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Our second film paying tribute to producer Don Simpson: the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun. This is a tough review because the good parts are very good and the bad parts are inexorably bad.

Our second film paying tribute to producer Don Simpson: the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun.  This is a tough review because the good parts are very good and the bad parts are inexorably bad.

The news that there might be a sequel to Top Gun is what inspired us at JPFmovies to do a three part tribute to the legendary producer Don Simpson—so I would be a fool to not review the film, but for some reason I feel kind of dirty or that I have somehow sold out to the movie “man” for writing this.  Putting that to one side, we’ll do the best we can and here it is.

One is hard pressed to find a movie that better embodies the 1980s feel good blockbuster film genre than Top Gun.  To say it put Tom Cruise on the map is an understatement and like the Bandit’s famous Trans Am, Cruise’s motorcycle, the (then) fastest motorcycle in production,  Kawasaki’s Ninja 900, became an icon overnight.  RayBan experienced a 40% spike in sales because of Top Gun, just as it had 3 years earlier when Cruise played Joel Goodsen in “Risky Business” sporting RayBan’s Wayfarer sunglasses.  Top Gun even convinced people to join the military; booths were set up outside of theaters and Navy recruitment increased by 500%.  The film also brought back the leather jacket and white T-shirt look of the 1950s.  Now that I think about it, I am not sure that any film since Top Gun had the kind of power this film did to influence the public.  I mean a 500% increase in military recruitment rivals the wretched propaganda the infamous Nazi Joseph Goebbels inflicted on the German people before and during WWII.  The Harold Faltermeyer (also creator of other 1980s soundtracks such as Beverly Hills Cop I and II & Miami Vice) soundtrack reached number 1 on the Billboard charts and remained there for 5 weeks while the song “Take My Breath Away” won an Oscar.

Cruise plays Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a maverick Navy fighter pilot.  Maverick embodies what I think is a character type loved by Americans: the “maverick” underdog who is so talented that he can flout conventional rules and get away with it.  We see this type of creature in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films, the cop who can play “dirty” because he gets the job done.  We see a variation in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa who plays the ultimate underdog by going from gym boxer to world heavy weight champion in only two movies and now we see it in Top Gun’s Maverick.

Maverick (or “mav” as he is often referred to in the film) is the “bastard” son of another naval aviator who was killed in Vietnam — the “ghost” of his father is partially responsible for his reckless flying and consistent rule violations.  Maverick and his REO “Goose” (Anthony Edwards) are sent to Top Gun school because the top pilot “Cougar” (John Stockwell who also starred with Cruise in “Lose’n It” — a “b” movie that I’ll bet neither one of them wishes they had made) freaks out after engaging an enemy plane and turns in his wings. 

At a bar the day before the Top Gun school starts, Maverick, assisted by Goose, unsuccessfully hits on a woman by singing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.”  Much to Maverick’s surprise, the next day he learns that she is Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), an astrophysicist and civilian Top Gun instructor.  Maverick’s reckless flying both annoys and impresses Rick “Jester” Heatherly (Michael Ironside) and the other Top Gun instructors when he defeats Jester in combat, but violates several rules of engagement in the process.  Maverick and top student LT Tom “Iceman” Kasansky (Val Kilmer) quickly emerge as the two best pilots, but Iceman openly considers Maverick’s methods “dangerous.”  Although outwardly critical of Maverick’s tactics, Charlie eventually admits that she venerates his flying but harshly reviews it in public because she’s afraid her credibility would be jeopardized otherwise. Nonetheless, Maverick and Charlie begin a romantic relationship.  I am not sure that merely scrutinizing a pilot’s flying would save her credibility after having an affair with a student but it is part of the story. What is not part of the story is that every time McGillis and Cruise stand next to each other in the film, McGillis is in bare feet and Cruise wears lifts because he is so short. 

During a training flight near the end of the film, Maverick and Iceman are both chasing Jester each trying for the kill.  Under intense pressure from Maverick, Iceman breaks off but Maverick’s F-14 flies through the jet wash of Iceman’s aircraft and begins a flat spin from which he cannot recover, forcing him and Goose to eject.  Goose is not so lucky here as he ejects directly into the canopy and dies instantly.  Although a board of inquiry clears Maverick of any wrongdoing, his overwhelming guilt over Goose’s death causes him to lose his aggressiveness when flying.  Charlie and others attempt to console him, but Maverick considers leaving the Navy.  Unsure of his future, he seeks Top Gun’s head instructor Viper’s advice who reveals that he served with Maverick’s father in VF-51, and discloses classified details that show Duke Mitchell died a hero’s death.  Viper informs Maverick that he can graduate from Top Gun or quit.  Maverick chooses to graduate, but his rival Iceman wins the award for top pilot.

During the graduation party, Iceman, Hollywood, and Maverick are each sent to carrier Enterprise to deal with a “situation,” to provide air support for the rescue of another ship, the SS Layton, that has drifted into hostile territory.  Maverick and Merlin are assigned to one of two F-14s as back-up for those flown by Iceman and Hollywood, despite Iceman’s reservations over Maverick’s state of mind and ability.  In the subsequent dogfight against six MiGs, Hollywood is shot down but manages to safely eject; Maverick is sortied alone due to catapult failure and nearly retreats after encountering circumstances similar to those that caused Goose’s death.  He rallies though and joins Iceman, shoots down four MiGs and forces the others to retreat — then both return triumphantly to the Enterprise.  Offered his choice of duty, Maverick decides to return to Top Gun as an instructor and while sitting alone in a restaurant, he hears “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” playing on the jukebox and recalls meeting Charlie.  Low and behold, she enters the bar and the two reunite.

Well what more can you say?  It may be formulaic, but Simpson and Bruckheimer sure know their chemistry.  Top Gun grossed $378,000,000 worldwide and the dollars keep rolling in as a result of the dvd market.  The film was directed by Tony Scott, Ridley Scott’s younger brother.  Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors so I was pleasantly surprised to discover this fact.

Like I said though, this one has terrifying highs and dizzying lows, but I still feel like a sell out for reviewing it.  Am I wrong to feel this way?

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Ridley Scott’s: Robin Hood (2010) Not Blackhawk Down but not bad either.

I must confess I did not have high expectations for this film at all. Perhaps it is because I was still polluted from Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991)—the rigidly formulaic tale of this tired story.

Be that as it may, once again Ridley Scott hit me for a six with his version of the Hood legend by providing a back-story to the traditional tale with the movie ending just as Robin begins his career as an outlaw.

The movie starts on the battlefield where Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s army. Following a successful day of battle, Robin unwinds with his compatriots Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) and Little John (Kevin Durand) but they manage to land in the stocks and are forced to sit out the next day’s battle. A battle where the King catches an arrow in the throat with his last request to return his crown to England. Robin and his men are freed from the stocks by a young boy to return home. All the while, the King Phillip of France plans to conquer England by enlisting the help of Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong). Godfrey, a traitorous Englishman with a French connection ambushes the Royal Guard. Robin and his men happen upon the ambush as it occurs and fight back, killing many while Godfrey escapes. Robin goes to Sir Robert Loxley whose last wish is for his sword to be returned to his father. The film then follows Robin as he returns to Loxley’s home of Nottingham with the impending French attack looking over England’s shoulder.

Robin then takes over the role of the dead Sir Robert Loxley in order to prevent land and other estates being turned over to the crown for lack of an heir. He also has the bonus of a ready-made wife Maid Marion—who needs some lessons on how to curtsy a lost art. As Robin begins with the charade he ends up filling the role of the real nobility quite well oozing Noblesse Oblige as the story progresses. Eventually there is a showdown between England and France and the mortal enemies made along the way. The movie also provides a bit of Girl Power in that Maid Marion dresses in full armor and fights in the last battle.

While a tired story, this film solidifies my perception of Ridley Scott as one of the premier period piece film makers of all time. Scott having already made Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and of course Blackhawk Down, he continues to show us his cinematic eye. Each shot has such an authenticity that the audience can nearly smell the grimy earthiness of old England. Then Scott stages action scenes amongst this terrain. This may not be your mom’s Robin Hood, but it is the most exciting.

Naturally the film suffers from a lackluster story and nearly non-existent character development but is not a waste. Shot in such a way that suggests a true understanding of the period, the film keeps your eyes interested.

Also it was good to see William Hurt on the silver screen again.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Jude Finestra Finally Looks At Bladerunner!

Jude Finestra Reviews Bladerunner–At Last

Behold! The glory of Bladerunner — science fiction, an apocalyptic future, philosophical self-doubting reflections by my man Harrison Ford. Behold! the magnificence of Bladerunner — music by Vangelis, an entire movie filmed (with the exception of one sunrise or sunset — oh the ambiguity!) in the dark.

Bask in the brilliance of director Ridley Scott and ask yourself: how could this man, the producer/director of Black Hawk Down (my man JP’s all time favorite war movie), the producer/director of Gladiator, and the director of Alien, for god’s sake, how could this man make a bad movie? Answer: he has.

I admit it. Scott did also make GI Jane and Thelma and Louise. Everyone has off days. Some chick probably made him do those.

Bladerunner has an almost mystical quality to it and was immediately nominated for two Oscars (I think a fucking popularity contest), won or was nominated for the BAFTA Film Award for more categories than I care to totally list here (but I will mention its nomination for Best Score award for Vangelis’ music), and was nominated for Best Cinematography Award, the International Fantasy Film Award (twice once in 1983 and once in 1993), and the Golden Globe.  It won the Hugo (best dramatic presentation, 1983), won the London Critics Circle Film Award for visual concept in 1983, won the Los Angeles Critics Association Award for best cinematography (again 1983), and was nominated for five prestigious Saturn Awards (best genre video release, best director, best science fiction film, best special effects, best supporting actor) and after more than twenty years won a Saturn in 2008 for best DVD Special Edition Release.  Clearly this movie was never headed for the dung heap.

Remember this movie came out in 1982. It has truly survived the test of time—much more so (sorry, Dr. H) than The Bridge Over the River Kwai. Almost a generation later Bladerunner is as fresh and compelling as it was when I was in college. Do I need to tell you that this is a rose? A bouquet of yellow roses!

Dude, I dare you to watch the following scene and not get drawn in.

If you read old reviews of Bladerunner, you’ll find all sorts of invective regarding the decision to add narration by Harrison Ford. The narration was added later, only when the powers that be decided that moviegoers would be too confused without it. Well, sometimes The Man gets it right. Ford’s narration is brilliant and quite frankly, as The Man predicted, holds the movie together and MAKES it so compelling. Through the narration it becomes clear that Ford is utterly conflicted about killing these replicators, but dude, it is his job. Consider these lines:

“They don’t advertise for killers in the newspaper. That was my profession. Ex-Bladerunner. Ex-cop. Ex-killer.”

“Sushi, that’s what my ex-wife called me. Cold fish.”

“I quit because I’d had a belly full of killing. But then I’d rather be a killer than a victim.”

Then in this scene we see Ford forced to kill in cold blood yet again:

No, he’s no angel, he is burned out, on the verge of moral bankruptcy and a killer, but we know he’s still one of the good guys. What kind of actor can act out a cold-blooded killing and still leave us feeling that he’s one of the good guys? Harrison Ford, that’s who. No, he’s not Mr. Sweetness and Light. But he means well.

I’ll grant you that there is something lacking in originality in the premise for the script. It’s a Hollywood chestnut that human governments can’t tolerate anything nonhuman that has intelligence, spirit, character and poses a threat to our hegemony. Must kill all nonhuman forms of intelligence. Must kill anything alien or artificial (ala Battlestar Galactica). Yeah, yeah. But the execution (no pun intended) of this film makes up for any lack of originality in the premise.

I’m not going to tell you how it ends.  You are a fool if you have not seen this movie yet so get your ass in gear and bathe in the glory of Bladerunner!

I think I’ll go watch it again myself.

Now what do you say, Dude? JP? was it worth the wait, Mr. “I haven’t received your review yet Mr. Finestra”? I hope you enjoyed it. I sure did.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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The Black Hawk Down Experience.

Black Hawk Down is one of my favorite movies of all time—no question about it.  The film was directed by Ridley Scott (who also directed Gladiator starring Russell Crowe) and was based on Mark Bowden’s book, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War.  I was lucky enough to read the book before seeing the movie.  According to conventional wisdom, reading the book first usually leads to being disappointed with the film and its content and portrayal of events.  However, I have never been much for conventional wisdom.  Bowden’s book is outstanding and so is Ridley Scott’s film.  As far as I am concerned, in the inevitable book vs. movie comparison, it is a horse apiece.

Black Hawk Down creates what veterans of the battle describe as a very realistic representation of combat conditions.  Because the film puts you the viewer in the middle of  the battle experience,  the harsh violence of the movie seem all the more realistic and also justified, not gratuitous.  One of the most remarkable things about Black Hawk Down is that in spite of the chaos created by what many have termed “the fog of war” represented on screen, the film vividly maps out the soldiers’ strategies and tactics.  Director Scott frames the action so precisely, and through such perfect camera angles and placement, we are able to follow all of the action on screen, almost as though we, ourselves, are participating in the battle.  Most, if not all other directors, could not pull off this kind of controlled chaos–chaos that would have led to a very baffling movie experience.  Clearly, every last detail of this film has been thoroughly choreographed and intricately planned.

The film is based on the true story which takes place in Somalia, 1993: A small team of Army Rangers and Delta Force Troops on a peace-keeping mission, attempt to help avert mass genocide and to protect Somali citizens from barbaric acts of violence and the various militias that run the country.  When one hundred American soldiers are sent into Mogadishu to arrest a handful of influential militia leaders, they find themselves in the midst of a battle no one anticipated or envisioned.  Each soldier is confronted with the realities and horrors of combat as they protect each other from the surging ranks of hostile Somali forces.  Black Hawk Down is a relentless, harrowing, and true story of bravery, in the face of war.

Black Hawk Down comes from a genre that has brought out some of the best in directors, writers and actors, yet against all of this competition, the movie is easily the best war movie ever made.  Yes, I know it’s a bold statement, but I said it, and it’s out there now.  Also, what many “non-believers” of the Black Hawk Down experience seem to forget, among other things, is that the film did win an Academy Award for best sound.  I can’t believe I didn’t mention that earlier.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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