A recent gag floating around social media poked fun at a new plan, via Comcast I think, that bundled subscriptions for the various streaming services. The total deal runs right about the same price as a standard cable package – presumably around the amount saved through “cutting the cord” and substituting streaming services to begin with. I suppose that for some, its not the $100 per month but whether you’re getting value for what you are paying, but I dropped cable because $100 per month is just too much for TV service.
I’ve often wondered about the PR and business sense of pulling so many films from the Netflix streaming service. One obvious answer is that, as challengers to Netflix’s domination of the streaming industry begin to enter the field, they are taking control of exclusive content with which they hope to make their version of this product compelling. I’ve seen more than a few videos disappear from Netflix, only to reappear on some other premium offering. This must account for some of this corporate behavior.
One film I’ve never seen on any of the streaming services is A Few Good Men. For a film that’s pushing 30, I’ve always been surprised that it hasn’t shown up somewhere. Now, I watched the film shortly after it first came out I thought it was good, but not great*. As the years went by, though, and various scenes and sections of dialog became pervasive, I got more and more of a hankering to watch it again. For years now, I’ve been keeping an eye out for it to be available (for free, naturally), and it has never shown up. Until now.
One of the new business models, as the streaming services undergo their big changes, is the re-introduction of the advertisement funding of content. There are a handful of streaming services that are free, both from subscription and rental fees, instead making their money by running ads. In the last few weeks I’ve discovered that one of them is linked with Amazon Prime and associated with the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). It was here I discovered that A Few Good Men was available as part of the services that I’ve already paid for***.
Now, I can’t say whether IMDb is locking up exclusive streaming rights to this or any other film. I’ve not read that any of the ad-based services are buying exclusivity contracts. However, as we are no longer able to rely on one subscription service giving access to pretty much everything, knowing where to find the odd or end is going to come in useful. When Netflix was everything, it was easy enough to keep one’s “wish list” in Netflix, with your watch history and rankings serving as convenient notes about what you’ve already seen. As the industry shatters into hundreds of little pieces, we users could really use a universal interface that stores our personal information in one place and gives us links to where we can rent, buy, or watch for free anything that has our interest. I’ve seen a few starts at what I have in mind, but I haven’t been able to figure out if one of them gets it right so far. Maybe I’ll find one sooner or later – I’ll let you know.
This was one of my first attempts at watching streaming content with inter-cut ads. Having made it through, I have some thoughts. Back in the day, when TV runs of previous year’s movies were the norm, I suspect there was a certain artistry to placing the commercials. Done perfectly, the breaks in the story can be a part of the experience itself. When watching a feature film on TV, bathroom breaks, snack breaks, and conversation about the plot so far are to be coordinated with the network’s timetable. Films themselves were often stretched and compressed so that they would fit the time slots and commercial-airing needs. In some cases, the Television airing of a major film would have scenes that, these days, be waiting for a release of a Director’s Cut. All this is in stark contrast to the ads shown with A Few Good Men, which seem to be placed by an algorithm. The breaks don’t actually freeze an action scene or break up a conversation, but the cut isn’t exactly smooth or natural – not like I remember the old days. In fact, last break during A Few Good Men actually was part way through the final credits. Does anybody watch a few commercials so they can see the rest of the credits? I guess if you really want to see all the credits you do.
As to the film itself, I doubt I can add any useful commentary at this stage of the game. The film has aged well enough, and I probably do rate it a little better than when I first saw it. Tom Cruise does a fine job, perhaps better than my memory gives him credit for. Nicholson is less than 100% convincing as a U.S.M.C. colonel, but I don’t blame him – he remains one of Hollywood’s greatest actors. Hollywood types playing career combat soldiers always had its pitfalls. I remember Mel Gibson’s Hal Moore standing out so particularly, in part, because the accuracy of the portrayal was rare. Nicholson doesn’t do a bad job – he is actually very good… I just see him as a actor playing a Marine, not as Marine. Kiefer probably surprised a few with his no nonsense, God-and-Country Platoon officer. Little did we know this would come to be his “type.”
I will comment on one line. Mere days before I rewatched the movie, I watched an interview with Kevin Pollak by Rich Eisen (sportscaster?). Pollak talks about the famous final courtroom showdown between Cruise and Nicholson with some interesting background – I won’t go into most of it. He does mention a part of Nicholson’s speech – something that I remembered well.
Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg?
Pollak speaks about the oddity of this line. Up until that point in the movie, Pollak’s character, Lt. Weinberg, has had no direct dialog with Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup, they’ve only shaken hands. Now, out of nowhere, Jessup challenges him in the courtroom. Pollak explains that writer Aaron Sorkin had included this challenge to highlight Jessup’s flawed character – to identify Jessup as antisemitic.
The strange thing is, as often as I’ve thought about that line, I never made a the Jewish connection. I guess you can’t really miss that Lt. Wienberg is supposed to be Jewish (as are Kevin Pollak, Aaron Sorkin, and Rob Reiner, for that matter), but I never made the jump between this and Jessup’s comment. I guess I thought that Jessup saw the JAG lawyers as unsuited to true military service; as REMFs**. It was only in this last viewing, after Pollak’s commentary, that the connection between Weinberg’s dislike of the defendants, as bullies themselves, and Wienberg’s particular sensitivity to the extreme application of bullying due to his ethnic background became apparent to me. I don’t know if the likes of Pollack, Sorkin, and Reiner are more sensitive than most or it’s that I’m just particularly dense. In any case, I had missed this one.
I also learned, only after watching the movie, that this was all based on a true story. Well, sort of. Sorkin got the idea for the story when talking to his sister on the phone. She had recently graduated from law school and had taken a job with JAG Corps as an entry level position. One Sunday she told him that she would be flying to Guantanamo Bay to work on a hazing case involving 13 Marines and a ritual they called “Code Red.” The real story was a good bit removed from the reality, but that hasn’t stopped a handful of lawyers from claiming they were the “real Tom Cruise” in the real-life “A Few Good Men” trial. The hazing incident took place in the summer of 1986 and, while some aspects were reflected in the movie, the hazing victim did not die and there was no coverup involving the base’s top brass. I was surprised. This was one of these stories that felt like it was a pure work of fiction.
I doubt this will be my last time paying for my viewing pleasures by sitting through a few odd, high-tech chewing gum ads. In fact, I’m a little nervous that my days watching endless amounts of free TV and film for a mere $9 a month may be numbered and the advertisement infused entertainment of my youth may be about to make a comeback.
Only time will tell.
*This is a Rob Reiner film. That means a little less today than it did in 1992. Back then, Reiner had directed This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, and Misery. Three of these are icons of pop culture. A Few Good Men was solidly in the middle of this list.
***I think the film is also free without a paid Amazon Prime subscription. It’s just hard for me to tell.