“Top Gun” (1986) starring Tom Cruise & Kelly McGillis

Up there with the best of the best. -A tagline for the movie

Y’all know the story of this iconic/’80s action movie, its young (soon to be famous) cast, and maybe even a few lines. This was my 1st time watching. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise- in a star-making role), whose father was also in the Navy, and his closest pal, Goose (Anthony Edwards), get into the best flying school (AKA “Top Gun”). While Maverick is a flirtatious bachelor prone to risk-taking, Goose is a cautious/devoted family man (w/ a wife and toddler son). After filming ended, Edwards and Meg Ryan (his onscreen wife- Carole) started dating IRL. The tension btwn Maverick and his classmate, Iceman (Val Kilmer), is NOT just acting; Cruise and Kilmer didn’t get along, so avoided each other on set and didn’t socialize. When the students are being briefed by Charlie (Kelly McGillis) in the hangar, Maverick says that he gave “the bird” to a MiG. Charlie asks how he saw the MiG up close, and he explains it was by flying inverted. Iceman coughs “bullshit” (ad-libbed by Kilmer); the reactions of the other actors are genuine.

(The Navy Blue Angels) take Tom up there, and they do five Gs. They do barrel rolls, they do everything. He’s heaving in the plane. He gets on the tarmac, runs to a pay phone… and he said, “I’m in. I’m doing the movie. I love it. This is great.” -Jerry Bruckheimer (a producer) on convincing Cruise to sign on to the film (after his initial reluctance)

All in all, the movie was both a blast and an education. -Val Kilmer (who initially didn’t want to act in the movie)

The action and music make this movie V entertaining, I have to admit! Yeah, I was moving my feet to the soundtrack. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer produced some blockbusters over their long partnership; I’m a big fan of Crimson Tide. It’s also fun to see the young/cute actors; a few became movie stars, while others went on to good careers in TV. Though the romance w/ McGillis is lackluster (zero chemistry), I liked the friendship btwn Cruise and Edwards (best known for ER) and the father-son dynamic btwn Cruise and Tom Skerritt (Viper- the lead instructor). Of course, I teared up a BIT when Goose died (though I knew it was coming)!

The real stars are the pilots themselves. Top Gun is dedicated to Art Scholl, a stunt pilot (aged 54), who was killed when his camera plane failed to recover from a flat spin and plunged into the Pacific Ocean. Maverick’s stunt flying was done by Scott D. Altman, who eventually become an astronaut- wow! Charlie’s “older man” date at the officer’s club is the real-life “Viper,” Pete Pettigrew, a retired Navy pilot/Top Gun instructor, who shot down a MiG during the Vietnam War. Pettigrew served as the technical consultant on the film. Charlie is based on Christine Fox, a civilian flight instructor the producers met on a visit to Miramar while doing research to prep for the film. Fox eventually rose through the ranks at the Pentagon, retiring in May 2014 as Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, the highest post ever held by a woman at the DoD. You can stream this movie on Amazon (Paramount+) or Netflix.

“TRON” (1982) starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, & Cindy Morgan

Hacker/arcade owner Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is digitally broken down into a data stream by a villainous software pirate, Master Control, and reconstituted into the internal, 3-D graphical world of computers. In this colorful/geometric landscape of cyberspace, Flynn joins forces w/ Tron, who looks just like his pal Alan (Bruce Boxleitner- perhaps best known for the sci-fi TV show Babylon 5), to outmaneuver the Master Control program that holds them captive in the equivalent of a big/dangerous computer game. Though V basic by our (modern) standards, this was an innovative/labor-intensive movie in its day! There is a BTS (behind-the-scenes) documentary re: the movie (free on YouTube: see link below).

Many Disney animators refused to work on this movie because they feared that computers would put them out of business. In fact, 22 years later Disney closed its hand-drawn animation studio in favor of CGI animation. Hand-drawn animation was resumed at Disney after creative director, John Lasseter, also head of Pixar (a computer animation company). TRON was disqualified from receiving an Academy Award nomination for special effects, because the Academy felt at the time that using computer generated effects was “cheating” – wow!

Y’all, I gotta keep it real w/ you; I ONLY watched this for Bridges! He’s adorable w/ a fringe haircut (like the one Kurt Russell had in his day), quirky physicality, and a nerdy personality. ALL the actors (when inside the computer) wore skintight outfits; IRL these were white w/ black markings (where the graphics would be added in later). Bridges had TOO much of a bulge in the crotch area in his costume (hey, this was released by Disney); he had to wear a dance belt to conceal it. To inspire the actors, arcade games were placed on the sets and played during downtime. Bridges found it hard to tear himself away from a game to shoot a scene- LOL! Boxleitner (who lived on a ranch at that time) said he was reluctant to take on this role, BUT ended up having a good time. When asked about his co-star, Boxleitner recalled: “He WAS Kevin Flynn!”

In the 1st act of this movie, we meet 3 young computer programmers- Kevin, Alan, and Lora (Cindy Morgan- I’d never seen her acting before). They’re still close friends, even though Kevin no longer works w/ them at Encom. Kevin and Lora used to be a couple, BUT now she is dating Alan. The main baddie roles are played here by British character actor David Warner; he recently passed away after a long life/prolific career. Warner was a working class kid (from Manchester, England) who came out of the theater world (studied at RADA). Trekkies remembered him fondly on social media; he acted in several notable roles: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (St. John Talbot), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Chancellor Gorkon), and Star Trek: TNG (Gul Madred). He was also on an ep on S1 of Babylon 5; I watched that recently. Warner was the cold/gun-toting Lovejoy in the hit movie, Titanic (2002), who chased Jack and Rose.

“Against All Odds” (1984) starring Rachel Ward, Jeff Bridges, & James Woods

Certainly, we’ve tried to retain certain qualities from the original film [Out of the Past], mainly the electric, dangerous interaction of the three main characters. However, the story itself, the background of the characters and the setting are very different. I think we’ve come up with a film that deals with the unique nature of power in Los Angeles and how that power consumes and almost destroys the three main characters. Years from now, I can see theaters playing this version and the original on the same bill and the audience seeing two very different films. -Taylor Hackford, director

Reluctantly, broke/injured football player- Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges, at age 34)- accepts the job to track down Jessie Wyler (British actress Rachel Ward), the ex-gf of old friend/nightclub owner, Jake Wise (James Woods- always a believable villain). On the beaches of Cozumel, Terry NOT only finds the elusive woman, BUT unexpectedly falls in love w/ her. Soon, Terry finds himself trapped in a web of passion and intrigue, as Jessie starts to feel the burden of choice in this dangerous love triangle. Can they have a future together?

I saw this movie last week after learning it was a remake of one of my fave noir films- Out of the Past (1947) starring Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and Jane Greer (who plays Jessie’s controlling mom/wealthy land developer, Mrs. Wyler). You can read my review here. It was V cool to see veteran actor Richard Widmark (looking fit at age 70); he plays Ben Caxton (Mrs. Wyler’s top lawyer/old friend). Woods and Bridges both loved working w/ Widmark, and remembered his love of pancakes. He used to have a plate waiting for him while shooting a scene, and Woods and Bridges would often hide it. Widmark refused to go back to shooting before the cakes had been recovered- LOL!

Terry: So what is it you don’t like exactly, football players, tacos, or beer?

Jessie: I like tacos and beer.

Bridges was Hackford’s 1st choice for the lead (played by Richard Gere) in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), but Bridges had a packed schedule then (appearing in 3 movies). Hackford kept Bridges in mind when creating the character of Terry. Ward got top billing above her male co-stars; she was well-known at that time (after her work on the hit miniseries The Thorn Birds). For Bridges, this was his 1st lead role in a commercial film; he was more of a supporting actor before. The helmets and uniforms used by the football team Terry is playing for were from the (defunct) USFL’s LA Express. As a wide-receiver, his main role was to catch forward passes from the quarterback. He’d have to be fast, as on just about every play, the wide receiver needs to run at full speed.

Well, I consider myself a character actor, and leading man is a character that you play. -Bridges, when asked re: playing a leading man

Terry is cut from the team; he thinks it’s b/c of his recurring shoulder issue (though the team has been doing well). However, his friend/conditioning coach, Hank Sully (Alex Karras- best known as the dad in Webster), says that Terry is too expensive to keep on. Terry goes to see his long-time lawyer, Steve Kirsch (Saul Rubinek), but he refuses to help. Steve’s secretary, Edie (Swoosie Kurtz), has a bit of a crush on Terry. He seeks out Jake, who’s desperate to find his ex and know she’s safe. When Terry was getting started in his pro career, Jake helped him out (watch too see exactly what happened). Though they share a past, there is (underlying) tension between the two men’s interactions. Early in the film, they have a car race which is V tense/potentially dangerous. Jake’s black Ferrari 308 and Terry’s red Porsche were specially modified for high-speed driving w/ special onboard camera mounts. Bridges and Woods commented that many viewers went back to theaters to re-watch this scene.

There are millions of dollars in production values on the screen that one could never create in Hollywood. It’s exciting to think that many moviegoers will be seeing these fantastic locations for the first time. Stylistically, I wanted to contrast these rough, ancient Mexican textures with the cold, modern surfaces of Los Angeles. Often, L.A. has been used in films as a kind of lotus-land… people waking up in the morning, saying, ‘God, I can’t believe those palm trees’. But people from L.A., especially those who wield power, don’t feel or act that way. It’s not that the absurdities are lost on them; they’ve simply made their peace with the city and attend to business. That’s the point of view I’m taking in this film. Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward are both fugitives from the corruptive power and manipulation of Los Angeles. The romantic, other-worldliness of the Yucatan provides a setting for them to find each other… something that would never have been possible in L.A., because of their respective’ emotional baggage and class differences. -Hackford re: the importance of shooting in Mexico

We got along right away! It could’ve been awkward… […] It went smoothly. -Bridges, when asked re: shooting steamy scenes w/ Ward

Bridges looks gorgeous w/ his thick blonde mane, w/ or w/o full beard, and 6-pack abs (yowza)! He gets to wear some cool outfits, for those of you into fashion. There is much more to like about this movie, incl. the romance between Terry and Jessie. The actors have good chemistry together. Ward was newly married to Aussie actor Bryan Brown; they co-starred on The Thorn Birds (playing a married couple). Bridges was awaiting the birth of his 2nd child; he carried a beeper b/c it was tough to call LA from some of the shooting locations.

[1] Parts of “Against All Odds” are absolutely magnificent. The Mexican location photography is terrific. Rachel Ward looks great, as does Jeff Bridges.

[2] Bridges plays his role quite convincingly as a wounded man, a naive guy who put his foot in a place he never should have been in from the beginning. The man has a heavy burden on his shoulder and he succeeds very well in carrying it. […]

Though the story has its share of lopsided scenes, it is still one worthy enough to enjoy. For Jeff Bridges fans, who have overlooked this one, should see him in his prime. He brings his charm and personality here like he’s done in almost 45 years he has graced the silver screen. It will surely please everyone who enjoys romance, suspense and action.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

This is a good movie. The plot can be confusing. You may have to see it twice. -Gene Siskel

I agree, it’s good. Bridges is good in everything I’ve seen him in. -Roger Ebert

“Bull Durham” (1988) starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, & Tim Robbins

A Major League Love Story in a Minor League Town. -Tag line for the movie

It’s the start of the baseball season, and Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), for whom baseball is a “religion,” is in the process of choosing one player on the Durham Bulls (her home team in the Carolina League) who she’ll take under her wing. This player has always gone on to have the best year of his career. She has narrowed her choices to Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins)- the young/undisciplined pitcher- and veteran catcher- Crash Davis (Kevin Costner)- brought in to improve Ebby’s game. Ebby is V eager to “hook-up” w/ Annie when she offers, BUT Crash takes himself out of the running (b/c he doesn’t see “matters of the heart” as a game). It’s obvious that Annie and Crash are attracted to each other. First thing, Annie gives Ebby a nickname- Nuke- which helps boost his confidence. Thus begins Annie, Crash and Nuke’s complicated relationship!

Annie: Right, honey, let’s get down to it. How was Ebby Calvin LaLoosh?

Millie [younger friend/fellow baseball groupie]: Well, he f***s like he pitches – sorta all over the place.

The writer/director, Ron Shelton, was a former minor league baseball player; he played 5 seasons in the Baltimore Orioles farm system. The highest level Shelton reached was w/ the Rochester Red Wings in the Triple-A International League. Kurt Russell helped Shelton develop the script and was slated for to play Crash. After the film was made, Russell was so impressed, he wrote fan letters to Costner and Shelton! Orion Pictures gave Shelton a mere $9M budget (w/ cast members accepting lower salaries than usual b/c of the strong material), an 8-wk shooting schedule, and creative freedom. The film’s box-office success caused Hollywood to produce several more baseball-centered movies over the next few yrs. Though it is meant to be set over a hot/humid Summer, Bull Durham was actually filmed on location in North Carolina in October and November of 1987. The grass had to be touched up w/ green paint and the breath of the actors can be seen in many night scenes.

Crash [giving advice to Nuke during a game]: Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.

Producer Thom Mount (part owner of the real Durham Bulls) hired Pete Bock (former semi-pro baseball player) as a consultant. Bock recruited minor-league players, ran a tryout camp (to recruit an additional 40-50 players), hired several minor-league umpires and conducted two-a-day workouts/practice games w/ Robbins pitching and Costner catching. Bock made sure the actors looked/acted like ballplayers and that the real players acted convincingly in front of the cameras. Shelton decided to cast Costner b/c of the actor’s natural athleticism. The actor was a former HS baseball player and hit 2 home runs (while the cameras were rolling). According to Shelton, Costner insisted “on throwing runners out even when they [the cameras] weren’t rolling.” The actor is also “a switch hitter” (Crash is shown hitting both left and right-handed).

Annie [in voiceover re: Nuke]: The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self awareness.

There are many LOL (or V amusing) moments in this movie. The cute/funny dance scene w/ Nuke and several actresses in the bar was choreographed by Paula Abdul. On my re-watch, I noticed that Annie’s first dress (black top, wide red belt, & black/white checkered skirt) is V similar to the one worn by dancer/actress Vera Allen in White Christmas. As Karina Longworth explained, the R-rating comes more from the profane language rather than the love scenes (NOT daring by today’s standards). These elements are rare for a mainstream/Hollywood film: Annie and Millie are never “slut-shamed” (as they go after what they want); the ballplayers (young/fit) are objectified perhaps more than the women.

This near pitch perfect movie (pun intended) has great dialogue and sparkling chemistry btwn its 3 co-leads. Now, you don’t have to be a fan of baseball or even Costner (who I don’t think has much range) to enjoy this movie. After I saw Costner opposite Sean Young in No Way Out (1987), I thought maybe he has some appeal. The role of Crash suits Costner (33 y.o.) V well; I’m assuming his acting is improved b/c he gets so many great lines. Jeff Bridges turned down the lead, BUT I think he’d have done a fine job. Costner plays well off both Sarandon (confident/mature at 42 y.o.) and Robbins (enthusiastic/boyish at just 30 y.o.) In their different ways, Annie and Crash both serve as mentors to Nuke (who has potential to go to “the big show”- major league). This is where Sarandon and Robbins first met and fell in love. I was surprised that I got a bit emotional in a scene (near the end)!

[1] This film is not only a great sports film, but it is one of the great all around films I have ever seen. This film has it all from romance to comedy to witty dialogue. Susan Sarandon, Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins all brought Ron Shelton’s script to life and the three of them displayed some of the greatest chemistry ever captured on film. This film is a timeless classic.

[2] It is nice to see a movie that attracts more than one kind of audience. This is a comedy, then again a love story. This can be placed in the baseball genre, as well as a coming of age drama. Most movies claim to be one or the other and sometimes fail to be. Then again, when a good movie hits a home run it can not only become a money maker and a box office smash, it can also become timeless. Before they became giants of Hollywood, Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins stars in this great movie as some of the most interesting, yet simple characters. […] Together, the three introduce three different worlds upon the audience. Each are believable characters even though they are in a way, fantasy like. A great story with a perfect ending, Bull Durham is one of those hard to find movies that is a crowd pleaser with just about every audience out there.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (1988) starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, & Lena Olin

Tereza: I know I’m supposed to help you, but I can’t. Instead of being your support I’m your weight. Life is very heavy to me, but it is so light to you. I can’t bear this lightness, this freedom… I’m not strong enough.

Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a young/apolitical/doctor in 1960s Czechoslovakia; he lives the life of a Casanova, working his charm on many women. He is involved w/ a sophisticated artist (“friends w/ benefits” would be the term today), Sabina (Lena Olin). On a trip to operate on a patient in a rural town, he meets/falls hard for a shy waitress, Tereza (Juliette Binoche). In time, Tomas asks Sabina to help find a job for Tereza. The two women (opposites in many ways) meet, share an interest in photography, and become close friends. These three characters are are caught up in the events of the Prague Spring of 1968, until Soviet tanks crush the (non-violent) rebels, and change their lives forever.

Tomas: Some people never change. Some people are always scoundrels.

This is the type of film to recommend to anyone who thinks they can’t be “wowed” by movies anymore! DDL was just 30 y.o. when this film was shot- wow! This is his 1st big movie; he played a quirky/supporting role in A Room with a View (1985). DDL at first turned down the role, feeling the script made Tomas too nice. The script was revised and things from the book (by Milan Kundera) were added, making the character less “perfect.” Speaking of perfection… Roger Ebert wrote that Binoche was “almost ethereal in her beauty and innocence” after watching 23 y.o. French woman’s performance. As the French say: Vive La Binoche! Swedish-born Olin (32 y.o.) has her American film debut; some of today’s single/childfree/independent-minded women may relate to her character. Speaking of Swedes… Stellan Skarsgard (mid-30s) has a small, BUT pivotal role in the 3rd act.

To me, thoughts are fun and art is fun. The strength of our society should not be idle entertainments, but the joy of pursuing ideas. -Philip Kaufman, director

If you want fame, and a beautiful statue made of yourself, don’t be a screenwriter. The writer disappears. He works in the shade. -Jean-Claude Carriere, screenwriter

I was surprised to learn that the director, Philip Kaufman, is an American (NOT European, as I’d assumed). The cinematographer (a respected veteran in his field) is Swedish; Sven Nykvist was know for giving the films he worked on the simplest and most natural look imaginable. Milos Forman personally offered Kaufman the opportunity to direct the movie. Forman had to pass the chance to direct b/c he still had family in Czechoslovakia; he feared for them in case of a negative reaction from the Soviet government (occupying the country at the time). The sequence depicting the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia incorporates real documentary footage of the era shot by students of Prague Film School.

[1] Romanticism originally doesn’t mean romance. The 19th century romantic hero was always a doomed one. The romantic characters long for something larger than life. The frailness, lightness of things is unbearable to those sensitive beings. This is why romantic stories typically end with the death of their heroes. Romanticism is the opposite of Hollywood, as there is no happy end. The epitome of a romantic story is for example “Romeo and Juliet”, where death is preferred to an impossible love story.

Because such intense feelings are a threat, some people try to escape them by taking nothing seriously.

[2] There has been many threesomes in cinematic history. The acting power in these three is one of best. Daniel is able to make the charismatic cad likable. Lena is sexual dynamite. Juliette is pure magic in this one. It is a great threesome against the backdrop of compelling political turmoil.

[3] Highlighting this impeccable picture are three sensational performances, a masterfully adapted screenplay full of beautiful and intriguing dialogue and quite possible the finest cinematography of the ’80s. Day-Lewis perfectly encompasses the charm of Tomas with a subtle charisma that keeps my eyes glued to him every time he appears on screen. The young Juliette Binoche is adorable, shy and emotionally powerful, but also plays it off very subtly. Lena Olin is overwhelmingly seductive and crafts a sense of freedom unlike any I’ve ever seen. These characters are all very human which means they have their fair share of flaws and the performances capture every essence of them so perfectly.

[4] …the film itself has stayed in my mind like few others. Yes, it’s very long, but the characters are so memorable that the length didn’t bother me at all – I loved the time spent in their company. In particular, Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin are each astonishing in their own way. Olin is ferociously sensual and mesmerizing, while Binoche is superlatively sympathetic and sensitive. Two of the best female performances I can remember. By the end of the film I was totally wrapped up in these people’s lives. This film is deeply erotic but in an intelligent and adult way…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews