Rain Man (1988)

Rain Man

Rain Man – 1988

Director – Barry Levinson

Starring – Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, and Valeria Golino

What is more awful, the imitation of the famous character, or the famous character, himself?  It’s not as easy a question as I was guessing that it would be.  With such well-defined mannerisms, speech patterns that inspire imitation, and the constant repetition that drives it into the brain of the collective public, a film like this one can easily become parody.  Before seeing this film, my only knowledge of it was of the imitation of Ray Babbit that just about everyone seems to know, regardless of having seen the film or not.  I had grown rather sick of these imitations and had developed the opinion that I didn’t like Rain Man because of it.  I felt that Dustin Hoffman’s performance as the aforementioned Babbit was hammy and over the top, and I wrote off Tom Cruise as having played himself…again.  All before having seen one frame of film.  I was wrong.

For something that could have easily delved into the realm of the predictable, layered with melodrama, and schlock that I feared so much, Rain Man keeps a remarkably level-headed assessment of Hoffman’s mentally challenged Ray and his hot-headed brother, Charlie played in a remarkably subtle way by Cruise.  Immediately my impression of the film shot up as the characters turned out to be not only grounded in reality, but more importantly, utterly believable and even likable as well.

Driven mostly by his anger, and to a lesser degree by his fear, Charlie Babbitt,tries to fill the hole inside himself with things and with money.  Constantly he is reminding himself of what the world owes him, and it is with this attitude that he greets the news of his estranged fathers death.  Not willing to deal with how this makes him feel, or his own sense of loss, Charlie looks simply at what was left to him, and feels he is owed more.  He is not a terrible or a bad person, he is just so filled with anger, it’s all he can feel anymore.

The majority of his father’s money, it turns out, has been left to a brother, that Charlie never knew he had.  Ray Babbitt, the new-found brother, immediately becomes a target for Charlie’s anger, despite the fact that he’s unable to understand, let alone deal with either the anger or the blame.  Charlie is left with the choice of leaving with nothing, or leaving with Ray, hoping to get a sort of paltry ransom from the executor of his father’s estate, and the rest of the film deals with the two brothers learning to find value in one another.

While the union isn’t ideal for either of them at first, the two brothers eventually get to know each other, and in time come to trust each other too. As I mentioned before, Tom Cruise, wasn’t yet the Tom Cruise we know today.  The 1988 version could actually play more than one character, each one with subtlety and definition, too.  Watching Babbitt stretch and grow, first straining against then breaking through the confines of his anger, was one of the most rewarding experiences thus far in this endeavor.  Combined with the muted performance that Dustin Hoffman turns in, Rain Man showed itself to be the real deal.

While not my favorite of what I’ve seen during this little endeavor, Rain Man was surprisingly good.  What could easily have fallen back into the gimmick of method acting or even a plain, stale buddy movie, really blossomed into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.  Well worth it.

Top Gun (1986)

Top Gun – 1986

Director – Tony Scott

Starring – Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, and Val Kilmer

Though there has been action in movies since the beginning of the art form, the action movie genre really blossomed and came into its own in the mid to late 1980’s.  By the early 90’s the genre had been raised to an art form.  Films like Die Hard, Total Recall, and Robocop, dominated the box office, and raised an entire generation of young movie goers (myself included).  These films brimmed with coarse language, fantastic plotlines and an electric energy that their predecessors of the action genre couldn’t match, and as a result became the gold standard for masculinity.  It may not have invented the genre, and it certainly isn’t the best film in it, but Top Gun is a pioneer certainly deserving of the crown that it’s earned.

The plot is simple enough, so simple in-fact, it’s barely referenced or paid attention to (even the characters in the movie).  Tom Cruise plays Maverick, a hot-shot fighter pilot, incorrigible Lothario, and unrepentant rebel, who paired with his trusty sidekick, Goose (played by Revenge of the Nerd’s Anthony Edwards) are shipped off to the best flight school in the country, Top Gun.  Once there, Maverick and Goose laugh in the face of danger, routinely go against authority, play shirtless volleyball with fellow pilots, and learn hard lessons about the consequences of being a fighter pilot.  Maverick meets and falls for the responsible, yet sexy instructor, Charlie, played by Kelly McGillis, and butts heads with the equally talented Iceman, played by Val Kilmer.

Got it?  Doesn’t matter.  From this point on, just sit back and watch planes flying fast, steamy love being made, rules being broken, and the occasional explosion.  The stakes of the story don’t matter at all, the characters and the plot exist solely to dazzle the eyes and keep your butt in the seat.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  You think I am poo-pooing, Top Gun for this reason. Wrong!  This is one of the main reasons that I enjoyed it as much as I did.  If there was a chance that Tom Cruise might fail, or if the Kenny Loggins song Danger Zone weren’t being drilled into my head, I very well may have lost interest and turned it off.  The fact is, it was exactly this brazen assault on my memories of  childhood that made Top Gun so attractive and fun.

Nurtured into life by the Uber-producing duo Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and directed to perfection by the one and only Tony Scott, this film set the bar for action movies for the next 10 years.  Aside from asserting the testosterone filled masculinity that defined the action movies of this era, Top Gun paved the way for countless immitators, one-offs, and made the career of Tony Scott who would go on to direct other such classics as Crimson Tide, True Romance, and my personal favorite of his films, The Last Boyscout!  If there was any doubt at all, this film washed away those deniers of Tom Cruise’s stranglehold on hollywood, a grip that would only relax much later when he came off as crazy for jumping on the couch at the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Having only recently seen Top Gun, I was surprised how different it was from its parody, Hot Shots.  I have to admit, even after the character of Charlie (McGillis) was introduced I kept waiting for someone closer to the character of Ramada Thompson (Valaria Golino) to be introduced and get Maverick’s attention.  Also, Tom Skerritt is no Lloyd Bridges, not that anyone is of course.

The long and short of it is this…Top Gun is not going to win any prizes for dedication to craft, but it will most likely distract you for 2 hours, and leave you with a pleasantly warm feeling afterwards.

If you liked Top Gun, check out these classics of the genre…

The Crow, Total Recall, The Last Boyscout, Hard to Kill, Hard Target, The Fugitive, Casino Royale, Big Trouble in Little China, The Rock, or Tango and Cash.  All of these films are absolute gold*!

* Disclaimer…Your definition of “gold” may differ drastically from mine.  Watch at your own risk!

“Mmmm….Iceman.” – Ashley