "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this." That was so off-putting to me that it, alone, made me not want to see the film. In context of the movie, it was *still* an eye-rolling line - horrible - but not *as* bad as it was in the trailer, stripped of all context and previous events. These people know what they're doing: This line might have lost my demographic as a potential audience, but it probably gained ten-times as many people in other demographics. Okay, I'm an hour into this movie, with about eighty minutes remaining. I am predicting - but do not know - that Mark will be saved, because ... how can he *not* be? Hollywood is a mega-business, and a tragic ending would be bad for business (and it would have surely leaked out very early on). In an indie art film? Sure, but not here. No way. Just once, I'd love to see an ending like Tosca in a Hollywood nine-figure blockbuster, where the lead character drops dead right before the final curtain falls. It would make for better suspense going forward. As a final thought, I can see how watching The Martian would make the life of someone who is trapped in a prison, or a wheelchair, or a dungeon, or some other place of absolute solitude a little more bearable, giving them just an extra ounce of hope, knowing (or even fantasizing) that as long as you're still breathing, nothing is impossible. When I first saw the trailer for The Martian, I never dreamed that I would actually watch it, much less like it, but I liked The Martian a lot more than I thought I would.