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

Bull Durham

Every season, baseball groupie Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) selects a new player to sleep with/pass her extensive baseball knowledge on to, and that player goes on to have the best season of their career. This time around her choice is made difficult by there being two potential candidates, naive, cocksure but dim-witted pitcher Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) and the seasoned cynical old hand Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) brought in to train him. Robbins sells the level of inexperience and dimwittedness required for his player with “a million dollar arm and a five cent head” but he pales in comparison to Costner and Sarandon, though their characters are far more layered.

The focus is on the relationships between these three, both personal and professional, with equal time given over to sporting, romantic and comedic elements, so as long as you like at least one of those three aspects, you’ll find something here as Crash teaches Ebby about foot fungus, interview technique (“I like winning… it’s better than losing”) and the lyrics to Try a Little Tenderness, whilst Annie takes a different approach, coaching him to think differently via her underwear and Walt Whitman.
Whilst the ending isn’t surprising, the journey to get there is enjoyable, realistic and often hilarious, with well rounded characters and situations, but is anyone else concerned about how many candles Annie has, or the ramifications of having sex in a pool of milk?

Choose film 8/10

The Shawshank Redemption

This is one of the films I’ve seen more times than any other, up there with Armageddon and Die Hard with a Vengeance (criminally, neither of which appear on the list). Shawshank tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. Really though, the film is about friendship, with Dufresne meeting Morgan Freeman’s Red, a man known to locate certain items from time to time, and the two form a firm bond. The film also shows how to make the best of a bad situation, as before imprisonment Andy was in a relationship with an unfaithful women, a successful but passion-less job as a banker and had few, if any, friends (none seem to visit him throughout his sentence), yet in prison he thrives, providing sound financial advice to the guards, making friends and finding peace within himself with the aid of a newfound routine and meaning. Andy never knew that all he wanted was freedom, until what little he had was taken away from him.

Choose film 9/10