Film Review: Top Gun (dir by Tony Scott)

Oh, where to even begin with Top Gun?

First released in 1986, Top Gun is a film that pretty much epitomizes a certain style of filmmaking.  Before I wrote this review, I did a little research and I actually read some of the reviews that were published when Top Gun first came out.  Though it may be a considered a classic today, critics in 1986 didn’t care much for it.  The most common complaint was that the story was trite and predictable.  The film’s reliance on style over substance led to many critics complaining that the film was basically just a two-hour music video.  Some of the more left-wing critics complained that Top Gun was essentially just an expensive commercial for the military industrial complex.  Director Oliver Stone, who released the antiwar Platoon the same year as Top Gun, said in an interview with People magazine that the message of Top Gun was, “If I start a war, I’ll get a girlfriend.”

Oliver Stone was not necessarily wrong about that.  The film, as we all know, stars Tom Cruise as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a cocky young Navy flyer who attends the TOPGUN Academy, where he competes with Iceman (Val Kilmer) for the title of Top Gun and where he also spends a lot of time joking around with everyone’s favorite (and most obviously doomed) character, Goose (Anthony Edwards).  Maverick does get a girlfriend, Charlie (Kelly McGillis), but only after he’s had plenty of chances to show both how reckless and how skilled he can be while flying in a fighter plane.  Though the majority of the film is taken up with scenes of training and volleyball, the end of the film does give Maverick a chance to prove himself in combat when he and Iceman end up fighting a group of ill-defined enemies for ill-defined reasons.  It may not be an official war but it’s close enough.

That said, I think Oliver Stone was wrong about one key thing.  Maverick doesn’t get a girlfriend because he started a war.  He gets a girlfriend because he won a war.  Top Gun is all about winning.  Maverick and Iceman are two of the most absurdly competitive characters in film history and, as I watched the film last weekend, it was really hard not to laugh at just how much Cruise and Kilmer got into playing those two roles.  Iceman and Maverick can’t even greet each other without it becoming a competition over who gave the best “hello.”  By the time the two of them are facing each other in a totally savage beach volleyball match, it’s hard to look at either one of them without laughing.  And yet, regardless of how over-the-top it may be, you can’t help but get caught up in their rivalry.  Cruise and Kilmer are both at their most charismatic in Top Gun and watching the two of them when they were both young and fighting to steal each and every scene, it doesn’t matter that both of them would later become somewhat controversial for their off-screen personalities.  What matters, when you watch Top Gun, is that they’re both obviously stars.

“I’ve got the need for speed,” Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards say as they walk away from their plane.  The same thing could be said about the entire movie.  Top Gun doesn’t waste any time getting to the good stuff.  We know that Maverick is cocky and has father issues because he’s played by Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise always plays cocky characters who have father issues.  We know that Iceman is arrogant because he’s played by Val Kilmer.  We know that Goose is goofy because his nickname is Goose and he’s married to Meg Ryan.  The film doesn’t waste much time on exploring why its characters are the way they are.  Instead, it just accepts them for being the paper-thin characters that they are.  The film understands that the the most important thing is to get them into their jets and sends them into the sky.  Does it matter that it’s sometimes confusing to keep track of who is chasing who?  Not at all.  The planes are sleek and loud.  The men flying them are sexy and dangerous.  The music never stops and the sun never goes down unless the film needs a soulful shot of Maverick deep in thought.  We’ve all got the need for speed.

In so many ways, Top Gun is a silly film but, to its credit, it also doesn’t make any apologies for being silly.  Instead, Top Gun embraces its hyperkinetic and flashy style.  That’s why critics lambasted it in 1986 and that’s why we all love it in 2020.  And if the pilots of Top Gun do start a war — well, it happens.  I mean, it’s Maverick and Iceman!  How can you hold it against them?  When you watch them fly those planes, you know that even if they start World War III, it’ll be worth it.  If the world’s going to end, Maverick’s the one we want to end it.


Josh Frankel Launches Readers Into Any Number Of “Eccentric Orbits”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Hearkening back to the underground science fiction epics of everyone from George Metzger to Matt Howarth, to the more contemporary efforts of ambitious cartoonists like Joshua Cotter, Josh Frankel’s new self-published comics ‘zine (and that’s the right word — this is a magazine-sized publication that clocks in at 40 pages) Eccentric Orbits is nevertheless something new, different, and frankly pretty unique : a human-sized and often quite light-hearted and, dare I say it, fun take on tried and true genre tropes that draws you in immediately with the superb quality of its illustration and keeps your interest by dint of its strong characterization. Not that the art doesn’t stay great from start to finish, too, mind you, because it most assuredly does.

Frankel’s teenage protagonists, part of the crew of the ingeniously-named space station Indiscretion, are both entirely typical of kids their age and fully-fleshed-out individuals, and whether they’re being…

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Ghost (2020, directed by Anthony Z. James)

Tony Ward (Anthony Mark Streeter) is a former London gangster who, on the morning of his release from prison, discovers that his wife would rather hide in her flat than talk to him, that his son, Conor (Nathan Hamilton), is going to head down the same path as his father if he doesn’t learn to control his temper, and that his former partner in crime (Russell Barnett) has no interest in helping Tony go straight.

Bearing no resemblance to the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore/Whoopi Goldberg Oscar nominee of the same name, Ghost is a British film that was shot, on location in London, with an iPhone.  Ghost is a deceptively simple film.  Until the final few minutes, there’s not even much violence.  Ghost, though, really isn’t about crime and gangsters.  It’s about a man who is trying to move on from his past and who can only watch as his son makes some of the same mistakes that he made.  Ghost is about whether or not anyone can ever start their lives over again.  It started out as a short film but director Anthony Z. James was so impressed with Streeter’s performance that he expanded the film to feature length.  As a result, there are a lot of scenes in Ghost that feel like they’re there to pad out the running time.  At the same time, James is proven correct in that Streeter gives a very strong performance as the haunted Tony.  Throughout the film, Tony is constantly struggling to not give into his old ways and Streeter does such a good job of communicating that conflict that even scenes of him nervously walking around London feel compelling.

Considering it was shot on an iPhone, Ghost looks great.  Anthony Z. James has a good visual eye and the movie was filmed in some of the most haunting areas of London.  Usually, I visit London two or three times a year.  In 2020, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, I have only been able to visit once and I don’t know when I’ll be able to visit again.  Watching Ghost made me homesick in the best way.


The Racy Covers of Silk Stocking Stories

by Peter Driben

Silk Stocking Stories was published from 1946 and 1939 and it specialized in stories that, back in its day, were considered to be racy.  By today’s standards, the stories may be tame but the covers remain popular with collectors.  I believe all of the covers below were done by Peter Driben.

Here are a few of the racy covers of Silk Stocking Stories!

Music Video of the Day: I Forgive It All By Mudcrutch (2016, directed by Sean Penn and Samuel Bayer)

This was one of Tom Petty’s final songs and it’s also one of his best.  This somber song features Petty looking back on his own past and forgiving his father, with whom he had a difficult relationship while he was growing up.

The video was shot on location in Los Angeles and simply features a man driving while thinking about the past.  Of course, in the video, that man is played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, who grew up not in Los Angeles but in Wales.  However, Hopkins has spoken of having a similarly difficult childhood to Petty’s.

This video was directed by actor Sean Penn, who was a friend of Petty’s, and Samuel Bayer.  Bayer has directed several music videos but will probably always be best known for directing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.