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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Total Recall

I‘m not really a fan of Dick (prolific 60’s science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, of course). I’ve never made it through Blade Runner without falling asleep, admired A Scanner Darkly purely for its innovative visual style and, though I’ve read several of his novels, I find his spontaneous approach to plotting unsatisfying, but I appreciate his visionary concepts and radical yet plausible predictions of the progression of then-modern culture.
Total Recall is based on one of his short stories, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. In the year 2048, technology has advanced to allow people to be implanted with memories of lives and vacations they otherwise could never experience. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s frustrated Doug Quaid undergoes such a treatment, only for something to go wrong. He awakes to discover the memory he requested may well be of a life that’s already his, but pleasingly this is left slightly open-ended come the conclusion of the film. There are some memorable touches, including robotic taxis, a confrontation behind a giant x-ray, the infamous triple-breasted hooker and a mutant creature growing on a man’s chest, but the overcomplicated plotting, featuring too many twists, betrayals and switched allegiances, leaves the movie far too close to one of Dick’s own novels for my liking, and the cars look as though they were rendered on a PlayStation. That being said, Michael Ironside is gloriously unhinged as bad guy Rictor.
Choose life 6/10