Monday, September 29, 2008

Until I succumb to "Down Periscope," these will have to do

I almost titled this post "What's long and hard and full of seamen," but that would have just been vulgar. We're all class here, b*tch.

Along with crappy Nic Cage movies and zombie fun, free previews gave me a chance to see two submarine movies I thought we're just so-so the first time around. Happily, both held up better on second viewings.

I'm just glad Hackman didn't wear a fedora: "Crimson Tide"

I definitely remember being put off by this movie before I saw it, mainly because it came so soon after another sub actioner, "The Hunt for Red October," and even had a version of red in the damn title. C'mon, people!

After seeing the offending film, I thought, "eh," and moved on. It was 1995 -- or maybe 1996, if I saw it on video -- I was in my early 20s and had better things to do. As it turns out, though, this movie isn't bad. Solid cast, good battle scenes, nice test of wills and not as much overacting as I remembered.

Gene Hackman is an old sub captain, and Denzel Washington is assigned to his ship as the executive officer -- XO to you and me, Russ -- when the sub sets across the Pacific as tensions mount between Russia and some rebels. If the rebels get some nukes, the U.S. wants to be ready to shove an ICBM up their cornhole. Enter Hackman and Co.

Also on the boat are George "In no way can I be mistaken for an infant girl" Dzundza as the chief, James Gandolfini as a lieutenant and Viggo Mortensen as the head weapons guy, plus a series of "those guys": Danny Nucci, Steve Zahn and Rick Schroder. Everyone's loyalty comes into question when a communications glitch makes an order unclear, and Hackman -- who's ready to fire missiles -- is removed from command by Washington, whom some guys think is a big p*ssy. Ooooh, the tension.

All this actually seemed somewhat plausible, and I found myself going along much more than before with the plot and the performances. Gandolfini's a little one-note -- the guy has no range -- and Hackman has certainly done better. But he's not bad, and Washington is mostly restrained. Mortensen also is solid as the guy most torn by this turn of events. All in all, this underwater action is above average.

A-OK: U-571

After a little break, this sub movie popped up in 2000. This one has some basis in history, even if it essentially replaces the British with Americans as the guys who went after German code machines, called the Enigma, during World War II. Sorry, limeys!

Bill Paxton is the captain and Matthew "All right, all right, all right" McConaughey is the XO on a U.S. sub made up to look like a German U-boat so it can get close to a damaged U-boat and get the Enigma. David Keith leads the assault team, which also includes Harvey Keitel as the sub's chief. Look quick early on an you'll catch Jon Bon jovi in maybe the most random casting ever as another Naval officer. Wait ... isn't he wanted -- wanted! -- dead or alive?

The assault doesn't go off perfectly, and some of our heroes find themselves on the run in the damaged U-boat, chased by German subs and surface ships. This makes for some torpedo fun and even more mischief with depth charges. With the latter, director Jonathan Mostow does a fine job of making the barrage seem relentless, and it's cool to see how McConaughey -- denied his own command at the start of the movie -- matures as a captain.

I recall liking this movie better than "Crimson Tide" the first time around, and I'll stand by that now. Maybe it was the old subs and the skill that went into doing battle with those. Maybe it was McConaughey being more tolerable than usual. (He and Paxton reunited a year later in "Frailty," a film about a family that is definitely not family-friendly.) Maybe it was that Bon Jovi doesn't make it to the end. No, wiseass, he wasn't shot through the heart, so nobody was to blame.


At 11:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad to say, but I have to watch Down Periscope whenever it is on but the other two, every once and awhile. Now, Das Boot is a sub movie.

At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of George Dzundza -- we were, weren't we? -- just revisited "Honky Tonk Freeway" from 1981. Wouldn't call it a good movie and not even an especially funny comedy, but certainly interesting in a bizarre sort of way. Hard to believe it was directed by the guy who did "Midnight Cowboy." Solid cast -- although William Devane is woefully out of place -- and a quirky story. Look for Daniel Stern and Peter Billingsley (!) ... not to mention that elephant.

At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And it has trucks! Trucks that sadly do NOT turn into robots.

At 10:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boffing Beverly D'Angelo is the right of all sentient beings.

At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, She did Chevy Chase in "European Vacation" and there is just no coming back from that.


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