Top Gun

There are some films out there that seem to be universally adored, so much so that were someone to come along and start slagging them off they’d automatically be written off as hipsterring, pretending not to like something incredibly popular to appear cool or ironic. Now, I’m fairly sure I’m not a hipster, even though I ride a bike and own a scarf (that I very rarely wear, and even then when its freezing), but I just can’t get behind Top Gun, a film that as far as I can tell everyone else seems to generally love.
It does have some very enjoyable aspects, most notably the score, with Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone being a clear favourite, the script is full of zingers (“Your ego is writing cheques your body can’t cash.”) and a brilliant cast all on top form, but it can’t get around just how boring most of the film is. Now, this may have something to do with my opinion on aircraft. Every year for at least the past four years, Bournemouth (the town I live in) has held an air festival down on the beach. I live less than ten minutes walk away from said beach, yet I do not join the literally thousands of people who flock to this event on an annual basis. That doesn’t sound too surprising, until you discover that other patrons to this event include many of my close friends, colleagues, and of course my parents. This year was the second time I’ve actually headed away from the city during the long weekend, just to escape the planes and their incessant noise. I’m fine flying in planes, and generally find the flights to be one of the more enjoyable aspects of holidays (I get to sit and watch films for six hours straight!?!?!?!), but I really don’t care about watching planes fly, how they work, what model they are etc. And unfortunately, that plays a large part in Top Gun, a film about the top 1% of Navy pilots being trained to be the best that they can be.
It’s clear during the making of the film that two different markets were established – men and women – and a very broad sense of their tastes was estimated. Two different films were then thrown together to attempt to please both groups, and so it is that we have a film about jet fighter pilots in which half the time is spent on an insipid romance plot between Tom Cruise’s cocky pilot Lt. Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell and one of his civilian teachers, Kelly McGillis’ Charlie. It doesn’t really help that both halves of the film don’t fit together well, and are for the most part dull. The flying scenes, especially the training exercises, are devoid of either tension or excitement, and the romance is surprisingly more cheesey than the half-naked, oiled up volleyball scene set to Playing With The Boys. Each scene type goes on far too long as well. I can’t imagine the plane-heads remaining fully engaged through the love scenes, and likewise the romance junkies are unlikely to really care about the flying bits.

So why does it have such a reputation? Well, there’s enough to keep your attention on a Friday night post-pub outing, full of kebabs and an impending hangover, and of course there’s Tom Cruise. After sliding across the floor in a shirt and socks in Risky Business, this is probably the early defining movie for Cruise, and none more so than his seducing of Charlie by serenading her, with the help of an entire bar, to The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. I’ve always questioned the choice of this song, as it’s supposed to be a song everyone in the bar knows the words to, yet I’ve never heard it outside of this film. Maybe it’s more popular in the States. This could also be the film that turned a lot of the public opinion against Cruise (not me personally, I’ve got no issues with the guy), as Maverick is an immensely arrogant, cocky dick, but he plays it so well. Anthony Edwards is also great as Maverick’s married-with-kids partner Goose (he’s married to Meg Ryan?!?), but the film is completely stolen by Val Kilmer, who manages to out-cockiness Cruise as rival pilot Iceman.

This is one of the few films that I think could be possibly improved with the use of 3D, normally something I’m deeply opposed to, but I think an added sense of depth perception could help clarify and enliven the aerial combat scenes, which otherwise feel flat and lifeless. I hate to say it, but this feels almost more like a Michael Bay film than a Tony Scott one, and if it wasn’t for the acting and the soundtrack, there’d be no reason to watch it whatsoever.

Choose life 5/10

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Zodiac

Amidst the 4th of July celebrations in California in 1969, two young romantics drive out to a secluded spot the locals refer to as Lover’s Lane. The mood is of anticipation; anything could happen as the other kids drive away, our lovestruck pair left alone. There’s a spark of romance, playful glances, touches, the gentle ribbing of one another as they become closer. And then they’re shot in cold blood and left for dead with no word of explanation by an unseen killer. This murder, along with the many that follow it, dramatically changes the lives of many people, but our focus here is a select three; Mark Ruffalo’s cop, Robert Downey Jr’s journalist and Jake Gyllenhall’s cartoonist, as they each set out to catch the killer. Their motives are different – Ruffalo’s David Toschi wants justice, RDJ’s Paul Avery is out to further his career and Gyllenhall’s Robert Graysmith is obsessed with the puzzles the killer sends to the local papers, but all three will suffer in terms of careers, personal lives and sanity at the hands of this killer.
Based on the real life Zodiac killer (the influence of the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry, here namechecked when Toschi can’t sit through a showing), the case remained unsolved when the lead suspect died some years ago, and it’s this sense of inconclusiveness that runs throughout the film – you know there will not be a satisfactory ending. Plaudits should be laden for the realism of the film – not since All the President’s Men has so much paperwork been completed – but unfortunately the dreary, depressing side of catching a killer rubs begins to rub off onto the film during its overlong running time. Director David Fincher (Benjamin Button, Seven) is usually so adept at keeping interest, even when Morgan Freeman went to a library, but here not even a cast including Elias Koteas, Philip Baker Hall, Brian Cox, Anthony Edwards, John Carroll Lynch, Adam Goldberg and Clea Duvall can raise this above tedium. There’s a good film in here somewhere, and a good edit could bring it out. More Downey Jr. and Brian Cox couldn’t hurt though, they’re the best parts of the film and are criminally underused.

Choose life 7/10