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Sunday, 30 March 2014

80’s afternoon: 30th March 2014. Written in real-time to the movies.

Gutted to find out that Netflix have lost the rights to Weird Science, which was to open my 80’s afternoon of movies; instead, it was a decision to make between Top Gun, Fletch, Ghostbusters, Summer Rental (typical-John Cusack-slacker-comedy) and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. After a little soul-searching, I opted for the movie that had a big impact on my teens and one that I have not seen for decades: TOP GUN.


Made in 1986 starring an up and coming movie star, this was a hit as soon as it came out and laid out the template for action movies, romance movies and any movie for years to come. Top Gun has a truly inconic, brilliant, gushingly 80’s opening; a beautiful score by Harold Faltermeyer eases up the tension and adds to the wonderful imagery of Tony Scott. Then there is the cast list, what a treat: Tom Cruise; Val Kilmer; Anthony Edwards; Tim Robbins; Michael Ironside; Meg Ryan; James Tolkan; Tom Skerritt, as well as the beautiful Kelly McGillis. I really forgot what a great film this was. I remember watching it and thinking, there’s no war on, why are we fighting in the skies. Now, that question seems irrelevant, just a wishful thought from a naïve young man (I was 14 when Top Gun came out, about the right age to be fuelled by lustful testosterone).

It really is briiliantly shot, with quick edits to heighten up the tension as Maverick and co perform their exercises. It is picture postcard stuff and easy to forget this is the film that started the whole look. Then there is the soundtrack, epic!
Tom Cruise, Maverick, is sent to Top Gun along with his partner Goose, played by Anthony Edwards. There they will train with the best, including Val Kilmer. And they get to be taught by Kelly McGillis.

Cue Kenny Loggins singing and Tom Cruise on a motorbike, without a helmet of course, and we are at the sacred turf of the best of the best.

First words uttered during the first lecture at Top Gun itself “This gives me a hard-on.” “Don’t tease me.” I don’t know where these people get the homosexual references from!

At forty minutes in, and having been met with yet another of those enormous grins of Tom Cruise, I wonder, how many times has he done that so far? It seems that every scene ends with a huge grin. This is where it started folks!

It really does look great and who could forget some of those sequences; the singing in the bar; the MIG chase and then the flight-tower fly-by; THAT volleyball match accompanied with ‘Playing with the Boys’, sung by, yes, Kenny Loggins. Straight after that we are into Berlin taking their breath away and Tom having something purring between his legs, from his bike and then off to Kelly’s for a spot of wine. The sex scene is actually very nicely done, and it stands out now with the fact that we don’t get scenes like that at all in mainstream movies. Now we have superheroes who don’t think of sex at all, let alone do it. Kind of makes things a little abnormal nowadays.

Ah no! I forgot that Goose dies. Noooo!

It’s the hero’s story; his mission is to make it in Top Gun, become a fighter pilot like his father. Damaged by the ghost of his father he pushes it, kills his best friend and mentor, hits rock bottom and then returns triumphantly to gain the prize. The template works for this as much as it did for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. What I like about this is that Maverick does not win the material prize, which is the Top Gun trophy, he wins what he has sought, respect from his peers and from himself. That is the biggest prize and it is what makes this film stand the test of time. It may be a pivotal movie from the 80’s and epitomises the look of that decade, but its core is eternal, and it feels just as relevant today.

Now, would Running Scared give the same feeling?

An MGM presentation and directed by Peter Hyams, he of Timecop, Capricorn One and 2010. It starts with a typical 80’s cheesy them tune and shots of Chicago on a cold, winters day. Stars Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal, I think this was meant to be a Beverly Hills Cop type of movie, only with snow. So far: so Eighties. Ha! Billy Crystal has been punched in the face within the first five minutes, was that written in especially because it was Billy Crystal! Now we’re into a chase with a punk who is Joe Pantonliano, type-cast again! 

This already feels so formulaic, even for that decade. It wasn’t a big movie on release and I can see why. This is reminiscent of an episode of Starsky and Hutch, it has the same buddy-cop relationship going on and a grungy feel to it. Here are two cops who do it their way, another maverick, what it is about the Eighties? Hines and Crystal are always being chased by lawyers and have failed marriages. They act like criminals to catch criminals. They have no respect, let me guess, by the end they do.

And there is the surprise villain: Jimmy Smits! I have absolutely no idea what the plot is so far and we’re thirty minutes in. This is like pilot for a TV movie, a terrible soundtrack that gives it that cheaper feel. For a movie starring a comedian there is very little comedy, it needs an injection of Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley. 
I think the story is coming together; the two cops get it wrong on a drugs raid and are then (surprise surprise) sent off duty by their gruff captain (Dan Hedaya). They go on ‘vacation’ and then return to reap the rewards and get…respect from their peers! Here comes the tune that everyone will know as our two misfits are sunning it in the Keys: Sweet Freedom by Michael McDonald, it’s on Spotify!

The movie is a slow start, and perhaps that is why it has not held up so well, but now that the cops have a purpose and wish to retire alive to the Keys, the fun begins. We are getting comedy as well as sympathy for their plight. The story should have started at the wrong job and the Keys, not the half an hour of pointless build up.

Now we’re back in Chicago and the boys are hunting Jimmy Smits for something it has again lost its edge. Still, Jimmy Smits is a good bad guy, rather skinny and young, but sort of Bond-villainish. I guess after this he went on to uphold the law and then become the Senator for Alderaan, not a bad career trajectory for a guy peddling dope.

1 hour and 24 minutes in, and the second movie in to my trilogy, I have just seen the first ENORMOUS brick of a mobile phone, not touch screen, no 4G; just a massive battery!

We’re nearly at the end and I know how this is going to go; the bad guys have taken Billy Crystal’s ex-wife, who are still in love with each other but won’t admit it; he’ll rescue her, get her respect, retire to the Keys…maybe. Massive gunfight in a shopping mall, we’ve had a Die Hard moment (although this was a year earlier), Gregory Hines suspended from the ceiling, machine-gunning his way through a window. Looks great. Then it ends: Jimmy Smits dies and falls down an escalator; Gregory Hines is shot in the leg; Billy Crystal stops his ex from marrying and gets a snog; movies were so much more optimistic in the Eighties. Cigars a lit, the good guys walk away, but hey, decide to stay on the beat and not retire. Who could have guessed that!

John Hughes made a massive contribution to the Eighties, with movies like The Breakfast Club; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; Pretty in Pink and the next, final movie of our trilogy: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; arguably his best.

Matthew Broderick, together with his friends Alan Ruck and Mia Sara, feigns sickness and all go on the best day off any school kid could ever want; a true boyhood fantasy. It also has Jennifer Grey and Jeffery Jones as the hapless school supervisor.

Classic beginning: Ferris turning to the camera just as his parents leave for work and he is ill in bed; he says deadpan “They bought it.”

Six minutes and we get the immortal from the Eco Teacher, the beautifully bored Ben Stein: Beuller; Beuller; Beuller; Beuller. Love it! Followed immediately by Alan Ruck lying in bed contemplating his own fate. This movie is truly great from the very beginning.

Ferris convinces his class that he may be dying, leading to this wonderful quote: “If Ferris dies he’s giving his eyes to Stevie Wonder.” Then there is a chat to a college freshman over the phone who looks EXACTLY like Ed Milliband…in fact I think it is.

This has to be one of Alan Ruck’s and Jeffrey Jones’ best movies, both put in brilliantly manic performances. The part where Mia Sara is contrived to leave school because her grandmother is dead is a perfect scene of comedy. Full of farce, great play between the characters.

Another classic scene: the 1961 Ferrari. A beautiful car; it is a dream, it is a passion; it is his father’s fault he left it in the garage! The licence plate says NRVOUS, very appropriate for Alan Ruck’s character.

Off the three of them go into the city and I think we’re back in Chicago, this time in the sunshine; it looks very different. There are some great tricks in this movie, not least the entry into the fancy restaurant. Who wouldn’t want to try it themselves? There are also some lovely moments, and the piece in the art museum is touching. There is also the famous scene in the parade and Matthew Broderick doing his best rock n’ roll, Twist and Shout.

Then the Ferrari is killed, while they try to take the mileage used by putting it in reverse, Cameron (Ruck) has had enough of his father loving the car more than his family and kicks it into submission, the car zooms backwards out of the garage window and into the woods; the car is dead. But perhaps Cameron is alive for the first time. Alan Ruck’s big moment; he has been such an underused actor. To finish we have cheesy good bye set-ups followed by snogging and a bit of music, probably Simple Minds. This is John Hughes; before Tarantino, music played an important part for another director.

This is a film about freedom of spirit, something we should all have when we are young. The adults in the movie are the stiffs, the kids are the ones who just want to live life. It is a real load of fun, it may send the wrong message to those stiffs out there depicted by Jeffrey Jones, but it isn’t saying that the youth don’t care, it is saying that the youth want to find out rather than be told. It stood for my youth, and I think it stands for now.

Three very different movies and in my opinion, two of them have aged well. 

Zac Thraves
currently reading: A French Novel by Frederic Beigbeder; currently watching: Fringe, via Netflix; last movie watched: The Life of Pi (deluded); currently drinking: Holsten Pils, I like Jeff Goldblum. 

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