The Never Ending Story – Terminator: Salvation

It’s a little heartbreaking when a wonderful, low-budget film is traded for big budget superficiality. When it becomes labeled…(gasp!)… a franchise and bottom-line intentions become clear: this is meant to be a profitable venture. Already starting the transformation with the second film, Judgment Day cost over $100 million to produce in 1991, making it one of the most expensive films of its day (and also one of the highest grossing).

While it’s been six years since the last Terminator film, Terminator Salvation, like The Sarah Connor Chronicles, breaches the lineage as part of a next generation franchise far more than T3: Rise of the Machines. Neither of the film’s originators, James Cameron and William Wisher, were involved. For Salvation, the shift to next gen mode means stylistic obligations such as international casting and plenty of pretty faces, standard battle sequences, and annoyingly referential dialogue. It is, like most every big-budget action movie these days, organized around flashiness. Another revivalist summer blockbuster was guilty of this: Star Trek.

As the first of the Terminator films to be set in the post-Holocaust world that Sarah Connor envisioned, most of the grainy, bleak film looks modeled upon military-themed video games. Immediately thrusting viewers into the action, the opening sequences are riddled with dust-filled clouds and off-screen shouting. As the seemingly hopeless war against the machines continues, Terminator Salvation takes place just before resistance fighter Kyle Reese meets John Connor. Unfortunately, in the chronology of time traveling tales, there’s always the potential for plot holes. The most egregious occurred as early as the first film. There, Kyle Reese of 2029 wants to “meet the Legend” and selflessly volunteers for the kamikaze mission to be transported to 1984 to save Sarah Connor from assassination by a terminator. In that time, Kyle Reese fathers John Connor, the fearless resistance leader who was, paradoxically, his mentor back in the future. Terminator: Salvation, set in 2018, shows the adult John Connor continuously listening to the tapes his mother recorded before he was born, relaying what she’d learned from Reese in the hopes that she can better prepare him, the future warrior. The mentor and the apprentice reversed roles in a way.

But, the life of the future warrior doesn’t seem like one to be desired. John Connor is constantly forced to be on guard against potential assaults not only against himself, but those intended to protect him. While Kyle Reese indirectly protects John Connor’s life, he must now return the favor, because doing so ensures that all prior events still occur, namely protecting Sarah Connor, which suggests that the past is always occurring. If so, then there is always a possibility of altering them, and consequently, anything in the time line that follows. Eventually, the Hunter-Killers flying into the frame will have a “Same Shit Different Day” slapped to the back of it. (Did someone say Wayan’s brother genre parody?!).



One For My Brother: A ‘Best Of’ List

(DRAFT) Anecdotes and commentary on Gilroy Drastik’s Top 10 favorite movies… (as hard as it was to limit the list to just 10)…


Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women!

Inspired by the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, Spielberg’s 1975 iconographic movie of the predatory Great White terrorizing the fictional northeastern Amity Island (filmed at Martha’s Vineyard) was adapted from Peter Benchley’s novel. Ironically, Benchley has said if he’d known a bit more about the behavior of Great Whites, he’d not have written the book as it was. Although, when approached by Doubleday, the writer was told that what they wanted wasn’t non-fiction. They wanted a story about a shark terrorizing a town. For once the Creature Feature was enormously successful (rated among the top 250 of IMDB) and only slightly corny (the obvious moments when on-screen actors are dealing with difficult, animatronic puppet). Despite the intensity and suspense that establishes Jaws as one of the greatest horror movies (or maybe plain old thriller is a better genre heading), it was followed by several sequels, a shitty NES game, and one incredibly ridiculous cheesy theme park ride that only nominally have anything in common with their predecessor film (they were definitely “some bad hat, harry!”).

In a nutshell, the plot centers on the newly ordained Amity Police Chief, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) who inherits a major dilemma in his initial service – a string of shark attacks during the Island tourist town’s busiest season. Initially met with stupid, yet understandable political and economic pressures bearing down on him as to whether the beaches should be shut down, a few deaths has the small town eager for a quick solution like taking row boats out and a hanging a slab of meat on a fish hook, waiting to throw a handful of dynamite in a hungry shark’s mouth. But, Brody, ever the pragmatist, solicits the help of a university-trained marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a wry traditionalist boat captain (Robert Shaw, who also starred in The Deep, another sea-side Benchley adaptation) to put an end to the town’s crippling threat – a great white shark.

Farewell and adieu to you fine Spanish ladies…

In part, the movie has survived the test of time because of the cool of its leading late actors, Roy Scheider (Brody) and Englishman Robert Shaw (Quinn). But, it also survives as an example of effective elements in suspense that went beyond the transparent thrills and scare tactics that have saturated most modern American horror. Jaws manages to bring all of its nervous development to a claustrophobic climax rigged with intense doubt – will three desperate men aboard a rather small boat managed to finally put an end to the small town’s persistent terror?

It’s been said that the beach population was significantly down in the year of Jaws‘s release, something understandable where audiences were just as unfamiliar with shark behavior as the author of its source material.


Weedsploitation With A Body Count: Pineapple Express

The movie, it seemed, to generate nearly as much attention as the latest Batman installment during the summer Blockbuster season, was the 2008 stoner comedy, Pineapple Express. Although this week it’s changed: Tropic Thunder appropriately bumped Batman from the number one box office rankings. The writing team of course includes Judd Apatow (who also produces), Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg–with a script actually being shopped seven years ago–and this gave director David Gordon Green a chance to move from his typically solemn, low-budget indie films to one of the pinnacles of the mainstream summer movie fare: outrageous idiocy.

The Apatow-Rogen movies are a niche that, as Rogen once put, was meant to center around characters that were more like people like them: imperfect. And, in the case of Superbad, for example, it cheered for the socially awkward and turned the well-meaning loser into a desirable hero. Rogen’s declaration of purpose came as an appropriate reaction to the lumping of both his films and shows like Beverley Hills: 90210 into similar genres. “No part of me watched 90210 and thought, ‘Yeah! that’s what my life is like!’ It seemed like a different planet. I mean, I like shitty movies as much as the next guy, I’m not a snob, but things like that had no guys like us in it – that was the point.” Unfortunately, it has also created a world in which these heroes have very little variation. Seth Rogen’s characters — usually the leading character — is always Seth Rogen the same way Hugh Grant is always the same Hugh Grant and Adam Sandler is always the same Adam Sandler in pretty much every role they appear. And, when it wasn’t Rogen playing these main characters, guys like Michael Cera and Jonah Hill were playing those limited-dimension characters: misunderstood nice guys. And it’s always guys at the forefront who become reluctantly intertwined in the outrageous epic, which would make it interesting should someone decide to take this further and give females the leading role. The misunderstood nice guy is one thing to root for, but the hapless girl (and not in the creepy Welcome to the Dollhouse sense of it, either)?

Rogen plays moppish, easy-going process server Dale Denton. And, abandoning his typical clean-cut and straight-laced characters of late, James Franco, plays his eternally stoned and happy-go-lucky dealer, Saul Silver, who offers to Dale, the most potent and extremely rare marijuana ever known: Pineapple Express. Says Saul of the wonder weed: “It’s like, if you took that Blue Oyster shit I gave you last week, and then that crazy Afghan Kush I had that one time.. and they had a baby. And then meanwhile, that crazy Northern Lights shit I had, and that Red Espresso Snowflake shit I had, made a baby. And by some crazy miracle, those two babies met, and fucked… this would be it!” While actually a meteorological term, the title phrase refers to an abandoned experiment by the US military in 1937 to study the effects of marijuana. Unhappy with the results at the underground lab out West, an irate commander picks up the phone to notify his superiors that marijuana has been ruled… “Illegal!”

While attempting to serve papers to the last person on his list that same evening, he witnesses an execution-style murder involving a powerful “drug lord” (the maliciousness of the term mitigated by the sense that Jones comes off more like an indifferent California billionaire type), a crooked cop (Rosie Perez), and possibly a rival drug dealer. He may been able to flee the scene without anyone ever knowing Dale was there. But, panicked, he tosses his weed out the window, throws the car in gear, and takes considerable time even pulling away from the curb, ramming the cars in front and behind him. While the executioner pair see the car abscond into the night before they could make out who was driving, it is the rare Pineapple Express that is the scent the hounds follow.

For some reason, freaked-out Dale can only think of going back to Saul and, in explaining what he saw, Saul makes the connection that not only is Dale in deep shit, but so is he. Not many degrees of separation from drug lord Ted Jones, Saul is the only one privileged by his own supplier to sell Pineapple Express. Already busying themselves with trying to rid the Asian competition (which includes a cameo by stand-up comedian, Bobby Lee, who should’ve been given a more substantial part), Ted Jones and the policewoman now have to deal with getting rid of Dale and Saul.

Thus, the chase begins…

Other stoner comedy teams who are inadvertently implicated in chases with either cops (Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke and Nice Dreams) or drug dealers (Half Baked) exist in a setting of cartoonish violence. Pineapple Express, on the other hand, attempts to fuse its situational comedy (with a zillion great one-liners) with true action elements (especially with a 3 minute fight scene between Dale, Saul and Red (Danny McBride) that is likely to get an MTV Video Awards “Best Fight” nomination), and this is evident from the promotional poster itself with the trio of stoners and dealers (the one in the neckbrace being the impenetrable Red, who is Saul’s supplier) looking dubious but well armed. Most assuredly: this is weedsploitation comedy with a body count.

With a movie that struggles to get off the ground in the beginning (reminding the sober audience just how painfully boring and juvenile a 5-minute conversation between sufficiently stoned friends can be), it manages to keep a satisfying pace throughout until the epic finale, when the drive to be the grand action film showdown trumps — with plenty of blood, guts and snot — to the point of being overdone, if not just short on enough material to accommodate the time alloted. The writing team also consumed itself with mockery of the Buddy genre, equipped with an abundance of pretty blunt gay jokes (Red to Saul and Dale: “I want to be inside you, homes!”) that culminates into a reflexive recapping by the ailing heroes in a diner.

Ignoring the flaws, Rogen, Goldberg, Apatow score an expected hit riddled with hilarious idiotic characters and crude comedy (even Ed Beagly, Jr. gets to let loose as the short-fused father of Dale’s teenage girlfriend), enough to get even the more skeptical viewer rolling in the floor especially for the sheer odd choice of dialog like Red admitting that he shaved his armpits in order to be more aerodynamic in a fight, or the fueding henchman (perhaps the best secondary character is Craig Robinson’s 80s throwback, Matheson) who mourns the lost of his partner’s ferociousness. He knows this… he’s “Seen’t it!” And as Rogen and Franco reunite, they portray characters very reminiscent (but much more happy-go-lucky) of the McKinley High School students Ken Miller and Daniel Desario — The Freaks — in Appatow’s (and other’s) 1990 television dramedy, Freaks & Geeks. If Rogen’s character were as pleasantly distracted as Saul (Dale has some annoying moments because he’s too level-headed about some things), they’d be a duo worth matching other purely outrageous weedsploitation comedies like Cheech & Chong and the guys from Half Baked. And in that event, maybe a duo worthy of episodic adventure.

Ho Chi Minh Doesn’t Skateboard: Gleaming the Cube

The 1980s were riddled with an abundance of ridiculously cheesy teen-targeted sport themed movies. Movies like Thrashin’ (1986), Under the Boardwalk (1989) and Rad (1986) used textbook slang, template storytelling, and stereotypical characters that made obvious commercial filmmaker and producer’s attempts to effortlessly cash in on the industries that, by the middle part of the decade, lived long enough to prosper. It would also influence the future of voice-overs in Asian film (see BioZombie).

Gleaming the Cube (1989) is one of the better skateboarding adventures, abandoning the single-minded tale of the dubious underdog who must prove his worth in some ridiculous, climactic contest. As a Cold War-themed skateboard movie, it fuses the cheesy teen sports movie with another staple of 80s movies: over-the-top action films who’s heroes were usually oiled, muscular good guys single-handedly avenging foreign-born warlords seethed in compensatory patriotism and political propaganda. The result of this marriage of strange bedfellows? Irreverent teenage skaters become defenders of American colonialism pride.

Like a Goofus & Gallant comic, bleach blond skate-punk Brian Kelly (Christian Slater) is the exact opposite of his straight-laced adopted brother, Vinh (Art Chudabala). Brian and his friends are bribing jet pilots and getting arrested for trespassing in a rich, loud homeowner’s swimming pool while Vinh is helping with his girlfriend’s father’s post-Vietnam War relief program. After Vinh brings to the boss’s attention possible errors in inventory shipping, he is curiously fired and is later found hanged to death in a hotel room. When there doesn’t appear to be conclusive evidence of foul play according to the young, hard-edged detective (Steve Bauer), his death is officially written off as a suicide. But Brian is certain that his brother wasn’t the type to check into a hotel and kill himself, and so he embarks on his own investigation which leads him on the trail of weapons smugglers and their ninja-like henchmen. Soon, he realizes the potential crime-fighting advantages of skateboarding.

Director Graeme Clifford and writer Michael Tonkin’s Gleaming the Cube (or, A Brother’s Justice as it was called in its TV release) does undoubtedly have the trappings of typical 80s teen movie corniness. Brian brazenly suggests to the hard-edged detective that if he had a dog who resembled said detective that he would shave it’s ass and tech it to walk backwards (gasp!). There’s the panicked goon who drives around in his cool black vintage convertible listening to Vietnamese covers of Motown. And who can forget the theme song, “Gleaming the Cube,” by Michael James Jackson? It was just as inspirational as Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best” from the Karate Kid (1984). Although most of the cheesiness can be chalked up to Christian Slater’s hammy acting technique (especially the part where he’s informed of Vinh’s death). And, even though there are plenty of genre clichés to pack into the 100 minutes running time (which means a big chase finale), it’s all on a tolerable level and keeps it from crossing that line into it’s so bad it’s bad, though it might rightly be considered so bad it’s good.

The film’s unique quality is the not-so subtle political text for which a movie about skaters seem like an odd forum. Sure, it is not a novelty to inject it into a teen movie, and especially an action movie which undoubtedly helps to quickly create a villain as it were in Red Dawn (1984) and Toy Soldiers (1990). Yet, the intermittent cursing of the Vietcong at least doesn’t consume the entire movie.

More unusually and the thing probably keeping this movie at the forefront of pop culture memories of young 80s nostalgics (when not listing the obvious in favorites from the decade) is behind-the-scenes trivia. Documentary filmmaker Stacy Peralta, a former pro-skater for the legendary Dogtown team and Powell-Peralta skateboard company co-founder worked on this movie as second unit director, shooting the skate sequences, while another legendary team of skateboarders, The Bones Brigade, were brought on to perform stunts and training. As Christian Slater’s stunt double, Rodney Mullen, the Freestyle King, can be seen in the warehouse montage and Mike McGill performed ramp and pool tricks (although he was replaced by Jozsef Attila towards the end of filming when McGill got food poisoning).

Meanwhile, Tony Hawk and Tommy Guerro (who also taught Slater how to skateboard noting that he didn’t seem too enthused to learn much beyond the basics) have minor roles as members of Brian Kelly’s skateboard posse. Probably the most endearing moment was young Tony Hawk in his Pizza Hut delivery truck barreling down a highway with a satisfying grin on his face as the sure victor in a game of chicken against some of the goons. Co-star Max Perlich was a veteran skater too, which means that Slater was probably cast primarily because he was the burgeoning teen celebrity (although he was 20 at the time of the film’s release) the same way that Leif Garrett was cast in Skateboard: The Movie (1978). Tony Hawk, in his autobiography Occupation: Skateboarder wrote about some of the movies that he worked on as a stunt consultant, including Thrashin’ (1986) and the timeless classic, (yes that’s sarcasm!) Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (1987). The funnier insider information there, however, being that Perlich nearly got his ass kicked by an irate guy who showed up to the set. He owned the car that Perlich did an acid drop off of one night while skating with the Bones Brigade.

A review of Gleaming the Cube on The Chucks Connection (because some of the actors wear Chuck Taylors in the movie) probably says it best: there’s plenty of cornball elements in this movie (bad acting by Slater, convoluted plot, etc.), but there’s enough to keep the not-too-serious viewer entertained.