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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Guaranteed Happiness: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a film I’ve loved since the fist time I watched it, and always proves to be an enjoyable experience, yet I fear that from now on I won’t enjoy it any more, because I will have horrific, Vietnam-style flashbacks to my latest viewing, or rather the repercussions from it. You see, I volunteered to appear on The Lamb‘s weekly podcast, The Lambcast, for their Movie Of The Month segment, and I was overjoyed to discover that said movie was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Granted, I may have voted 7 or 8 times for it and hoped that one of the primaries would drop out so I could discuss such a great film with some similarly-minded individuals, so I can’t say I was overly surprised when it won. However, this was my first ever podcast (recorded last Sunday), and I was so horrifically bad in it that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to enjoy said film again. The episode has now dropped, and is available on iTunes (search Lambcast in podcasts) or via this link. I urge you to listen to it more for the scintillating discussion between Dan Heaton, Justin Gott, Kristen Lopez and Nick Jobe  than for my dismal contribution, however if I’ve ever wronged you in the past (a list longer than I’d like), then you may also enjoy the podcast, for different reasons. If you could just ignore my horribly grating, nasally drone whenever it aggravates your eardrums and pretend instead it was just a four-way chat then I’d appreciate it.
Maybe it was because I’m a first timer and everyone else there seemed far more experienced at it than I, probably because they are and some of them regularly hold podcasts of their own, or maybe it’s that I’m genuinely not very good at talking about films with real live actual people without using a keyboard (it doesn’t happen very often), but I’d like to issue an apology to Dan, Justin, Kristen and Nick for lowering the quality of the podcast, and for relentlessly interrupting and talking over them when I had nothing very interesting to say. I was nervous, and it’s never been more abundantly clear that when talking about films, I truly do not know what I’m talking about. Also, I hate public speaking, so signing up for a podcast was probably a pretty dumb thing to do. Don’t worry, I won’t do it again.
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Bad Lieutenant Port of Call

This is not a remake, nor is it a sequel or prequel to Abel Ferrara’s Harvey Keitel-starring 1992 Bad Lieutenant, although there is one key similarity, in that the titular law enforcement officer is a corrupt drug addict attempting to solve a crime, in ’92 the rape of a nun, in Port of Call, the murder of a drug dealer, using their own, unconventional methods.
In this film, the drug-fuelled lead role is not so much played as inhabited, snorted, smoked and injected by a wired, tense and almost hunched Nicolas Cage, giving his best performance since Leaving Las Vegas, alongside a cast of largely unknowns or non-actors (including Xzibit as the drug kingpin lead subject of the investigation). As is traditional with maverick cop movies, there is more than just the case plaguing Cage’s Lt. Terence McDonagh, and at one point he must also juggle looking after his father’s dog, protecting a witness to the case, his friendship/relationship with Eva Mendes’ high class hooker/partner in narcotics and an investigation into his unorthodox interrogation of the witness’ grandmother, jeopardising the life of an elderly woman in her care. The very fact that McDonagh faces the repercussions of his actions sets this aside from other films in the genre, that so usually see their protagonists commit crimes in the name of justice with no consequences.
As amazingly intense as Cage’s performance is, the film itself never quite grips the attention. There is little here that hasn’t been seen before (other than hallucinations of iguanas and the break-dancing of a recently deceased hoodlum), but director Werner Herzog should be commended for rewriting the script to set the action in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in order to provide the city with jobs and income.
Choose life 5/10

Heat

Most crime films tend to pick a side early on, focusing on a ‘means to an end’ band of criminals thieving because they have to, or a team of patriotic, all-American supercops able to match their never-ending machine gun clips with a limitless supply of one liners, but Michael Mann’s Heat, a remake of his own 1989 made for TV movie L.A. Takedown, takes a different path, giving Robert De Niro’s gang of seasoned thieved and Al Pacino’s police squad equal screen time, equal motivation and similar levels of compassion, so you get to decide who you want to win. Though the two main characters; De Niro’s master thief Neil McCauley and Pacino’s dogged detective Vincent Hanna are sworn enemies, they are still two sides of the same coin, separated by their own opinions of the law, but brought together by a deep mutual respect. Neither one is the villain of the film, there are more than enough scumbags among the supporting player to take that role, yet neither is necessarily the hero, although in the end it’s Pacino who grabs the most heroic moments.
Surrounded by an incredible ensemble cast (deep breath: Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo, Dennis Haysbert, Natalie Portman, Xander Berkeley, Hank Azaria, Jon Voight, Jeremy Piven, Mykelti Williamson, William Fichtner, Tom Noonan, Ted Levine, Ashley Judd), some perfectly choreographed set pieces (the opening truck heist and mid film bank robbery/street shootout) and ability to show the effect their chosen lifestyles has had on these characters and their personal lives, or lack thereof, this is a tremendous film, even if it does give in to the occasional cliché, but these can be forgiven for the fact that they use weapons that actually, from time to time, need reloading.
Choose film 9/10