Movie Project #27: Top Gun [1986]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Top Gun [1986]

Top Gun [1986] 
Director: Tony Scott
Writers: Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr.
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Drama/Romance
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards
Running Time: 110 minutes

It’s near impossible to watch Top Gun without thinking of the countless references and parodies it has spawned since its release. Between the running “Danger Zone” gags in Archer and Quentin Tarantino’s infamous homosexuality theory (not to mention Hot Shots!), there’s just no way Top Gun can be taken seriously. Of course, it helps that the film itself is a loud, brash “AMERICA FUCK YEAH!” Polaroid-taking, middle finger-waving, karaoke-singing cinematic spectacle.

Top Gun is about two things: fighter jets and “Maverick” Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise), a cocky navy pilot who is both reckless and dangerous (Danger Zone!) yet can manage to win people over just by flashing his blinding smile. Maverick and his best pal Goose (Anthony Edwards) are recruited to attend the Navy’s elite Fighter Weapons School (aka “Top Gun”) where the small group of students compete to be the best in the class. The top competition at the school is the smug and confident Iceman (Val Kilmer), who immediately butts heads with the loudmouthed Maverick. Their rivalry serves as the crux of the movie, with both men attempting to win the prestigious “best in class” award.

Top Gun [1986]

Along the way, Maverick falls in love with his school instructor, Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), deals with the tragic death of his best friend, and continuously gets reprimanded by his superiors. Yet even with so much going on, he never changes. There is a brief respite where he appears to gain some humility, but by the end of the film, he’s still the same reckless S-O-B he was at the beginning.

But who cares about what happens on the ground when we can watch high-class dogfighting in the air, right? Top Gun follows a distinct air-land-air-land-air formula, with the jet scenes full of exhilarating high-octane action. The combative flying is intense and often disorienting, but damn if Tony Scott doesn’t make it look good. It’s no wonder the Air Force enlistment rate went way up after this film’s release — Top Gun makes being a navy pilot look like the best thing in the world.

Top Gun [1986]

What’s most amusing when watching the film today is the clear gay subtext between the pilots. When Maverick and Iceman first meet in class, they can’t stop looking at each other. There is some serious sexual tension right there, moreso than that between Maverick and Charlie. The film overall is dripping in machismo and homoeroticism. There are several lines about “hard-ons” and “johnsons”, constant moments where the men are shirtless and/or in their underwear (while making it a point to talk very closely to each other), and of course, there’s the infamous volleyball scene. When you sit down and look out for these moments, the film gains an all-new perspective. I think Tarantino was onto something here.

And who could forget the classic soundtrack? I had to keep a running tally of which song was played more — “Danger Zone” or “Take My Breath Away“? The latter won, four times to three, though it is “Danger Zone” that is still stuck in my head to this day. These songs still resonate today, as evidenced by the crowd going nuts when producer Giorgio Moroder played both hits at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival.

With the adrenaline-pumping action scenes and Tom Cruise’s otherworldly charisma, it’s not hard to see why so many people flocked to the box office back in ’86. In many ways, Top Gun feels like the definitive ’80s popcorn flick — it’s not a very good movie, but it can be pretty damn entertaining.

6/10

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Movie Project #23: The Karate Kid [1984]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Karate Kid [1984]

The Karate Kid [1984]
Director: John G. Avildsen
Writer: Robert Mark Kamen
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Drama/Family
Starring: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue
Running Time: 126 minutes

The Karate Kid falls under the same category as previous project entry, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in that I’m sure I saw at least a good chunk of the movie as a kid. Once again, I remembered a scene here or there (who can forget “wax on, wax off”?) but it was fascinating to sit down and watch it in its entirety as an adult.

While the fashion and spirit of the 1980s are running wild in the film, I’m happy to report that it still holds up quite well as a fun, inspirational movie.

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Movie Project #20: Face/Off [1997]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Face/Off [1997]

Face/Off [1997]
Director: John Woo
Writers: Mike Werb, Michael Colleary
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Crime/Sci-Fi
Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen
Running Time: 138 minutes

Going into Face/Off, I was hoping for a ridiculous, over-the-top action flick, and that’s exactly what I got. John Woo’s third American film is genius in that it sets up two of Hollywood’s craziest actors and lets both of them go off the rails.

Nicolas Cage is at his most deliriously best right from the get-go, playing a terrorist supervillain named Castor Troy. His archenemy is John Travolta’s Sean Archer, an FBI agent who is seeking revenge for the murder of his young son (killed by Troy, of course). Their first confrontation in the film depicts the age old battle of airplane vs. helicopter. Later, they fight on top of a speeding powerboat. The action scenes are signature Woo — stylish as all hell, and full of spectacular explosions.

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Movie Project #17: The Iron Giant [1999]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Iron Giant [1999]

The Iron Giant [1999] 
Director: Brad Bird
Writers: Tim McCanlies (screenplay), Brad Bird (screen story), Ted Hughes (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Animation/Action/Adventure
Starring: Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston
Running Time: 87 minutes

I have a bit of a conflicted relationship with animated films. I have quite enjoyed nearly every Studio Ghibli release I have seen, but I could do without most of the modern Disney and/or Pixar films. I added The Iron Giant to my project this year to add a bit more variety, though I have to admit I went into my viewing with a bit of trepidation.

It turns out I needn’t worry at all. Not only is The Iron Giant one of the highlights of my project so far, it’s also one of the better animated films I have seen in some time.

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Godzilla (2014) Movie Review

Godzilla [2014]

Godzilla [2014] 
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Max Borenstein (screenplay), Dave Callaham (story)
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe
Running Time: 123 minutes

Sixteen years.

That’s how long it has taken for another American attempt at a Godzilla film after Roland Emmerich’s critically-maligned 1998 blockbuster. With up-and-coming director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, and soon-to-be director of Star Wars), a star-studded international cast and a massive budget, all of the pieces appeared to be in place for a proper reboot. Yet while impressive in spots, Edwards’s Godzilla unfortunately manages to be underwhelming overall.

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Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead [2014] Movie Review

Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead [2014]

Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead [2014]
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Writers: Stig Frode Henriksen, Vegar Hoel, Tommy Wirkola
Genre: Action/Comedy/Horror
Starring: Vegar Hoel, Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, Ingrid Haas
Running Time: 100 minutes

Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead is the type of movie that will rip your arm off, pull your intestines out and then run you over with a tank — just because it can. Set immediately after the original film’s ending (there is a quick primer first just in case you need a refresher on what happened), it’s clear right away just what this much-anticipated sequel has in store. The budget is much bigger, the cast is larger, and the special effects are significantly improved. This is Dead Snow cranked to 11.

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Movie Project #11: Road House [1989]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Road House [1989]

Road House [1989]
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Writers: Hilary Henkin, David Lee Henry
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Thriller
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara
Running Time: 114 minutes

Pain don’t hurt.

Even though this year’s project is stacked with acclaimed films, I don’t know if there was anything I was looking forward to more than the incomparable Road House. Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while now should know how much I love bad (or so bad they’re good) movies. There’s something to be said about shutting off your brain and just going with the flow, embracing cheesy acting and terrible dialogue as the delectable pieces of junk food they are. I’m happy to report that Road House is every bit as awesome (and awful) as I had heard.

Patrick Swayze, still riding the wave of success from Dirty Dancing, stars as a professional cooler (aka bouncer) named Dalton. He has built up a reputation as being the best in the business, and he is hired by businessman Frank Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) to clean up his bar called the Double Deuce. It’s an absolute pigsty of a nightclub, and it is home to many of the bottomfeeders of society. Its patrons are loud and short-tempered, and every other minute a huge bar fight breaks out. The poor house band even has to play behind a cage to avoid being hit with thrown beer bottles. The current wave of bouncers (including pro wrestler Terry Funk!) will throw out those who get particularly unruly, but they’re generally content with the unstable atmosphere.

Road House [1989]

Enter: Dalton. He immediately clears out the staff members that refuse to play by his rules (one of which is simply to be nice) and begins overhauling the business. Problems arise when Dalton fires a bartender who has ties to the local business mogul, Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). Wesley has his finger in seemingly every business in town, and he wants to keep things the way they are. He does his best to make Dalton’s life miserable, though Swayze plays him like he doesn’t have a care in the world.

Along the way, Dalton gets a love interest, Dr. Elizabeth Clay (Kelly Lynch), and some backup support from his longtime buddy and veteran cooler, Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott). When Garrett shows up, the film gets more and more violent, lending itself to some wildly entertaining barfights. Naturally, there’s a huge showdown at the end that becomes the centerpiece of the entire movie. It is here where Wesley’s top henchman, Jimmy (Marshall Teague), makes one of the most awkward threats imaginable (“I used to fuck guys like you in prison!”) before succumbing to Dalton’s wicked throat punch (it has to be seen to be believed). At this point, the film has its foot on the gas and culminates with an epic finale at Wesley’s personal mansion. To give you an idea of just how utterly ridiculous this becomes, take note that the last words mentioned in the film are “A polar bear fell on me.”

Road House [1989]

But this imbecility is what makes Road House so much fun. Swayze kicks a bunch of ass, Gazzara hams it up as the main villain, buildings get destroyed, characters find excuses to fight over anything, and Sam Elliott gets to show off his pubic hair. Wait… scratch that last part, that’s something I wish I did not see. Ditto for Patrick Swayze’s belly button (some things just cannot be unseen).

Is Road House great cinema? Not in the slightest. But it’s a damn fun film, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

8/10

Movie Project #1: First Blood [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

First Blood [1982]

First Blood [1982]
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Writers: David Morrell (novel), Michael Kozoll (screenplay), William Sackheim (screenplay), Sylvester Stallone (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna
Running Time: 93 minutes

Before watching First Blood, I envisioned the character of John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) to be a shirtless, testosterone-fueled one man army armed with a machine gun and endless ammunition. This is the image that I had been fed through the pop culture canon over the years. I was a bit surprised, then, to find a mentally damaged Vietnam War veteran in place of the fearless commando I thought I knew.

First Blood begins with a shaggy-looking Rambo wandering the streets of a small town in the Pacific Northwest. The local sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), notices him walking about and forcefully “offers” a ride out of his town. After being dropped off, Rambo simply starts walking back the way he came, drawing the ire of the sheriff. Teasle arrests him for vagrancy and drives him back for a night in jail. Once there, the rest of the police force joins in on giving Rambo a hard time for no good reason. A few officers attempt to give him some unwanted grooming; when a razor is pulled out, Rambo has a flashback to being tortured in ‘Nam, and he panics. He fights his way through the entire building, steals a dirtbike and heads deep into the mountains, now a wanted fugitive.

The police force, equal parts stubborn and embarrassed, refuse to back down, and soon tracking dogs, the State Patrol and the National Guard are all brought in. Little do they know that Rambo is a former member of an elite Special Forces unit, and the odds are actually against *them* to survive. Rambo’s mentor, Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna), arrives in an attempt to talk sense into both sides, but by then it’s all too late — this is war.

First Blood [1982]

The idea of Rambo taking on an entire town’s worth of enemies is a bit ridiculous, but it never feels as outlandish as other 80s action flicks. Stallone does a tremendous job of getting us to be on his side, even as he lays waste to a poor, innocent town. He even gets to show off his acting chops in a surprisingly touching final act. The closing scene with his Colonel is what really pulls everything together, and it provides some sort of meaning to what had until that point been a relatively run-of-the-mill action film.

First Blood still has its issues — the policemen are stereotypical villains with no depth, for one — but damn if it didn’t leave on a high note. Now if only that godawful “It’s a Long Road” song didn’t play over the end credits…

7/10

Video Game Review: Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Grand Theft Auto V
System: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Genre: Action-adventure
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: September 17, 2013

I have a confession to make: until Grand Theft Auto V, I had never completed a GTA game. I have played every game in the series, and had a (mostly) positive experience with each one, but I would always seem to lose interest at around the 10-15 hour mark. That is not the case with Rockstar’s latest blockbuster, the first GTA game to finally get nearly everything right.

One of my biggest pet peeves with the series has been its lack of mission checkpoints. There was rarely anything more frustrating than starting a mission, driving to point A, accomplishing set goal, getting killed on the ensuing shootout back, and then having to start it all over again from the very beginning. That is not the case in GTA V — now there are multiple checkpoints within each mission, ensuring that any tedium is kept to the bare minimum.

Another huge, huge addition to the series is a brand new quick save system. That’s right — instead of having to drive to a safe house and walk into your bedroom, you can now just open your cell phone and save at any point you wish. In essence, by fixing these two major issues alone, Rockstar has succeeded in creating what is truly the ultimate Grand Theft Auto experience.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

In another bold move, the game has three protagonists instead of just one rags-to-riches story. These characters — Michael, Franklin and Trevor — are all wildly different and can be switched between at your leisure. Michael is a rich ex-convict who is going through a mid-life crisis, and he can’t resist the urge of getting back into the tempting world of crime once again. He befriends Franklin, a repo man who is trying to get out of the hood while pursuing higher levels of crime. Later, Trevor, an old pal of Michael’s, is introduced, and he is the epitome of the stereotypical GTA gamer’s play style. Trevor is a wild, out-of-control white trash psychopath who has no problems killing and torturing others. He is completely ludicrous, but he is responsible for many of the game’s most memorable moments. All three characters have their own personal missions while also working together on the main storyline.

The absolute highlight of using these three characters together comes in the form of elaborate heist missions. These require intense planning, and the game gives you two different ways to pull off these robberies. One is usually stealth-oriented, whereas the other is guns-a-blazin’. A lot of piecework is required to be successful, including recruiting NPC helpers (the better ones require a higher cut of the score), getting proper getaway vehicles and of course, scoping out the area beforehand. There are only a handful of these heist missions, but they are easily the most fun I have had in any GTA game’s main campaign, period.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Switching between the three characters is quite easy, and it works surprisingly well. For example, during a heist you can switch from one character who is engaged in a gunfight at ground level to another character who is ready with a sniper from above. Being able to switch back and forth adds a new dimension to these missions, and and they are a blast to play.

Of course, if you really want to, you can avoid missions altogether and just go buckwild in the massive world of Los Santos. Unlike in previous games, the entire map is open to you right from the start, and boy is it massive. The city is full of life, with yuppies walking down the sidewalk with frappucino in hand, bar patrons lounging around outside, people walking their dogs in the park… it truly feels like a living, breathing world. Outside of the city, there’s an impoverished, redneck town (where Trevor’s trailer is located), as well as a large mountain that is begging to be explored.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

The game is full of bonus side quests and little Easter eggs, some of which may not be discovered for months. There are tons of random events, and each character has their own unique interactions. For example, Franklin can tow illegally parked cars to earn more money, while Trevor can work as a bounty hunter. Trevor also has the distinction of being able to kidnap random citizens and then drive them to a cult at the top of a mountain, where they will exchange money for their next human sacrifice victim. Basically, you can be as evil as you want in the game.

Other improvements in GTA V include far superior car handling (especially compared to GTA IV) and much better combat controls. The gunplay, especially, is a huge step-up, as now it is much easier to lock onto an enemy. Also, dying in the game no longer erases your weapons — you will respawn with everything in tact, which is a another nice bonus.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Now, GTA V isn’t quite perfect. For one, helicopters are incredibly awkward to control, and they are mandatory for a few missions. While I was able to handle most missions with relative ease, I found myself dying much more frequently when I had to fly. It makes sense that there are flying missions since Trevor was a former certified pilot, but I could have done without being forced to use them so often.

There are also problems with the game’s writing and use of satire. The GTA series has always been tongue-in-cheek, and this game is no exception. However, some of the satire and jokes just come across as lazy. For every genuinely amusing moment, there are plenty of groan-worthy spoofs (i.e. FBI = FIB, Facebook = Lifeinvader, etc.) or overly juvenile gags. The game’s characters are also hastily written, and their reasons for working together are vapid at best. Still, shallow writing aside, I am willing to overlook most of these flaws simply because the game does so much right.

Put simply, Grand Theft Auto V is a remarkable achievement in gaming. There is just so much to do in the island of Los Santos, and every foray into its world produces new experiences. The game looks incredible — try not to be impressed the first time you dip your toes in the ocean — and it has a killer soundtrack to boot. There’s even a brand new online mode that is essentially its own full-fledged game (which will get a separate review later). In short, this is the GTA that I have always wanted, and it is easily one of this year’s must-play games.

10/10

Movie Review: The World’s End [2013]

The World's End [2013]

The World’s End [2013]
Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Genre: Action/Comedy/Sci-Fi
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan
Running Time: 109 minutes

It’s amazing what a difference 20 years makes, especially those years immediately after high school. Friends come and go, many start families, and some find lucrative jobs elsewhere. However, there are some that simply don’t change.

Gary King (Simon Pegg) is one such stalwart who is stuck in a high school mindset. A recovering alcoholic and drug addict (though obviously not fully committed to sobering up), Gary reminisces at an AA meeting about an epic pub crawl he and his mates once attempted during high school. The crawl, a 12-pub trip through their hometown of Newton Haven, was never fully completed. While telling his story, he realizes that he badly wants to see the pub crawl through to the end.

Gary starts reaching out to his long-lost pals, convincing Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Steven (Paddy Considine) to join him fairly easily. The wild card is Andy (Nick Frost), who hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in 16 years after being involved in a serious accident. Yet even he manages to agree after being told a sob story by Gary; the caveat being that he drink tap water instead.

The World's End [2013]

And so the gang gets back together, some 20 years later, all living vastly different lives. Gary hasn’t changed a bit since high school — in fact, he is still wearing the same Sisters of Mercy t-shirt he wore during the initial pub crawl attempt — but the others seem to be well off. It takes some time for the five of them to bond, especially as Gary is all over the place with his childish behavior and inappropriate comments.

As the beers start flowing and the guys begin opening up, it’s a blast to listen to them shoot the shit over a few pints. However, it doesn’t take long for them to realize that something is a little off with their hometown. I won’t get into spoilers here, but the film goes in a *completely* different direction around the time the fellas hit the third pub. Things are not at all as they seem in little old Newton Haven.

The World's End [2013]

This jarring transition still brings plenty of laughs and some surprisingly spectacular fighting choreography, but it loses a little something along the way. There was potential for a genuinely great film about old friends catching up and trying to relive their “glory days”, but the zany direction the film takes feels like a bit of a setback. As such, this doesn’t quite live up to those from the rest of the Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz).

At the same time, there is still a lot to like here. The mashup of movie genres means you never know what’s going to happen next, and every member of the cast has their fair share of humorous lines. It’s also cool to see Simon Pegg play such a foul, lowlife character who still somehow manages to get us on board with him.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that The World’s End comes after two brilliant comedies from Wright/Pegg/Frost. This is clearly the weakest of the trilogy, but then again, it was always going to be hard to top its predecessors. The World’s End is an enjoyable film, albeit a messy one, but I hope it’s not the last we see from these guys.

7/10