Stranded In The Southland

Friday, December 10, 2004

My Trashy Taste in Movies

I suppose my decision to try to review/blog everything should include even my embarassingly bad taste in trash movies. I'd picked up "13 Days" from the library the other day, and when I returned it, I picked up "Miss Congeniality", a frothy Sandra Bullock vehicle, and "Insomnia", a mystery with Al Pacino. Guess which one of 'em I decided to check out first?

"Miss Congeniality" was full of embarassing moments and silliness, and came to an end with the characters having grown and changed and become better people. Total fluff, and yet it scratched an itch. This is the kind of flick that you watch once and never really think about again. Still, it had some decent acting, and even the ridiculous William Shatner was kind of fun.

I followed this festival of froth up with the television movie, "The Librarian: Search for the Spear". Yow, you can't stoop much lower than this. My SO picked this flick up from the TiVo-selected list of movies because we both kind of have the hearts of librarians, and because she thinks that Noah Wyle is kinda easy on the eyes.

It turned out to be so awful that she couldn't stand more than about 15 minutes of it. I found it kinda tough myself, but I was determined to finish it off. It ripped off Indiana Jones and a million other movies shamelessly, didn't bother with reason or thought, and yet, as the IMDB review points out, who can resist Bob Newhart with a Marine Corp tattoo, doing martial arts. Plus there's some pretty good chick fu. Okay, I admit it, this one shouldn't have even gone straight to video. It was pretty sad.

Watching "13 Days"

In keeping with my determination to critically examine all of the crap I consume, I suppose I should say a few words about the movie "13 Days". I'm a bit of a closet history buff, so I was looking forward to seeing a dramatization of the Cuban Missile Crisis, about which I know very little. My parents, who were living in Florida when all this went down, have often talked about the constant stream of military traffic heading south, but I've never really bothered to read much about it.

I enjoyed the movie, although Kevin Costner's strange northeastern accent was a little hard to take. Costner was sort of at the center of the film, although he was playing Kenny O'Donnel, a sort of Kennedy-era Karl Rove who never figured that prominently in anything I read about the Kennedy White House. I'm sure that he was a mover and shaker behind the scenes, but it still seems a little weird to have him at the center of the action, surrounded by such familiar folks as McNamera, Stevenson, and Bobby Kennedy.

The whole things was fairly believable, although they did seem to lean kinda heavy on paranoia about the Joint Chiefs being ready to plunge us into global thermonuclear war. The action shots of the U-2 and the F8U Crusaders were pretty cool, and most of the military stuff looked believable. I started to fade as the film droned on through the final 147 minutes, but it was definitely worth watching.

The real virtue of DVDs in the extras, and I had some mixed feelings about the extras. The commentary track had quotes from JFK, the real Kenny O'Donnel, and a variety of experts. Unfortunately, there were so many folks that they had to keep interrupting with a generic female voice introducing them ("The next voice you will here is John F. Kennedy"). I found this disconcerting and confusing -- they should've just used subtitles or something on the screen to handle this. They did use subtitles to introduce interesting historical information about what was going on; I wish they'd provided more information that they did.

The really interesting extra was something that they called "Ultravision". It provided popup labels every few minutes offering a chance to view some one or two minute short snippets that would illuminate the current action. This included short biographies of the main characters, the typical "making of" shorts about the White House set or the writer's filmography, and historical newsreel footage. This is a great idea, and I hope to see it in more DVDs.

Unfortunately, the actual short clips were taken from the "making of" documentary and from a clumsy "Roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis" documentary; they often felt like (no surprise here) they were taken out of context. Speakers were not introduced, so I had no idea who the grizzled guy was talking about the event, whether he was a professor of history or the actual guy we were seeing in the film. With a little more effort, this could've been much better.