Long Weekend Roundup: Top Gun, Code 46, & Bill Cunningham New York

Hi everyone! My weekend roundup is slightly delayed this week as I also got Monday off. Well I ended up seeing quite a few movies in the comfort of my home cinema. These are the four films I got to watch in my three day weekend.

WeekendViewingPosters

Top Gun (1986)

Thanks to Ted for lending me his Top Gun Blu-ray, my hubby and I watched it on Friday night and despite the inevitable 80s cheese-fest, the movie is still pretty darn entertaining! I remember being so wowed by it when I first saw it on the big screen two decades ago. All the flying sequences made me dizzy on the big screen, but it wasn’t too bad seeing it on my smaller TV screen. Of course, when the Berlin song Take My Breath Away played on, I was swept by the feeling of sweet nostalgia! 😀

It really didn't get any cheesier than this folks... but wait, yes it did!
It really didn’t get any cheesier than this folks… but wait, yes it did!

There were few movies bigger than Top Gun in the mid 80s and Tom Cruise’s career shot up to super-stardom. Amazing that he still remains there today, but the same can’t be said for the rest. I mean, Anthony Edwards became a TV star because of E.R., Meg Ryan became the queen of rom-com, Val Kilmer starred in high profile movies and even became a superhero (Batman), but Kelly McGillis never really got another memorable roles since. But today, Meg seems to have disappeared from Hollywood, Val has lost his svelte figure, and most tragic of all, we’ve lost director Tony Scott to suicide 😦 So not only does Cruise seemed to have drank from the fountain of eternal youth, he’s pretty much still got that movie star status. That’s really quite a feat after 27 years!

Anyway, here are my mini reviews of the rest:

Code 46 (2003)

A futuristic ‘Brief Encounter’, a love story in which the romance is doomed by genetic incompatibility.

I’ve been wanting to see this film for quite some time but when my pal Mark mentioned Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton as his favorite cinematic pairing in this post, I finally decided to see it this weekend. I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi romances, and nothing is more tragic when human’s free will cease to exist and totalitarian government enforces rules as to who we can and can’t love.

The film takes place in a not-too-distant future where city security zones are enforced due to a climate disaster, and cloning and genetic manipulation has become the norm. A strict global law called Code 46 is especially troubling, as it makes the union of two people with genetic similarities illegal. The film opens with William (Robbins) traveling to Shanghai to investigate an identity fraud case for the Sphinx Corporation. During his travels, he runs into María (Morton) and though he realizes she’s the one who committed the fraud, somehow he covered up for her. A forbidden affair ensues after they spend the night together, but the fact that William has a wife and young boy is the least of their complications.

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I’m not going to go further into the plot as it’s best that you discover the predicament the two people are facing and what they have to do to be together. I have to admit though that because there are sooo many details about the universe this film is set in that I actually had to read more about it in order to grasp just what the heck is going on, especially involving the empathy drugs and other medical procedures that’s become prevalent in their world.

Though the romance is not explosive, nary of melodramatic declarations or the likes, there is a painful honesty between Robbins and Morton that is so heart-wrenching. Towards the end though, there is one scene as they run away together that I find pretty shocking for its brief graphic nudity. Now, I always think that most of the time such scenes are unnecessary as a suggestive depiction could’ve made the same impact and I feel the same way here. That said, I’m not going to hold it against the filmmaker as the scene is not without emotions. One can’t help but feel for this couple, no matter how ill-advised their union has been from the start.

What makes it more intriguing is the small details of this futuristic world, especially the language used that’s a mix of English with other languages like Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic. The characters use “Ni Hao” or “As-Salamu Alaykum” to greet each other, the Spanish word “palabra” for “password”, etc. The most important legal document of that world is called “papelles” which is a made up word that sounds French. Despite the relatively low budget, somehow director Michael Winterbottom manage to make this film look futuristic-looking by using sleek, modern buildings in Shanghai, etc. and some of the gritty market/street scenes has a Blade Runner vibe to it.

One thing for sure, despite the slow and sometimes sullen mood of the film, this is one of those film that linger with me long after the film is over, especially after it’s revealed what happens to William and Maria in the finale. Worth a look for fans of sci-fi romances, I wish they made more films in this genre.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Bill Cunningham New York (2010)

Chronicles a man who is obsessively interested in only one thing,the pictures he takes that document the way people dress. The 80-year-old New York Times photographer has two columns in the paper’s Style section, yet nobody knows who he is.

Truth be told, I didn’t know who Bill Cunningham was until this documentary was made, but I must have seen his photos on the fashion magazines/blogs. He’s the pioneer of street fashion photography since he published an impromptu set of pictures in the New York Times which then became a regular series. He basically takes photos of fashionistas in Manhattan that catch his eye, using a 35mm Nikon as he rides his Schwinn bicycle around town. His ‘uniform’ is a blue nylon jacket, and a convenience-store bought poncho filled with black masking-tape patches all over it as he refuses to buy a new one when it gets torn.

When you watch this, it’s guaranteed that you will fall in love with this man. He’s just so endearing for his eccentricities, but you’ll also admire him for his integrity and work ethic. I find him to be even more quirky and a rare human being, much rarer that even the most bizarre piece of fashion he photographs, and you’ll see some really out-there stuff in this film!

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All the fashion stuff is fun and dandy, but what I love most about this documentary is to get to know Bill the man, the person behind the lens and all those fashion photographs. He does what he does because he loves it — he practically shuns money almost to a fault, refusing to cash his check according to his former boss at Details Magazine. It’s never fully explained why, but basically the 83-year-old refuses to sell out to anyone as he values his creative freedom more than anything. He’d rather be allowed to do what he wants than being paid to ‘conform.’ He also doesn’t allow himself to get caught up in the glitz and glamor of the fashion world. When he does go to lavish parties (even to Lady Astor’s 100th birthday party), sitting on the front row of fashion shows, he doesn’t even take a drink of water offered to him. He said he always eats before he goes to work and he’s only there to do his job, not to hobnob with the rich and famous.

BillCunninghamWhat really gets him is fashion and he is married to his work, which he doesn’t call work at all as he enjoys it so much. There’s a twinkle in his eye and he has this huge grin on his face when he’s out in his element photographing people and he’s well-loved in the fashion community. “We all get dressed for Bill“, says Vogue editor Anna Wintour who’s frequently interviewed in his documentary, and Bill appreciates fashion. He sees the beauty even in outfits most of us would deem as too weird or even ugly.

What’s fascinates me most is the contrast between Bill’s minimalist, even monastic lifestyle and the glam and glitter of the subject he’s covering. At one time, the filmmaker was baffled to learn that he goes to church every Sunday. Later on he was asked about his personal life, whether he ever has a romantic relationship and whether he’s gay, which he nonchalantly replied. But when the question turns to his faith, as to why he goes to church every weekend, suddenly the cheerful man choked up and grew quiet. It’s clearly a personal matter to him and after a long pause, he admitted that his Catholic faith ‘gives him guidance.’ It’s something he needs in his life, and to me, it makes so much sense and in a way it explains how he’s able to live the way he does.

I highly recommend this documentary to anyone who loves to learn stories about intriguing people. Mr. Cunningham definitely fits the bill and you’ll also meet other fascinating patron of the arts, like Editta Sherman, the 100-year old photographer dubbed “Duchess of Carnegie Hall” who was once Andy Warhol’s muse. Bill and Editta were two of the last few members of Carnegie Hall Artist Studios until the planned building renovation in 2010.


4.5 out of 5 reels


TheVeryThoughtOfYouPosterOh, I also rewatched this late 90s British rom-com The Very Thought of You which I saw quite a while ago because Rufus Sewell is in it. It’s actually a pretty decent movie written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland) and directed by Nick Hamm (Killing Bono). I find it especially amusing as the protagonist Martha (Monica Potter) is from Minneapolis and there’s a brief scene at Mpls/St Paul airport with Tom Hollander. Mostly the movie is set in London though, which is a big plus for me.

The cast is full of talented but underrated British actors: Sewell, Hollander and Joseph Fiennes as three lifelong friends who all fall for the same woman. Oh and Ray Winstone also has a small role as a sympathetic neighbor, a far cry from his usual violent mobster roles! It’s nice to see the normally intense actors playing a light, fluffy rom-com. It’s surprisingly enjoyable though I wouldn’t rate it as the best in the genre. I’d say give this a shot if you have Netflix Instant, especially if you’re a fan of any of the actors.

I will have the review of The Heiress next week. I’m sort of still mulling it over, but it’s definitely an excellent film from William Wyler that can’t be pigeonholed into a certain genre.


Well that’s my weekend viewing roundup, folks. Any thoughts on these films?

Our tribute to Tony Scott and five favorite movies from the late director

It’s less than 24 hrs since I heard the news of Tony Scott’s passing and I still can’t believe what I had heard. The 68-year-old director leaped off the L.A. County’s Vincent Thomas Bridge into the Los Angeles Harbor Sunday night, his black Toyota Prius with his suicide note still parked nearby. I read hours later that he had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain cancer. It’s such a tragic news… my heart is heavy that someone we thought had everything was so bereft of hope to be driven to such an extreme decision, leaving behind his wife and twin young sons. I feel for the family and my prayers go out to them, including his brother and business partner, Sir Ridley. Of all the tweets I saw, I thought this one from director Duncan Jones resonated with me most. Apparently Jones once worked for Mr. Scott in his early career:

I guess I’ve always grown up with Tony Scott’s films, even though I wasn’t too enthusiastic about his newer ones. I think the last film of his I saw was The Taking of Pelham 123 which was actually pretty good, but not all that memorable. But it’s no doubt he’s a talented director who’s got his own style and a penchant for dynamic action flicks. Growing up, TOP GUN was the coolest thing and I was somewhat looking forward to the sequel starring the now megastar Tom Cruise that Scott himself would direct.

So in his memory, Ted and I list our five picks of films we like most from the late British director. [Please don’t reprimand me for not including True Romance or Crimson Tide, I’m afraid I have not seen those two yet]

RUTH’s PICKS

1. Spy Game (2001)

One of our friends actually gave his DVD to us and I’m lad he did as I don’t mind watching this one again. It’s perhaps one of my favorite movies with Brad Pitt, though I’m more impressed with the older Pitt look-a-like Robert Redford who plays his spy mentor. It’s perhaps Scott’s most understated work in his resume, it doesn’t have as many explosions or car chases like a typical Bond movie, but still offers a great deal of espionage suspense that I always enjoy. In a way, it’s like the recent Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in the way it depicted the realistic espionage universe, but with a much more swift pacing. It’s the kind of smart thriller that gets overlooked at the box office as it’s not the ‘bombastic’ kind.

2. Top Gun (1986)

As a kid growing up in the 80s, this was an essential action flick that always brings back so many memories. Surely all the girls in my junior high had a crush on Tom Cruise, and what girl doesn’t like men in uniform? Truth be told, I still have no idea what this movie was really about, but who cares. We watched this for the boys and those fun jet flying sequences. The angst, the romance, the motorcycle ride through the sunset, etc., yeah they’re all cheese, but it was GOOD cheese, and back in the day I thought this movie was the coolest thing ever. No doubt this will be the movie he’s best remembered for.

To this day, I still love Berlin’s ‘Take My Breath Away,‘ though now it’ll be bittersweet as this song was played when I heard the news about Tony Scott’s death 😦

3. Enemy of the State (1998)

I quite enjoyed this one when I saw it on the big screen, it could be one of my favorite Will Smith’s movies. There’s plenty of suspense going on in this conspiracy thriller and we’ve got a great, scene-stealing performance from Gene Hackman. Instead of his usual car chases, this movie is full of foot chases, reminds me a bit of Hackman’s classic thriller The French Connection at times. There are also interesting camera angles and showing the action through a surveillance camera that gives it an edge. Scott’s kinetic energy is used to great effect in this one. Smith certainly is one of those actors who looks good running.

4. Beat The Devil – short (2002)

As I’ve mentioned in my Clive Owen post, I LOVE the BMW short films. This one with James Brown and Gary Oldman is one of the best and has Scott’s frenetic signature all over it. Guns, fast cars, with the godfather of soul, not to mention Machete er I mean Danny Trejo behind the wheel opposite The Driver. In just 10 minutes, we’ve got an electrifying drag race through the Las Vegas strip and a huge explosion involving a train. Easily the craziest and most bizarre 10-minute movie I’ve seen, but it sure was fun! Check it out below if you haven’t seen it:

 

5. Deja Vu (2006)

The third collaboration of Scott and Denzel Washington is quite a thrill ride. It’s a sci-fi thriller involving some sort of time travel, but the look of the movie isn’t actually sci-fi-ish. It seems that Scott had a penchant for setting his thriller in a public transportation, this time it takes place mostly on a ferry. Denzel and Val Kilmer are the good guys going opposite Jim Caviezel, in a quietly menacing role just a couple of years after playing Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ. Though the plot is hard to comprehend at times, I remember enjoying this one and was largely amused by it.

. . .

TED’s PICKS

Even though I included him on my list of hack directors in Hollywood, I still believe he’s very talented, just that his last few films; he didn’t really want to tell a good story. He prefer to just show off this manic style of editing and over the top action sequences. With that said, Tony Scott made some really great films early in his career. Here are my favorites of his:

1. True Romance (1993)

This film’s one of my favorite of the 90s, it was written by then unknown Quentin Tarantino and yes it’s violent. In fact, thanks to this movie most of the action films today are rated PG-13; I won’t go into details but Google Dan Quayle and this film and you’ll understand why. The film opened in the fall of 1993, it tanked at the box office but it became sort of a cult since. I was still in high school then and saw it with my buddies in theater, I fell in love with the film and have lost count on many times I’ve watched it.

2. Crimson Tide (1995)

This was the first collaboration between Scott and Washington, they later worked together in 4 more films. I thought this was the best film of 1995 and it’s a shame the Oscar voters ignored it. The performances by Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman were spectacular. I know most people dismissed it because it was a Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer production, so they thought it was just a mindless action film. Well the film hardly had any action and it was mostly the intense performances by the leads that made the film so good.

A little fact about this film, it was Disney’s first big budgeted live action film, it was huge gamble but it paid off for the studio. After this film came out, they produced several high priced action flicks; The Rock, Con Air, Pirates of the Carribean films are some examples.

3. Enemy of the State 

The film was supposed to be a Tom Cruise vehicle but because he’s stuck doing Eyes Wide Shut, he had to pass. It would’ve been a third collaboration between Scott and Cruise. I love this movie and in my opinion, it’s Will Smith’s best film. Some of the set pieces were well staged, I especially love the first foot chase and the shootout in the restaurant. Great film!

4. Spy Game

In my opinion this was Scott’s most artistic film to date, I love spy movies and he did an amazing job of capturing the look and feel of how a spy movie should be made. The performances by Brad Pitt and Robert Redford were great too; a very underrated film. I think the film failed at the box office because people thought it was going to be another James Bond type of a movie but it’s not.

5. Revenge (1990)

This is probably my second favorite film of Kevin Costner right behind The Untouchables. What kept this film from being great was that I thought it ended so quickly, I felt it could’ve use another hour of story telling. I think Quentin Tarantino named this film as one of this favorites ever; do check it out if you’ve never seen it.


Rest in Peace Tony Scott. Thank you for your movies.


Now, what’s your favorite Tony Scott film(s)?