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.


Blogathon: Movie Jail Relay Race

Nostra, the King of Blogathons, has teamed up with Terrence from The Focused Filmographer to deliver one of the most entertaining blogathons yet:

Movie Jail Relay Race

The Rules:
It’s time to put some movie people in jail. The object is to give a prosecutor’s argument as to why these movie people belong in “Movie Jail” whether it be for violating the integrity of the content source of one their films, or being a sell-out, just making bad movies overall, getting worse as time goes on or not being in a good movie for many years. The baton will be passed to another blogger who will have to do the following:

In order to free someone from Movie Jail they have to do 2 things:

1 – Give a defense attorney argument defending the plaintiff
2 – Pay bail: the cost of which is another case for the court and a prosecutor’s argument against the actor/director of their choice that will replace the one set free.

There must always be 10 people in Movie Jail.

The Participants:
1. My Filmviews/The Focused Filmographer
2. Cinematic Corner
3. And So It Begins…
4. Surrender to the Void
5. Cinematic Paradox
6. The Cinematic Spectacle
7. Being Norma Jean
8. Defiant Success
9. …let’s be splendid about this
10. Lime Reviews and Strawberry Confessions
11. Aziza’s Picks
12. Flixchatter
13. i luv cinema
14. Public Transportation Snob

The Inmates:
Michael Bay

Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer

Raja Gosnell

Katherine Heigl

Todd Phillips

Eddie Murphy

Adam Sandler

Kristen Stewart

Jennifer Lopez

Gerard Butler

Who I’m Setting Free:
Todd Phillips
Honestly, it’s hard to make a case for any of these inmates, but Todd Phillips has at least made a few solid comedies over the years. Although I haven’t seen either in many years, I did enjoy Road Trip and Old School, and I even liked *both* of The Hangover films. Blasphemy, I know. Yeah, he has had some missteps along the way, and he doesn’t have a particularly positive reputation, but I think he has served enough time in our jail.

Who I’m Putting in Jail:
Val Kilmer
How did the man best known for playing Jim Morrison, Doc Holliday and freakin’ Batman end up like this?? Kilmer has resorted to almost exclusively putting out direct-to-video fodder. Just take a look at his seven (!) films from 2012 alone: Deep in the Heart, Lotus Community Workshop, Breathless, Wyatt Earp’s Revenge, Seven Below, The Fourth Dimension, Standing Up. Do any of those ring a bell? For his poor recent output, Val Kilmer deserves a stint in movie jail.

Next up in the relay race: 3 Guys, 1 Movie

Movie Project #25: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]
Director: Shane Black
Genre: Action/Comedy/Crime
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan
Runtime: 103 minutes

Look up idiot in the dictionary. You know what you’ll find?
A picture of me?
No! The definition of the word “idiot”! Which you fucking are!

Now where in the hell did this movie come from? It’s rare that a film can combine dark comedy, action and mystery so effortlessly in one package. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has all of this, with a satirical spin on Film Noir to boot.

The always charismatic Robert Downey Jr. stars as Harry Lockhart, a common thief who acts as the meta narrator for our story. After a botched robbery attempt, Lockhart cleverly evades police by running into an ongoing audition for a detective movie. The part, conveniently enough, is eerily similar to the exact situation Lockhart is going through at that moment. He nails the gig, eludes the cops and gets a part in the movie. Now THAT’S how you run from the law.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

To train for his role, Lockhart is teamed up with private investigator Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), commonly known as “Gay Perry”. While working on a case, the duo unwittingly stumble upon a vast conspiracy involving kidnapping and murder, and they soon become swept into a web of crime. Also caught in the heat of things is Lockhart’s high school sweetheart, Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan), who he happens to run into at a Hollywood party.

What transpires is an expertly written mystery that is both hysterical and suspenseful. The movie moves at a brisk pace, one that is occasionally hard to keep up with but always entertaining. The laughs are dark and crude, without resorting to slapstick or lazy humor. The story doesn’t take long to spiral out of control and it stretches the boundaries of believability (okay, it is hardly believable at all), but that doesn’t matter. This is a self-aware movie that revels in its irreverence.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

And who better to play the lead narrator/thief/pseudo-actor than Robert Downey Jr.? The man’s comedic timing and delivery is impeccable, and he plays the lead with just the right amount of cynicism. His chemistry with the surprisingly buoyant Val Kilmer is off the charts. In fact, there are moments where Kilmer steals the scene. His “Gay Perry” delivers some brilliant wisecracks, a perfect complement to Downey’s zaniness. Bonus points go out to Michelle Monaghan who is as stunning as I have seen her, and boy does she know it in this film.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of the last decade’s more underrated films. Somehow this slipped under my radar (and many others, apparently) and I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this gem. Sure, the plot can be hard to keep up with, but damn if this isn’t an fun and wild ride. I am very glad to have included this in my project.


Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans [2009]

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans [2009]
Director: Werner Herzog
Genre: Crime/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

A common misconception is that Port of Call New Orleans is a remake of the Harvey Keitel-starring 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant. It is not; it just so happens that both movies revolve around a self-destructive police officer who exhibits truly appalling behavior. In fact, director Werner Herzog lobbied to have the movie’s name changed before its release, but was unsuccessful.

In Port of Call, Nicolas Cage stars as Det. Terence McDonagh, the degenerate cop in question. After suffering a severe back injury on duty, he becomes hooked on painkillers and pretty much any other drug he can find (heroin, crack, cocaine, etc.). McDonagh abuses his power to get what he wants by frequently bullying citizens and threatening them with jail time if they don’t help him feed his drug and/or gambling addictions. He is the essence of human scum, yet he is considered the best detective in New Orleans. It is this parable that makes it hard to feel attachment to this character, yet at the same time it is difficult to look away from his depravity.

This is Nic Cage at his finest. The man has been in a lot of crap movies these days, and his acting has been questionable to say the least. In Port of Call, he has free reign to go crazy and have this be acceptable. McDonagh is portrayed as a wild man, a reckless individual who Cage takes over the top throughout the entire movie. To say he is entertaining is an understatement; it’s just painfully difficult to like the guy.

Cage is aided by a solid supporting cast. Eva Mendes plays his prostitute girlfriend, Frankie, who shares a mutual love of drugs. Val Kilmer has a small (and subdued) role as his work partner. Xzibit plays a drug kingpin who is involved with some heinous crimes in the city. Tom Bower is McDonagh’s alcoholic father, and his background provides further insight as to how Terence became such a lowlife.

Port of Call New Orleans is a wild ride that knowingly indulges in excess, and thrives because of this. While I would hesitate to call this a *great* film due to occasional laughable dialogue, bizarre character behaviors and the difficulty to actually want to embrace any of these schmucks, I did enjoy the movie quite a bit. I would be remiss not to mention Peter Zeitlinger’s stunning cinematography; there are some truly gorgeous shots of New Orleans that really give the film a strong connection to the area. As an exercise in debauchery, Port of Call is certainly worth viewing. One question though: what the hell was up with Herzog’s reptile infatuations?


Heat [1995]

Heat [1995]

Heat [1995]
Directors: Michael Mann
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

Heat is an epic crime film in every sense of the word. Michael Mann really went all out with this blockbuster, cashing in on his $60 million budget and getting the most out of the nearly three hour runtime. This Los Angeles-set movie is mainly focused on two men: Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), a veteran LAPD homicide detective, and Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), a lifelong criminal and expert robber. Both men live for one thing — the rush they get from their jobs — and their personal lives suffer from it. Once Hanna gets wind of McCauley’s criminal escapades throughout the city, he becomes fascinated by him and tracks him on his way to his biggest heist yet. The character development for these two characters is outstanding, and it is easy to become attached to both, even though one is clearly “good” and the other is “bad.”

The movie is aided by an unbelievably strong and star-studded cast. Seriously, this is a who’s-who of popular actors from the 90’s (although not restricted to that decade, obviously). De Niro frequently shares screen time with his group of thieves, which includes Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo and Kevin Gage. There are also small, but important, roles from Jon Voight, William Fichtner and Dennis Haysbert. Even a very young Natalie Portman is in this movie. Each of these characters has a fleshed-out storyline to make the viewer care about them, and that is impressive even with the movie’s extended running time.

And yeah, about that length. It took me a while to get around to this movie due to its prolonged running time. This is a long crime saga, and you have to be prepared to sit down for the full three hours to get through it. Is it worth watching all the way through? Yes, absolutely! While there are a number of subplots weaving in and out of the main storyline (some that probably could have been omitted), this is still very much an exceptional film due to excellent acting, a strong script and some downright badass scenes.

There are two scenes in particular that everyone talks about whenever Heat is brought up. One is the bank heist/shootout, an elongated gun battle that is quite possibly one of the best firefights ever recorded in film. The other is a sit-down scene where Pacino and De Niro have a cup of coffee, the very first time the actors have appeared together on screen. Much was made of this encounter when the movie came out, and it is still interesting to see it today. Both scenes are phenomenal, albeit in very different ways.

Some will cry that Mann went overboard with this movie, trying to cram too many stories into one film. I agree that a little probably could have been trimmed off the top, but I still very much enjoyed Heat. This is one of the best crime sagas that I have seen, and its frequent praise is well-deserved.