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

Gun Crazy (1949) (AKA Deadly is the Female)

Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy – 1949

Director – Joseph H. Lewis

Starring – Peggy Cummins and John Dall

With Gun Crazy, I’m able to get into one of my favorite genres…Film Noir.  Like most film noir, the story centers around an individual or a couple of individuals who are living life on the dark side, whether it be gritty urban life, crime, or deception within a relationship.  Gun Crazy centers on the latter two.  A couple of people, in this case, an actual couple hits the road going on a crime spree along the way learning more than they want to about one another. 

Gun Crazy is one of two titles that this movie was released under in the U.S., the other was “Deadly is the Female” which is more fitting for a noir-ish film, and a lot more telling of a title.  Except for a little chunk of the beginning, the main character (John Dall) doesn’t seem particularly gun crazy, but after meeting Peggy Cummins’ character he is most certainly girl crazy.  The plot centers around his love for and almost obsession over this femme fatal.  Through his relationship with her, he is forced to give up his regular day to day life, estranging himself from his friends and family.  She seems utterly consumed by her passion for crime, and she drags him along for the ride.  He, on the other hand, is left making excuses for her and doing what he can to save her from herself.

The method of filming Gun Crazy is fairly standard except in a handful of instances.  Firstly there are a number of long shots where the two criminal lovers are first scoping, then carrying out a robbery.  These shots were done without the assistance of rear projection, with the actors actually driving through the streets of a town, requiring the actors to exit and re-enter the vehicle, interaction with other actors, all while the camera is rolling, and in one shot.  This isn’t so extraordinary except for the fact that this film was released in 1950 when film equipment was large and heavy enough that most films used sets and props to avoid these uncontrollable environments.  Most films, even today, utilize pieces of different shots taken from different angles in order to cover up the fact that everything couldn’t be filmed in one continuous shot.

The other unique, and completely underused element of this film, was the fantastically surreal set piece used at the climax of the film.  The foggy, un-naturally bright, and eerie landscape perfectly illustrates the state of Cummins and Dall’s relationship by the end of the movie.  Neither knows which way is up, which way is out, or from which way the danger is coming.  The manhunt that is going on around them exists to them only as a series of disembodied voices calling out to them.  Like the two lovers, we never see their pursuers, until that is, it’s too late to escape.

Unfortunately for the movie, and also for us, the character’s motivations never really make that much sense.  Dall’s Bart, and Cummins’ Annie seem to be driven by emotions, and circumstances that, for the most part,  go completely unexplained.  Bart’s fascination at an early age with guns, and his hunger to have one, seems to be merely a gimmick to introduce the two main characters, and is dropped later in favor of his need for Annie.  She, on the other hand is set up as an unfortunate soul forced through blackmail into a life of crime, yet she doesn’t seem sure whether she hates it or loves it.  Is it a means to an end, or cheap thrills?  Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like the actors know any more than we do, and we’re left to decide for ourselves.

Gun Crazy starts off with a decent premise, and has some solid elements backing it up, but unfortunately, it doesn’t quite follow through on it’s promise and reveals itself to be one of the numerous sensationalist crime thrillers that were so popular in it’s day.  It is never able to live up to the high standard set by others such as Double Indemnity, the Stranger, Kiss Me Deadly, or The Big Sleep.