REALLY? Netflix thinks these are ‘like “Zero Dark Thirty”?’


Some fret that the algorithms that surround us know too much about us. I don’t. Not yet.

Over the last few years, I’ve rated 2,383 movies on Netflix — so I really think I can claim to have given this thing a chance — and the service still doesn’t have a clue what I’m likely to like.

I guess there are just too many variables in what makes a motion picture enjoyable.

I find that Pandora does a somewhat better job of throwing me an occasional song I haven’t heard before, but like upon hearing. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not batting 1.000 or anything. But every once in a while, something I didn’t ask for makes me think yeahhh. It manages this more often than Netflix does. At least it seems that way. I haven’t kept a spreadsheet on it or anything.

Really, I like Netflix very much. It’s a great service, for what it does (both the DVD and instant sides). But what it does not do is understand my preferences. And I hold out little hope of it achieving that feat when it doesn’t have a clue what sorts of movies are “like ‘Zero Dark Thirty’.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. “Universal Soldier?” “Batman Forever?” “Kinky Boots?”

Here are some movies I would say are actually like “Zero Dark Thirty:”

  • Black Hawk Down” — A true story featuring U.S. Special Forces troops in action.
  • Body of Lies” — Also fictional, but it involves dusty, gritty intelligence work on the ground in the same region. It even has torture scenes, as I recall.
  • Green Zone” — Much in the same genre as “Body of Lies.”
  • Homeland” — OK, it’s TV and not the big screen, and fictional, but the main female character has a lot in common with the lead in “Zero,” and may actually be based on the same real-life woman.
  • The Hurt Locker” — Same director, also set in the region, very similar feel (and a better movie, although “Zero” is good).

See where I’m going with this, Netflix? Probably not. Anyway, I see little reason to worry, based on this at least, that machines are reading my mind…

50 thoughts on “REALLY? Netflix thinks these are ‘like “Zero Dark Thirty”?’

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    It didn’t say you’d like them that’s what the stars are for. Those other films may have the same actor or director or be Dark Dramas with Female Lead…..

  2. Steven Davis II

    You need to watch Trailer Park Boys… give it three episodes before making a decision. Best series on Netflix.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I had it on there, then decided it wasn’t as much like it as the other five I listed. Although it has real SEALs in it, it’s more of a slam-bang shoot-em-up than it is like the other films.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Just thought of another really obvious one: “Argo.” Every one I’ve listed is far more like “Zero Dark Thirty” than are the films Netflix listed.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Maybe. Although I had not seen Argo until last night. It was pretty good. I don’t think it was the picture of the year, though. Not in a year with “Lincoln.”

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    I was reading another piece about “Big Data” in the WSJ this a.m., and it made a point I’d read before, but this time it registered with me:

    Big data differs from traditional information in mind-bending ways. For one thing, the authors write, “society will need to shed some of its obsession for causality in exchange for simple correlations: not knowing why but only what. This overturns centuries of established practices and challenges our most basic understanding of how to make decisions and comprehend reality.”

    What does that mean? Here’s an example:

    Technology researchers in Canada analyzed premature births, tracking more than 1,000 data points per second. They shocked doctors by showing that when vital signs are unusually stable, that correlates with a serious fever 24 hours later. Physicians now prevent fevers through treatment though causation remains a mystery.

    But it seems to me that the missing element of causality is pretty important. Maybe if Netflix would try to figure out why I liked certain movies — rather than simply noting (which I’ve guessing is what they do; I could be wrong) that others who liked A also liked B — then maybe it would have a clue what else I might like.

    But that doesn’t explain why it would think certain movies are “like” each other when they are not. That’s not causality. That’s just having certain points in common. Which the ones in that image at the top of this post lack.

  5. bud

    I’m kind of the same way about Argo. It was good but not great. Zero Dark 30 was powerful but a bit too depressing for my taste. Probably not a film I’d see a second time, sort of like Schindlers List. Haven’t seen Lincoln.

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    “Lincoln” was awesome, and not just because of Daniel Day-Lewis, although he was a big part of that.

    There was a tongue-in-cheek piece in the WSJ over the weekend about how Brits are taking over acting roles in the U.S. — such as three leading characters on “The Walking Dead” (although I don’t know if I’d count Lauren Cohan, since she was born in Philadelphia).

    Noting that DDL had played our greatest president, it also said he “had already been our last Mohican.”

    Well, that’s not accurate. Eric Schweig played Uncas, the actual last Mohican of the title.

    But the character Day-Lewis played in that film, and his performance in the role, were even more remarkable. While James Fenimore Cooper was noting the passing of a way of life, he was introducing a new type to literature — a creature who was replacing the aboriginal American. He was playing the very archetype of what later generations would know as the quintessential American.

    For some reason, they called the character Nathaniel Poe in the film. Maybe Hollywood thought the original name — Natty Bumppo — lacked dignity; I don’t know. Natty has many aliases, of course — the Deerslayer and Hawkeye among them.

    Day-Lewis’ accent in the film seems the one from which all American accents derive. His utter contempt for Old World concerns of empire, and implicitly for government — are intensely American. His character actually is what so many modern individualists imagine they are: Totally self-sufficient, needing nothing from any other man. Strong, deadly competent, even superhuman in his skills.

    The character is summed up in this exchange:

    Maj. Duncan Heyward: I thought all our colonial scouts were in the militia. The militia is fighting the French in the north.
    Hawkeye: I ain’t your scout. And we sure ain’t no damn militia.

    He is what intellectual historians have termed the New American Adam — a unique creature on the face of the Earth. And a British actor played him better than any American could have. Somehow.

    I’ve really never seen a more American character in film.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oops, I forgot the cool part right before that bit of dialogue above:

    Maj. Heyward: There is a war on. How is it that you are heading west?
    Hawkeye (turning to face him): Well, we kinda face to the north, and, real sudden-like, turn left.

    1. Silence

      Hawkeye spent the whole war causing hijinx, drinking home-made gin and generally annoying Majors Burns, Winchester and Houlihan.

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    Speaking of old American accents: I was watching a thirties film, and yet again getting a kick out of that quasi British accent they used, but then I recalled hearing some recordings of historic figures from maybe the early 20th century, and they used the same sort of posh Brit-speak, so…..

  9. Brad Warthen Post author

    Still riffing on this “British actors as Americans” thing…

    Most fans of “Band of Brothers” probably know that Capt. Dick Winters was played by the very English Damien Lewis, who now stars in “Homeland.”

    But as it happens, most of the memorable real-life characters in Easy Company were played by Englishmen: Shane Taylor, who played the Cajun medic, Eugene Roe; Nicholas Aaron, as “Popeye” Wynn; Philip Barantini as Sgt. Wayne “Skinny” Sisk; Dexter Fletcher (whom you might recall from “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) as SSgt. John Martin; Rick Warden, as Lt. Harry Welsh; Matthew Leitch, as Floyd “Tab” Talbert; Tim Matthews as Cpl. Alex Penkala.

    Ross McCall, who played Cpl. Joe Liebgott; and Robin Laing, who was “Babe” Heffron, are from Scotland. I didn’t count as I was skimming through these, but I’m pretty sure a minority of the company with dialogue were Americans.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oops, I neglected to click on “Full cast and crew:”

      Mark Warren as Pvt. Albert Blithe; Jamie Bamber as Lt. Jack Foley; Stephen Graham (of “Snatch” fame) as Mike Ranney; Simon Pegg (“Shawn of the Dead”) as Sgt. William Evans.

      Jason O’Mara, who was Lt. Meehan, is from Dublin. And so is Andrew Scott, who does such an amazing job as Moriarty on “Sherlock.” He played Pvt. John Hall. OK, so Halls was technically a member of A Company, but he was in the show. He was, miraculously, the only man under Winters’ command killed during the assault on the guns at Brecourt Manor on D-Day.

      He was called “Hall” in the show, but the real soldier’s name was “Halls.”

  10. Doug Ross

    If you haven’t seen Warrior, I highly recommend it. Better than Rocky. (Yes, I said it). The two main characters are brothers from Pittsburgh played. naturally, by Brit Tom Hardy and Aussie Joel Edgerton (who was also in Zero Dark Thirty).

    It’s got an 8.2 rating on IMDb. Screenplay, acting, direction, and music are all superb.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      OK, Doug, I watched “Warrior,” and enjoyed it. The ending was good, although it left burning questions unanswered. (Will the brother who won share his winnings with the one who lost, since he had a noble purpose in wanting the money? Will the marines arrest the one who deserted? The MPs had been waiting in the locker room, but he went out another way…)

      But it’s no “Rocky.” For what it was, “Rocky” was perfect.

      Something I got to thinking, though: My wife watched some of “Warrior” with me, but after a certain point I watched the rest by myself, on my iPad. I knew she wasn’t interested in watching something that violent.

      But then it occurred to me that at the time, “Rocky” probably had the most brutal boxing scenes ever before filmed. Now, it seems tame.

    1. Steven Davis II

      That’s just because they learn the skills of acting, instead of like in the US where you participate in a redneck reality television program or act like a complete jackass in a Jackass style movie or “punk” someone with the likes of great actors such as Ashton Kutcher.

      1. Bart

        SDII, how “dare you” make a sarcastic remark about one of our greatest thespian’s, Ashton Kutcher. You must remember that he along with another Shakespearian genius, Keneau Reeves, are two of the greatest treasures of the American screen and theatre.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            My blog has had two taglines, both rather derivative:

            “You’re either on the blog or you’re off the blog.”

            “All the News that Gives You Fits.”

            Another good one, though, would be some play on “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K”…

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Bud probably didn’t like Rocky IV because the communist boxer lost at the end. Seriously though, Rocky IV was a great “Cold War” movie. Good lines, and a great training sequence near the end with Rocky in Russia.

      That give me an idea for my blog – my favorite “Cold War” movies.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        You know what? I’m going to make this a separate post. We should really do a “Top Five” every day, like Rob, Dick and Barry at Championship Vinyl…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Well, Oddjob is number one for me. If a henchman can be a villain. I like him way better than Goldfinger.

            Then there’s the problem of whether to consider, um, Ms. Galore as a villain or a “Bond girl.”

            And that’s just one movie — but the best of them all, IMHO…

          2. Silence

            Oddjob is a henchman, and therefore NOT a main villian. I would agree that he’s the best henchman, aside from “Jaws”. I’d also posit that Auric Goldfinger is the best non-Blofeld villian. I agree that Goldfinger is probably the best movie, certainly in the top several.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Totally forgot about “Spies Like Us”! That’s a great movie! The best scene is where Chevy Chase’s character gets captured by the Russian Police:

        Russian Police Officer: For every second you don’t tell us, I cut off a finger.
        Chase: Mine or yours?

  11. Mark Stewart


    And No Way Out was just about the time that Sean Young went totally off the reservation. So no thank you.

    1. Bart

      War Games – great movie. Sean Young off the reservation and literally into the “litter box” with her Cat Woman outfit. Really strange person. But she was and to some degree still a very attractive lady.


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