Monday, June 25, 2007

2 kinds of funny: reviews of Stranger than Fiction and Top Gun

After finishing Season 1 of Heroes, Season 3 of Grey's Anatomy, and Season 3 of House, Hanks and I decided to take a break from TV series and watch some movies on DVD for a change. Over the weekend, we watched the indie film Stranger than Fiction, and the quintessential Tom Cruise action flick Top Gun.

Stranger than Fiction has a novel premise (pun not intended): Will Ferrell stars as average-Joe Harold Crick, an IRS auditor who leads the most mundane of existences until the day he starts hearing a woman's voice narrating his actions and thoughts. He discovers that he's the protagonist of a book being written by novelist Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who's suffering from writer's block and is trying to decide how to kill Harold in her story. Made aware of his impending doom, Harold begins doing out-of-character things, including romancing feisty, funky bakery owner Ana Pascal (played by the marvelous Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Will Ferrell is delightful to behold in a serious role. He manages to still be funny, but in a poignant way, and not once does he remind the audience that he's the same guy from no-brainer jackass comedies like Anchorman and Talladega Nights. As Harold, Ferrell is sympathetic, and sweet in a dorky way. My favorite scene has him showing up at Ana's bakery holding a tray of brown bags, offering them as a peace offering. Ana asks him what they are, and he replies, "Flours." :) That witty and surprisingly kilig-inducing bit is representative of the movie's intelligent writing and quirky plot. Even the carpe diem, live-everyday-like-it's-your-last message, which always threatens to turn trite, is delivered in a remarkably non-preachy, non-cliched way.

I haven't seen a "smart" movie this year since The Queen, so Stranger than Fiction came as both a welcome relief and an enjoyable change of pace. Solid supporting performances (Dustin Hoffman is truly a living legend), startlingly sharp cinematography, a sprinkling of cool digital effects, and
a simple yet moving conclusion all contribute to make this movie both visually entertaining and emotionally engaging.

On the other hand, Top Gun made for a totally different viewing experience... then again, when you throw together fighter planes, Navy uniforms, and Tom Cruise, you don't expect much in the way of intellectual stimulation.

I read somewhere that Tom Cruise only plays one role, that of the Cocky Bastard. Apparently, Top Gun gave him his start. This 1986 macho movie lets him grin, smirk, swagger and strut to maximum effect in almost every scene. As hotshot pilot Maverick, Cruise oozes a natural arrogance and gives us a glimpse of the self-righteous pompous ass he would eventually become. Training to become a top naval pilot, Maverick breaks rules, defies authority, antagonizes his fellow pilots, competes with archrival Iceman (Val Kilmer), and sleeps with their blond and supposedly brainy instructor... but the audience forgives him because he has daddy issues and chiseled abs.

Given the high-octane and high-testosterone setting, the dialogue
is filled with cretinous lines ("Slider... you stink."), and action sequences take up the length of the movie. However, in case you have difficulty following the terribly complex plot, the soundtrack is designed to clue you in on what's happening: whenever an exciting action scene is about to take place, Kenny Loggins starts singing "Hiiighway to the danger zone...", and whenever a romantic scene is about to commence, Berlin starts crooning "Take my breath awayyy...".

Top Gun is an 80s classic, but definitely not the way Platoon or even Terms of Endearment is. However, as long as the viewer keeps her expectations low, there's fun to be found in watching a bunch of Navy officers belt out You've Lost That Loving Feeling, or a young, shirtless Tom Cruise and a young, shirtless Val Kilmer play beach volleyball. Just don't be surprised if you get LSS after the movie.


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