Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’ is a Splendid Love Letter to the Power of Movies

Hugo movie poster

Maybe it was Martin Scorsese’s desire to utilize the 3D format which kept me from seeing “Hugo” on the first day of its release. 2011 saw 3D movies get a serious public beating as audiences became convinced it existed solely for Hollywood studios to jack up ticket prices. But to watch “Hugo” is to be reminded of how amazing 3D can be when using the right tools and not just throwing cheap gimmicks at the audience. But moreover, it is backed up by a great story and remarkable performances as Scorsese shares with us his love of all things cinema.

Seriously, the first five minutes of “Hugo” will blow you away as you will feel like you are traveling over the Paris of the 1930’s. It truly looks as though the snow it is literally blowing in your eyes, and it reminded me of when kids were grasping at the snowflakes coming off of the silver screen during “The Polar Express.” Scorsese was lucky enough to use the same Fusion Camera System which James Cameron used to superb effect in “Avatar.” The images stretch out from the screen, and the extra dimension gives these visuals a depth which at times feels remarkably real.

Based on the novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick, Asa Butterfield stars as Hugo, a young boy living alone in a Paris railway station while maintaining the clocks and stealing whatever supplies he needs in order to survive. One major obstacle he has to deal with is Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen) who patrols the station with his vicious looking dog. Gustav shows no hesitation in picking up orphans and sending them straight to the orphanage which, in the kids’ eyes, seems like an unforgiving house of horrors.

Two people come to play an important role in Hugo’s life: the toy shop owner Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) and his spirited goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz). They enter Hugo’s life as he continues to work on fixing an automaton he and his father, Mr. Cabret (Jude Law), were putting it back together in working order when Mr. Cabret was tragically killed in a museum fire. It is this same automaton which will draw these three together in ways none of them could ever have imagined.

By taking us back to a time when motion pictures were in their infancy, effects we now see as cheesy and simple to create come to feel as magical as they once did. Scorsese is brilliant in putting us into these characters’ shoes as we watch audiences react strongly to a film with a train which looks like it is coming straight at them, or at Buster Keaton hanging on for dear life from a clock outside a tall building. Looking at the awe which is so vivid in the faces of these children reminds us of how movies can magically draw us into another world, and this is a feeling many movies do not give us these days. In this day and age, we take the power of motion pictures for granted.

Butterfield’s performance is remarkable. Showing the pain and resourcefulness of a young boy who has lost his parents and is forced to fend for himself is no easy task, and he ended up giving one of 2011’s most underrated performances. Butterfield inhabits the character of Hugo so deeply to where, after a while, it does not feel like we are watching a performance at all.

Kudos also goes to Moretz, the star of “Kick Ass” and “Let Me In,” for adding yet another superb role to her already splendid resume. As the adventurous Isabelle, she pulls off a flawless English accent which is worth noting as we have gotten so used to actors screwing them up. The warmth of her smile onscreen is utterly genuine, and she lights up “Hugo” whenever it feels like it is getting a bit too dark.

There are other great performances to be found in “Hugo” as well. Ben Kingsley is fantastic as usual as Georges Méliès, and the late Christopher Lee has some wonderful moments as bookshop owner Monsieur Labisse. One of the big standouts in the supporting cast though is Sacha Baron Cohen who takes a break here from his “Borat” and “Bruno” mockumentaries as Inspector Gustav. He’s a hoot throughout, and his interactions with the infinitely lovely Emily Mortimer (“Lars and the Real Girl”) who plays Lisette are hilariously sweet.

Scorsese has put together a truly beautiful motion picture which deserves a bigger audience than it received while it was in theaters. The fact that more people went to see “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” than this is deeply depressing. A lot of moviegoers really hated 3D movies back in 2011, so this did not do “Hugo” any favors. But after watching it, you will find yourself believing this extra dimension is worth your money when it is put together by the best masters of filmmaking.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ – Seriously Folks, The Thrill is Gone

Terminator Dark Fate theatrical poster

Hollywood is one the few places on this planet where you can look at $29 million dollars and say, that’s it? This was the reaction many had when the opening weekend numbers of “Terminator: Dark Fate” were revealed to the world, and to say they were below expectations is putting it mildly. Many will pontificate over why this sixth installment bombed at the box office, but I think it comes down to the inescapable fact that the “Terminator” franchise has long since lost its capacity to wow and thrill us in the same way the first two movies did, and even series creator James Cameron, who returned to executive produce this sequel, cannot put it back together again. While you can retcon the hell out of “Halloween” to keep it going, “Terminator” is now way past the point of self-termination.

I finally got to check out “Terminator: Dark Fate” after finding some time to tear myself away from work as I was not going to let anything deter me from seeing it on the big screen. The truth is, it is not a bad movie and it has a good story and a game cast of actors who bring their all to the material. But it does not take long to see this sequel tread familiar ground as the story remains the same even if the major players have changed, and the feeling of déjà vu is more prevalent than ever before.

“Dark Fate,” as you all know by now, is a direct sequel to “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and it ignores all the other movies which followed it. The movie begins with Sarah Connor suffering a tragedy much like the one Ellen Ripley suffered at the beginning of “Alien 3.” While she and her son were able to stop Judgment Day, they could never stop fate. The movie then jumps ahead 22 years when an advanced Terminator called the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) appears in Mexico City with a mission to kill Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a young woman who works at an automobile industrial plant. But when Dani arrives at work, she finds her job is being taken over by (surprise, surprise) a machine.

Another person arrives from the future, and her name is Grace (Mackenzie Davis). At first she appears human, but then she is shown to have superhuman strength and fighting abilities much like the average Terminator, and seeing her kick human ass is quite the sight. We later learn she is indeed human but has been augmented to become more like a cyborg, and her mission is to protect Dani from Rev-9 as Dani is set to play an important role in the future.

Sound familiar? Of course it does because this was pretty much the plot of the first two “Terminator” movies. Part of me wants to forgive this as it sets up how Skynet was completely destroyed and has since morphed into another artificial superintelligence system called Legion, and this shows how history, more often than not, repeats itself. Heaven forbid we ever learn from our mistakes, you know? We are certainly reliving a past we have not learned from right now as certain impeachment hearings have a certain Nixon feel about them. Like Snake Plissken once said, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

But while the first few minutes tread very familiar ground, “Dark Fate” really comes to life when Linda Hamilton enters the picture as an older but still battle-ready Sarah Connor. It is the first time Hamilton has appeared in a “Terminator” movie in 28 years, and it is great to have her back as she makes this iconic character of hers as badass as ever, and she has some terrific dialogue to boot. With her face weathered from years of struggle and loss, Hamilton quickly reminds us how brilliantly she embodied this character all those years ago, and with the character evolving to another level here, she shows how one with such a hardened heart can rediscover their humanity even after suffering the worst life has to offer.

And yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger is back, and he gets to take his iconic character of the T-800 in yet another interesting direction. In “Terminator: Genisys,” he played the cyborg as one who has existed long enough to where he is no longer under warranty. In “Dark Fate,” this T-800 starts off as a cold-blooded assassin who, after a particularly shocking act, ends up developing a conscience and even becomes domesticated. Schwarzenegger gives another inspired portrayal here as he plays it straight and never for laughs, and this makes his performance all the more enjoyable. It is not the first time he has given a terminator this much heart, but his work here is particularly moving in a way it has not been for some time.

Mackenzie Davis, so luminous in “Tully,” is a powerful presence as Grace, and there is no doubt she gave her all in this role as watching her dominate the action scenes here is both physically and emotionally exhausting, just as it should be. Natalia Reyes does strong work in taking Dani from being an innocent person thrust into a situation no one could see coming to someone who accepts a role she is expected to fulfill. As for Gabriel Luna, he is good as Rev-9, but he is nowhere as menacing as Robert Patrick was as the T-1000.

Directing this installment is Tim Miller who helmed the first “Deadpool” movie, and he certainly has an interesting visual style which benefits this franchise to a point. At the same time, he is not able to bring the same visceral energy Cameron brought to the first two “Terminator” movies. Looking back, none of the other directors were able to either. Some came close, but Cameron is a rather unique filmmaker as he has given us some of the most exhilarating and adrenaline-pumping motion pictures we could ever hope to watch, and his vision of “The Terminator” is a personal one which no one can easily duplicate.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” simply feels like the same old thing with little in the way of anything new. It’s not a bad movie and it definitely has its strengths, but it serves as proof that this franchise has truly hit a dead end and really needs to be put to rest. The last few “Terminator” movies have come to us with the promise of a trilogy and of filmmakers more or less telling us that, this time, we are going to get it right. Well, this is the latest installment to see its hopes for a trilogy dashed yet again as Arnold’s dialogue of “I won’t be back” proves to be quite prophetic.

Still, we do learn of one advantage of being a terminator which the other movies never showed us: they can change diapers without complaining. If this does not impress you, what will?

* * ½ out of * * * *

‘Terminator Genisys’ is, at the Very Least, an Interesting Reboot

Terminator Genisys movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was originally written back in 2015.

I walked into this fifth “Terminator” movie with mixed emotions. The series started in 1984 and has shown an amazing amount of stamina considering we are getting this latest sequel 31 years later. Still, nothing has been quite the same since James Cameron departed the franchise following “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and I say this even though I liked “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” which he had nothing to do with. But then came “Terminator Salvation” which had me wondering where the salvation was among other things like an interesting story or a strong villain.

When it comes to action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger, he has always been about giving moviegoers what he believes they want, so it seems only natural that he would return to this long running franchise even after a 12-year absence with “Terminator Genisys.” On one hand this particular sequel had me missing a lot of the franchise’s original stars like Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, composer Brad Fiedel, Edward Furlong and the R rating these movies usually get (this one is PG-13). But once I got past my misgivings, I found “Terminator Genisys” to be an entertaining summer blockbuster even if it is nowhere as good as the first two movies in the franchise.

The movie begins with John Connor (Jason Clarke) leading his merry band of troops in a battle to destroy Skynet’s main defense grid and that pesky time machine they have hidden underground. But of course, one of the T-800 cyborgs has already been sent back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) volunteers to go back in time and stop the cyborg from eliminating Sarah, and we are put right back into the events of the first movie.

Once the T-800 and Kyle Reese arrive in 1984, we get a largely faithful reconstruction of the first few minutes of “The Terminator.” But things change very quickly as the T-800 is suddenly confronted by another T-800 which had been sent back even further in time to protect Sarah Connor and who takes out the original cyborg with extreme prejudice. As for Kyle, he arrives in 1984 like he did before but is met by a T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun) who differs greatly from the average LAPD officer. Once he is inside the convenience store getting clothes and shoes, he gets saved by Sarah Connor who comes crashing in. From there, everything we know about “The Terminator” franchise is turned upside down as our heroic characters find themselves on a different path than the one they traveled down previously.

“Terminator Genisys” is essentially a reboot along the lines of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” as it plays around with the timeline we grew up on and works around it to give us something which is, quite thankfully, not the usual prequel. Just when I thought I knew where this movie was going, it took a different turn which I did not see coming. Of course, this also results in the screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier having a few plot holes which will not survive logical scrutiny. Then again, the movie whisks by so quickly to where I didn’t care too much about logistics.

Now on one hand, Schwarzenegger has played the Terminator many times to the point where it seems like he should have retired from this role long ago. Regardless, it is still great to see him back in his most famous role as it has provided him with a long and interesting career. In the first movie Schwarzenegger’s Terminator was the bad guy, in the second he was the good guy, in the third he was both, and he was barely in “Terminator Salvation” so let’s not even go there. In “Terminator Genisys,” he becomes the one thing we never thought he could be for Sarah Connor, a father figure to look up to.

The other thing “Terminator Genisys” wisely acknowledges is the fact Schwarzenegger is not a young man anymore. For once we have a T-800 which actually ages, and this was interesting to witness. While the character may be a cyborg, the skin covering his body ages as it would on any human being. We see him struggle as his body goes through a few malfunctions like his hand shaking uncontrollably or his knee going out on him. But as he points out throughout the movie, he is old but not obsolete.

A lot of people still see Schwarzenegger as a non-actor, but I still think he’s better than most people give him credit for. In “Terminator Genisys” he manages to imbue his character with a humanity a cyborg would not have by design, and he makes you feel for a character that is, in his own way, eager for Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor to get it on.

Emilia Clarke succeeds in making the role of Sarah Connor her own as she starts off the movie in furious ass-kicking mode and never lets up. Jai Courtney gives a good if not great performance as Kyle Reese, and Jason Clarke makes John Connor into the military leader I impatiently waited for him to become ever since “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” The movie also features a scene-stealing performance from Oscar winner J.K. Simmons as Detective O’Brien, a cop who has more history with these iconic characters than we realize at first. It is a shame, however, we do not see more of Simmons as the movie goes on.

Helming this “Terminator” sequel is Alan Taylor who previously directed “Thor: The Dark World” and also directed episodes of two of my favorite televisions shows, “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Oz.” I was surprised to see what a good job he did in making this sequel feel like a James Cameron movie in a way previous directors were unable to. Taylor is not able to wow us the way Cameron did and continues to do, but then again few filmmakers can. What he does do is keep the action moving at a steady pace and gives us the fun time we usually expect from a summer movie.

Regardless of how “Terminator Genisys” ends up doing at the box office, this is clearly not the last time we will see Schwarzenegger in his most iconic role. But a further sequel also means Skynet will find yet another way to strike back at the human resistance. It’s like Skynet is Wile E. Coyote and the Terminator is the Road Runner. Skynet keeps searching for new ways to achieve victory, but they are somehow effortlessly defeated by humans and a rogue T-800. Perhaps effortlessly is the wrong word to use in this case, but who wants Skynet to win? Well, I guess we will have to see what nefarious method they will use next because, like it or not, the Terminator will be back.

* * * out of * * * *

Nicholas Meyer on the Making of ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’

Nicholas Meyer on the set of Star Trek VI

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written back in 2011.

With “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” co-writer and director Nicholas Meyer described it as being different from the previous films in the franchise due to it being “political in context.” At a Q&A which was held after a screening of it at the Egyptian Theatre, Nicholas said the story came about when he met with Leonard Nimoy. The story focuses on the Federation making an uneasy truce with their longtime enemies the Klingons, and it deliberately reflected the relations between the United States and Russia at the time the film was made.

Nimoy described the idea of having an “intergalactic Chernobyl” and of “the wall coming down in space” to Meyer, and the story came out from there. As it happens, the coup which took place in Russia happened around the time “Star Trek VI” was released, and Meyer said his dentist saw how the film predicted it would happen. His response was to see “The Undiscovered Country” again as he didn’t realize this was the case.

Watching it today made Meyer realize there was no way anyone could have anticipated the changes coming, be it the collapse of the Soviet Union or the current events in the Middle East. He said it all makes the Cold War seem good in retrospect. Indeed, with the wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, the scene where Spock forces a mind meld on Lieutenant Valeris to get information now seems like torture. Although Meyer said Spock’s intention in the scene was to just get information, he winces at it now and says it’s hard to watch when Valeris moans in Vulcan agony.

For the character of Klingon General Chang, Meyer freely admitted he wrote the part with Christopher Plummer in mind. This was largely due to how he loved listening to Plummer’s recording of “Henry V,” and he made it clear to the film’s casting director, Mary Jo Slater, that she should not come back to Hollywood without him. Incidentally, Mary’s son, whom you just might recognize, makes a cameo in the film as an officer aboard the Starship Excelsior.

“Star Trek VI” was the last movie which featured the original crew of the starship Enterprise. Meyer described every day as being “normal” until the last one. At that point, the whole cast became very cranky, and they forgot lines of dialogue which some of them did not like in the first place. The whole cast had been together for 30 years, and since they go back a long way, they approached the end of it all in a very “bewildered” state. One thing’s for sure, the signatures from the cast at the movie’s end were not hokey in the slightest.

This also turned out to be the last “Star Trek” movie which series creator Gene Roddenberry got to see before he died. Meyer said his interactions with Roddenberry were “minimal” as Roddenberry was not officially involved with the movies after “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and was relegated to being an “executive consultant.” Apparently, Roddenberry was incensed that the screenplay for “Star Trek VI” made the crew out to be racist, but it did give this movie its much needed dramatic conflict. He died three days after he viewing a rough cut of it, and the movie is dedicated to his memory just as it should have been.

Looking back, “Star Trek VI” questions whether we have reached the end of history, and it is clear we have certainly not. It served as a perfect swan song for the original cast and was a much better movie than its predecessor (“Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”) which almost destroyed the franchise. It also provided us with one of the greatest pieces of dialogue ever in a “Star Trek” movie:

“You’ve never experienced Shakespeare until you’ve read him in the original Klingon.”

So true!

George Takei Reflects on the Significance of ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

George Takei in Star Trek II

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written back in 2011.

George Takei stopped by the Egyptian Theatre for American Cinematheque’s tribute to the first six “Star Trek” movies. Showing on this particular evening was “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.” After watching “The Wrath of Khan,” he remarked it’s still a “rip-snorting good space opera” and that Nicholas Meyer deserves all the credit for its critical and commercial success as he added so many layers to the story along with unforgettable literary quotes like the following one by Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

Takei said watching “The Wrath of Khan” proved to be very poignant for him as he looked over the beginning credits and remarked how DeForest Kelley and James Doohan are no longer with us. He also talked about Merritt Butrick who played Dr. David Marcus in “Star Trek II & III.” Merritt sadly passed away from AIDS back in 1989, but Takei said he got the chance to see him in a two-character play in which he portrayed a sick gay hustler. Even though Butrick was very sick during this time and had to rest in between his scenes, Takei confirmed that he showed full commitment to his role and kept on with acting to his life’s end. RIP Merritt.

Takei then brought up Spock’s speech towards the end of “Star Trek II” of, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Hearing this again made him think about all the workers going into the damaged nuclear power plants in Japan, knowing full well what they were going to face. The deadly earthquake and tsunami which has shattered the country has been very painful to him, and he feels a deep connection with all those suffering there as the calamities keep piling on top of each other. George recently filmed a PSA asking for funds to help the people, saying these are indeed the worst of times, and at times like these “we are all Japanese.”

We are now approaching the 45th anniversary of “Star Trek,” and Takei says he owes all the success of it to Gene Roddenberry and his great taste in casting. When he got the job, he was doing guests spots on various TV shows, and he described the idea of steady employment as being “very enticing.” He also remarked how science fiction can play a big part in the future as the character of Pavel Chekov, a Russian was made a part of the Enterprise bridge crew while the world was dealing with the Cold War. There’s also the International Space Station whose crew is made up of people from all over Earth. Just try and convince us that “Star Trek” had nothing to do with any of this, I dare you!

George Takei remains a popular and well-respected actor to this very day. This July, he will be co-starring in “Larry Crowne” along with Tom Hanks (who also directs) and Julia Roberts. His character ends up falling in love with one of them, but you’ll have to see the movie to find out whom. In addition, he is playing a hologram of a character in “Super Ninjas” who is jokingly called “Hologramps,” and he is working on a musical about his experience living in a World War II internment camp with other artists called “Allegiance,” and they plan to take to Broadway. He also continues to reach a new demographic on the Howard Stern radio show, to which he replied, “Oh my!”

Live long and prosper George, and thanks for taking the helm on such a fun evening!

Walter Koenig Looks Back at ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’

Walter Koenig in Star Trek IV

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written in 2011.

Fifty years after his screen debut, Walter Koenig took a trip down to the Egyptian Theatre which was showing “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.” By that, I mean he literally tripped while making his way to the front of the audience. Fortunately, he was unharmed and said he always planned to do that.

Koenig played Pavel Chekov on the original “Star Trek” TV series as well as in the first seven movies of the franchise. Of all the movies, he declared “Star Trek IV” to be his favorite and reveled in how Chekov actually had his own theme music. “The Voyage Home,” he said, reflected the best things about the show and had a strong sociological statement. It also had soul and got you really involved with the characters, and it showed the connection they had with the audience whether or not they were Trekkers.

Koenig also called “The Voyage Home” the most ensemble film of the film series as each actor had their own stand out moment. That is, except for George Takei who was supposed to have a scene where Sulu meets his great grandfather. Koenig described the kid who was cast in the role as being “a real pain in the ass.” Every time the crew was ready to shoot, the young boy would say, “I don’t wanna!” By the time he did want to shoot, the sun had gone down and the crew lost the shot. Suffice to say, Takei was not happy about that.

Koenig also took the time to applaud the audience for what he called their “Pollyannaish” devotion to “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” When it first came out, he said the reviews were “brutal” and that critics complained the cast was “too old” and should “only be on TV.” At the time, Koenig considered himself “anonymous” compared to the rest of the cast, but he found this to be great because his name was never mentioned in the reviews. Looking back, he figured they forgot he was in the movie.

When it came to “Star Trek: Generations,” Koenig knew going into it he would have nothing more than a cameo. Initially, the whole Enterprise crew was supposed to be in it, but Takei, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley considered their parts to be not worthy, and Koenig said they were right. In the end, it came down to William Shatner, the late James Doohan and him acting as the bridge to the “Next Generation” cast.

When it came to “Star Trek: Generations,” Koenig originally said no to it because, despite the six-figure salary, he felt he had done this before and that there was nothing new for Chekov to do. The movie’s producer, Rick Berman, met with him, and Koenig suggested they add a scene which would make Chekov a bit deeper, and this involved when he was with Scotty after Captain Kirk got blasted into space. The end result of what Koenig did brought a half dozen people on the set to tears, but in the end it got cut out in the editing room. Koenig said he believed it was all a Machiavellian setup designed to get him involved and that they never planned to put the scene in the final cut.

It was great to see Walter Koenig in such good spirits considering the personal tragedy he endured when his son Andrew committed suicide, and he left the audience with a great treasure trove of behind the scenes stories to remember. He left us to find those “nuclear wessels” as he sarcastically said we were probably all waiting to see “Star Trek V.”

Thanks for a fun evening Walter!

Corbin Bernsen on Stepping Up to the Plate in ‘Major League’

Major League Corbin Bernsen

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written back in 2012.

Corbin Bernsen’s role as Cleveland Indians third baseman Roger Dorn in “Major League” marked a big breakthrough for the actor who at that point was best known for playing divorce lawyer Arnie Becker on “L.A. Law.” The actor was one of the guests who attended a reunion screening of “Major League” at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica which brought out fans who were excited to see it on the big screen.

“Major League’s” writer and director David S. Ward talked said he only casted people who could play baseball, and he talked about how Bernsen had been a ballplayer for a long time. Bernsen played with the Hollywood Stars baseball league, and he also played in many MTV celebrity “Rock N’ Jock” softball games as well.

The movie was shot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and one day had the filmmakers inviting 27,000 residents to portray Indians fans at the baseball stadium there. Grant Moninger, programmer for American Cinematheque and moderator of the “Major League” Q&A, asked Bernsen what it was like to play baseball in front of all those people.

Corbin Bernsen: The night that all those people were there was just one of the most exciting times in my life. You’re wearing the real uniform on a real field, and you’re playing it. I was a pretty good fielder in my day but I wasn’t much of a hitter. That last setup where I get the single and then Dennis (Haysbert) comes in and hits the home run to get me on base, I remember David saying, “I need you to hit the ball somewhere in left field preferably between shortstop and 2nd base.” And I’m thinking, you’re gonna be lucky if I just hit the ball man! I’m not a hitter. But he wants it directly there and it’s got to be a line drive at a certain height and all that. I kept thinking he’s going to fire me because I can’t do this, and the balls are coming in and I kept swinging and missing and swinging and missing and I finally, with all these people there, connect with one and the ball takes off and this fucker is flying to the wall! I’m standing there and I see David and he’s saying “RUN! RUN! RUN!”

Bernsen went on to say he still sees a lot of stuff on the internet about “Major League” which say “great movie, one of the best baseball movies, but Corbin Bernsen sucks and he can’t play baseball.” He ended up getting a hold of some guy from Philadelphia who had been dissing him and told the guy, “Hey! I’m not supposed to be able to play baseball in the movie you a-hole!” From there, Bernsen even challenged him to a throw off from centerfield every year and told the guy, “I will stand in Philadelphia on your field on the warning track and I will throw a fucking line drive to second base a-hole and then you shut up!” That guy from Philadelphia never took Bernsen up on this challenge.

To our surprise, it turns out Bernsen was actually not the original choice to play Roger Dorn in “Major League,” and he only got the part after the actor cast before him, whose name he couldn’t remember, ended up dropping out. Getting cast, Bernsen said, was one of the luckiest things which ever happened to him, and he was thrilled to be in it. He also made clear why he feels the movie holds up so well, and it is because of Ward’s excellent script.

CB: When you read a solid script, that’s like a blueprint that’s just gold. I would urge everyone, if you’re interested in film, to read the script for “Major League.” Everything that’s supposed to happen in a story happens on the exact page it’s supposed to happen on. Yeah, it’s a funny little comedy baseball movie, but I just think it’s one of the most solid scripts that I have ever read. Clean, lean and to the point. That’s all David Ward.

Tom Berenger Reflects on the Making of ‘Major League’

Major League Tom Berenger

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written in 2012 when this screening took place.

Among the guests at a recent reunion screening of “Major League” at the Aero Theatre was actor Tom Berenger who played veteran baseball catcher Jake Taylor. It is still one of Berenger’s best known roles as we watch his character go through another baseball season which may very well be his last while trying to win back his ex-girlfriend Lynn Wells (Renee Russo in her film debut). And like his fellow co-stars, Berenger proved to the filmmakers he could play baseball.

Berenger did have some experience playing little league when he was growing up, and he played some more ball after that but never professionally. “Major League’s” writer and director, David S. Ward, also said “you could watch Tom swing a bat and you could tell he could play baseball.” Berenger said he played on third base and left field, but “Major League” had him taking the catcher position for the first time ever. What made the difference in preparing for this role was who he had to work with.

Tom Berenger: I had a great teacher which was (Steve) Yeager who had been a catcher for the Dodgers. Besides being a great player, he was also a great teacher which is important, and he worked with Charlie (Sheen) and I and we started probably six weeks before the other guys came in.

Berenger even talked about how he got Yeager and some of the cast to come back to his hometown in South Carolina so they could practice there. His thought was that practicing at Pepperdine University near Malibu with the “dry air” and “breeze coming off of the ocean” was “a little deceiving” as real ballplayers deal with more humid conditions.

TB: We raised a little team so we could do infield practice and drills and things like that, and it was all these guys who were on softball leagues that had once played baseball. They loved it. It was great. I had a friend that was head of maintenance for the public schools, and he got us a field at one of the high schools that was totally blocked off. It was just screened by Palmetto trees, Live Oaks and stuff. He gave us the key to the gate to get in and he brought all his equipment out there and he recut the field, he redid the mound, he gave us a pitching machine so I could practice pop-ups and we could do batting practice.

Berenger said this worked out great for everyone there because they all were forced to deal with humidity, and it was this same humidity which the cast and crew faced in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where “Major League” was filmed. The movie was shot in 1988 during the hottest summer in Wisconsin since 1938, and he remembered it being brutal to work during the day as a result. While the training done in South Carolina certainly prepared many for day shooting, Berenger looked more forward to working nights when it was cooler.

Watching the movie again had Berenger getting nostalgic for the old Cleveland as it appears in the movie’s opening credits, and it is one of the few parts of the movie which was actually shot there.

TB: I’m looking at it and I’m going wow, look at that industrial town. That’s what we used to be. And that makes me a little sad, you know? Chicago and Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Bethlehem and Allentown; all those towns were like that and they’re not there anymore, and I find that really sad because I think they were the backbone of this country.

“Major League” still holds a place in all our hearts thanks to its humor and deeply felt moments which have stayed with us long after the end credits are done. Even Berenger admitted the movie still has a profound effect on him more than 20 years after its release.

TB: I have to say that I just love this film. I cry at the end every time I watch it. It’s a comedy but it’s got so much heart and great writing and direction.

Tom Cruise Flys High Again in First Trailer for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

The thought of a “Top Gun” sequel was laughable years ago as Tom Cruise had little reason to do a sequel to any of his films. Seriously, it seemed as likely as him doing a sequel to “Cocktail” which, while a big hit at the box office, was not exactly a critical darling. But in recent years, any movie he stars in which doesn’t have “Mission: Impossible” in its title has failed to make much of a dent at the box office, and perhaps this is why he has chosen to finally revisit his superstar-making role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell 34 years after the original was released. Whatever the case, its first trailer honestly has me very excited for it.

From this trailer, we learn Maverick is still a Captain instead of a military general, meaning he is still unsafe and quite dangerous in the cockpit of an airplane. Whereas James Tolkan chewed him out in the original, another bald military general played by Ed Harris (give this man an Oscar already!) berates him for not allowing himself to get promoted. When we finally get our first look at Cruise here, it looks as though he hasn’t aged much since 1986, and he still has that shit-eating grin which drives everyone crazy in ways both good and bad.

What struck me most about this “Top Gun: Maverick” trailer was its flight scenes as director Joseph Kosinski, who previously directed Cruise in “Oblivion,” makes us feel like we are in the cockpit with Maverick as he takes off from an aircraft carrier in the middle of an ocean. This reminded me of how exhilarating the flight sequences from the first “Top Gun” were, and this sequel looks to have even more of them.

From there, we get glimpses of characters such as Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of the late Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), and he looks to be as buff and as musical as Cruise, Edwards, Val Kilmer and Rick Rossovich were in the original. Yes, there looks to be another volleyball game in store for us in which we discover how the men look without their t-shirts on.

We also see glimpses of Jennifer Connelly as Maverick’s love interest who is said to be a single mother and the owner of a bar. My guess is Kelly McGillis does not appear in this sequel as she seems determined to remain retired from acting.

Val Kilmer is also set to return as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, but we do not see him in this trailer. I read somewhere that his Iceman is now a Vice Admiral, and I’m guessing he will still be teasing Maverick about who is going to be whose wingman.

I am also gratified to know Harold Faltermeyer is back to score this sequel, and he will be doing so along with the great Hans Zimmer. You can hear Faltermeyer’s score throughout this trailer, and it is an immediate reminder of how much it drove the action and emotion of “Top Gun” back in 1986. I can already see myself buying the soundtrack to this sequel when it arrives in theaters in the summer of 2020. Heck, I might buy the soundtrack before this sequel is released.

That’s the other thing; “Top Gun: Maverick” is being released in 2020, exactly one year from now. I know Hollywood is always serious about securing release dates for movies way ahead of time, but showing us trailers for movies which will not be released for another 12 months seems unnecessarily torturous. Remember when we got the first trailer for “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions?” It got audiences excited as hell and yelling out with joy as soon as those green digits started descending from the top of the silver screen. This was back in 2002 when the trailer was shown before “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” and it ended with “2003” on the screen. As thrilled as we were with the continuation of “The Matrix” franchise, seeing the date of when the first sequel was to be released had us groaning in frustration all too loudly.

At least here, Paramount Pictures tells us “Top Gun: Maverick” will be coming out in 2020 in the middle of the trailer instead of at the end of it. After all these years, Hollywood has remembered they can tease audiences only so much before foolishly risking our wrath.

“Top Gun” may have received mixed reviews upon its release as the aerial footage proved to be more exciting than when the characters were on the ground, but damn it was an entertaining flick. A nice wave of nostalgia passed over me as I watched this first trailer for “Top Gun: Maverick,” and I patiently await its release next summer. And who knows, maybe Quentin Tarantino will come up with another memorable examination of how this sequel depicts a man’s continuing struggle with his homosexuality just as he did previously in “Sleep with Me.”

Please check out the trailer above.

Top Gun Maverick teaser poster

Dwayne Johnson on Getting Pumped Up for ‘Pain & Gain’

Pain and Gain Dwayne Johnson

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2013.

Many like to laugh at athletes who decide to try acting because while they may excel in their chosen sport, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be equally successful on stage and screen. Dwayne Johnson, however, has proven to be an exception as he keeps getting better and better with each movie he appears in. In “The Scorpion King,” he proved to have a strong screen presence which would serve him well in future movies like “The Rundown” and “Fast Five,” and he gave one of his best performances to date in “Snitch” as John Matthews, a father who goes undercover for the DEA so he can get his son out of prison. Now he stars in “Pain & Gain,” Michael Bay’s action comedy based on the Miami New Times articles about the Sun Gym Gang who kidnapped a rich businessman in the hopes of extorting him for money so they could live the American dream.

Johnson plays Paul Doyle, an ex-con who has clearly spent hours upon hours in the prison gym. A former drug addict, Doyle has since become a born-again Christian who yearns to do good in life. Still, when his friend Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) comes to him with a plan to kidnap spoiled rotten businessman Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), Doyle cannot resist the pull towards a life of crime.

“Pain & Gain” plays around with Johnson’s image as a bodybuilder, but in an interview with Erin O’Sullivan of Yahoo Movies, he explained there was something more than the physical training which made him want to play this character.

“I was really fortunate because I was coming off of ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation,’ and I was coming off of ‘Fast & Furious’ at that time too. So, a lot of those projects supported and fostered the type of training I was doing,” Johnson told O’Sullivan. “The biggest thing with a movie like this — the biggest departure (for me) was the vulnerability and showing this type of vulnerability, and playing a character who is easily influenced and who’s just out of prison and looking for salvation.”

The movie has garnered quite a bit of controversy as it is said to be based on a true story which involved a brutal kidnapping, torture and murder. The survivors of the Sun Gym Gang’s crimes have been very open about their opposition to “Pain & Gain” as they don’t want the audience to sympathize with the characters played by Johnson, Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie as they are all based on real life killers. None of this was lost on Johnson who told Colin Covert of the Star Tribune he said a prayer every day for the victims of the gang’s crimes and explained how the story hit close to home for him as he lives in Miami where the crimes took place.

“The story rocked our city. It was a crazy time for us down there then. It’s painful for many people to remember it even to this day,” Johnson told Covert. “It’s been a passion project of Michael Bay’s for years, and he had a very clear idea of how to present it; a kind of ‘Pulp Fiction-y,’ fast-moving version that shows what boneheads these criminals actually were. Of course, whenever there is a story based on actual crimes, you have a responsibility to tell it in a way that’s respectful, we were fully aware of that.”

Now you’d think after doing several action movies in a row that Johnson would have all of the muscle and physical training he’d ever need, but even on a movie like “Pain & Gain” which cost only $25 million to make (way below the budgets of Bay’s “Transformers” movies), the actor and pro-wrestler still had a strict training regimen to follow. Johnson discussed his training schedule with the website Bodybuilding.com, and it makes you wonder how he found any free time to work out.

“My routine for this film was training six times per week with George Farah (an IFBB professional bodybuilder and trainer). Many people who go on Bodybuilding.com know who my strength and conditioning coach is. I also have a training coach in Dave Ramsey,” Johnson told the website. “This was a hell of a prep. For a movie like this, that revolves around the world of bodybuilding and the culture of bodybuilding-that we love, by the way, and that we grew up on-the prep was a good 8-10 weeks, six workouts per week, training twice per day. I did my cardio in the morning.”

According to USA Today, Johnson added 12 to 15 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot 4-inch body, and he maxed out at 250 pounds. As a result, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that he recently had emergency hernia surgery even though it was attributed to the WWE match he wrestled in last month. To all this, Johnson said the following:

“When you’re young, you think you’re invincible. When you’re older, you have to start listening to your body.”

Over the past few years, Dwayne Johnson has proved he can handle comedy, drama and action with equal success, and he’s become one of the true bona fide action stars in movies today. We look forward to seeing him again in “Fast & Furious 6” as Luke Hobbs, and he also has “Hercules: The Thracian Wars” to look forward to as well. At this point there should be no doubt, for an athlete turned actor, that Johnson is the real deal.

SOURCES:

Erin O’Sullivan, “‘Pain & Gain:’ Mark Wahlberg & Dwayne Johnson Talk Bulking Up for Action Movie,” Yahoo Movies, April 20, 2013.

Colin Covert, “Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson talk about new Michael Bay movie ‘Pain & Gain,'” Star Tribune, April 24, 2013.

‘Pain & Gain’ Exclusive with Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson,” Bodybuilding.com, April 22, 2013.

Bryan Alexander, “Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg pumped for ‘Pain & Gain,'” USA Today, April 25, 2013.