Top Gun (1986)

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I feel the need … the need for speed! Tom Cruise sped into the stratosphere of stardom with this emblem of the Reagan-Star Wars era of geopolitics and it performed pretty much like the recruitment video (game) that it really is. With Psychology 101 as the basis for the rudimentary screenplay by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.,  adapting a California magazine story.  Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is sent by dint of happenstance (his better colleague quits) to the elite fighter pilot naval school. He’s dealing with daddy issues, has a great best friend and co-pilot, Goose (Anthony Edwards) and he falls for trainer Kelly McGillis. The romance is unbelievable, Goose dies in a flatspin – not Maverick’s fault, whew! – and gurning Aryan Val Kilmer is the Iceman who can. It looks great, the stunts are fabulous and the songs are still famous with a soundtrack embedded in our collective brain but this gets stranger by the year! Directed by the late Tony Scott.

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A Few Good Men (1992)

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You can’t handle the truth! And there it is, the reason people watch this movie – a superannuated cameo by Jack Nicholson as the charismatic single minded blowhard Col. Nathan R. Jessep whose orders to kill an unsatisfactory young Marine lie behind this legal conspiracy  thriller. It’s a star vehicle for Cruise as the supposedly naive military lawyer investigating the case against two Marines at Gitmo with his superior Lt. Commander Demi Moore, but this is all anyone’s been waiting for – the courtroom climax, an unfortunately well-telegraphed star-off outcome to an efficiently low key fizz of a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin who adapted his play and robs us of any suspense. Oh well! Directed by Rob Reiner.

Swallows and Amazons (2016)

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Children and pirates and spies, oh my! I was dreading this when I read that Arthur Ransome’s real life inter-war intelligence activity was going to be integrated into the classic story of children messing about in boats on holiday in the Lake District. Yet it works a treat, commencing with a train sequence that’s not quite worthy of Hitchcock, when rude Rafe Spall intrudes on the Walker children while escaping the attentions of Andrew Scott and his Russian Friend;  he shows up on a houseboat when the adventurous children are desperately trying to persuade mother Kelly Macdonald to allow them sail to what they proudly christen Walker Island, where they encounter rival sailor girls and much, much more besides. This works up a head of steam and treats family tensions, sibling spats and pirate – and real – spying with due seriousness. Ransome hated the 1962 BBC version;  I grew up with the 1974 adaptation. Writer Andrea Gibb and director Phillippa Lowthorpe do a quietly impressive job. Quite charming.

The Winslow Boy (1948)

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Terence Rattigan’s play is brought to the screen adapted by the man himself (co-written with producer Anatole De Grunwald) and helmed by Anthony Asquith, directing a cast of the great and good of British acting of the time.When little Naval cadet Ronnie Winslow (Neil North) is sacked from the Academy accused of stealing a postal order, his stern but scrupulous father (Cedric Hardwicke) takes his word for it and insists on justice for his unfairly accused boy. Daughter Margaret Leighton backs him to the hilt and the case goes to trial with barrister Robert Donat leading the defence. This finely calibrated argument about right and wrong, justice, guilt, innocence, decency and family is old-fashioned in the best sense of the term. And how nice it must be to come from a family who don’t hang you out to dry for the fun of it! Fun to see Basil Radford (without Naunton Wayne!) as former cricketer now family solicitor helping out. Everyone pays a high price to see the boy right. Rattigan is little appreciated now but there was a time when his name was a byword for great theatre. Superbly shot by Freddie Young, scored by William Alwyn, this is another wonderful London Films production. Decades later North would play First Lord of the Admiralty in a new interpretation by writer/director David Mamet!