Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Movie Reviews: Zero Dark Thirty and Oblivion

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) PosterZeroDark Thirty was okay. Just okay. It left one pondering a number of things that might have been explored, although by documentary might have been a better format; for instance, the efficacy (in terms of gaining information) of torture (as shown in the water-boarding scenes), the effect of torture on the torturers, how the widespread knowledge about the U.S. government use of torture affected U.S. standing and prestige in the world and particularly in the Islamic world (i.e., did it create more jihadists?). Of course, no Hollywood movie wants to go down that rabbit hole (not to mention the morality of torture). So, we have to say that while this film hints at such issues, it skirts them.

The film could have been made more interesting if the character played by Jessica Chastain had been interesting, but she was not. During the course of the film, from her initiation into “enhanced interrogation”, through her experience of a terrorist bomb, the death of her friend through lax security and naiveté, to a gun attack, and finally to stationing at Langley and participation in the bureaucratic politics, she doesn’t seem to change. (A tear in the final scene in the hollows of a C-130 doesn’t really reveal much.) Chastain’s character was to serve as the thread of the film, but she appears inert to the world around her, so how was her character (and by necessity) the film to prove interesting beyond the details of the attack and killing of OBL? Compare her character to Claire Dane’s character in Homeland (Season 1). While I wouldn’t want Dane’s character working for the CIA, she is an interesting character (well portrayed by Danes). Thus, in reality, give me Chastain’s rather bland character working for the CIA, but for drama, Danes’s Carrie Mathison proves by for more interesting vehicle for driving a story. 

Oblivion (2013) PosterOblivion, the new Tom Cruise movie, is billed as homage to 1970’s SF, and within that modest goal, it works reasonably well. The plot hangs together pretty well. The post-apocalyptic landscape (complete with NYC landmarks) seems appropriate. Ecological disaster combined with alien invasion brings in two familiar motifs. Yeah, I get it. 

On the other hand, it doesn’t break new ground. IG, who, despite her prejudices against SF, attended, thought it a rip-off of Star Wars. Only in the 70’s SF look, I’d say. Mad Max might be a better comparison (although take a look at Morgan Freeman’s helmet . . . . hmmm, where have we seen that before?). Cruise is adequate to the role. He’s not yet too long of tooth to play this type of adventure hero role, but he’s getting close. So, on the whole, worth seeing if you enjoy SF and a nod back to some earlier flicks.

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