Friday, November 19, 2010

"Gleaming the Cube" - Vestron Video of the Week: November 19, 2010 (Class of 1989 Special Edition)


Anybody's who been paying attention (anybody? anybody?) will notice the reference I made to a Vestron Video review I was gonna post back in the Song of the Day entry for The Dickies' "Stukas Over Disneyland". Again, if anybody saw that and said "he's clearly gonna review Gleaming the Cube", well, then you deserve a cookie. But you never e-mailed me, hence I will not be the one providing you with said cookie. Take your ass down to 7-11 and get yourself one of those 99 cent two packs of Grandma's Homestyle. It's okay because I said it's okay. But I digress.

Every week I'm gonna try to review a film from the Vestron catalog. Vestron, like Media, Paragon and a slew of other low-rent VHS providers, filled me up with the video-store rental equivalent of junk food throughout the 80s. In keeping with today's theme of ephemera from the year 1989, I'm gonna launch the Vestron reviews with the skateboarding magnum opus Gleaming the Cube.

I loved skating as a kid. I still do. I'm not exactly a team player, and my growing disinterest in the herd, along with my own disdain for adult supervision, meant that skating was the perfect fit for me. It was literally you and your board and that's it. If you had friends who skated, great, but your success or failure didn't depend on anybody but you. While I may have been a better BMXer, I really loved skating and I wish I had gotten better. I would have killed to ride with Tony Hawk, Tommy Guerrero, Christian Hosoi, et al. At the same time, I was a blossoming film nerd. And if I wasn't watching a movie, I had my nose buried in a book. Couple that with my desire to live a life furthest from my own and you can tell I had an overactive imagination. Hence my love for Gleaming the Cube.

Thrasher and other movies of it's ilk may have gotten there first. But GTC was the first film to couple a kid's interest in skating with an exciting action-adventure premise. But, man, what a weird premise. Thought the scope of the film belies its low budget, it more than makes up for it by giving its audience a unique adventure for its intended audience.

Brian (Christian Slater) is a white, upper middle class skater kid from Orange County. He has an adopted brother named Vinh, a Vietnamese orphan who is the apple of his adopted parent's eye. While Brian and Vinh get along they couldn't be more different. Brian is a skate punk and Vinh is an honors student. While Brian skates around the OC, Vinh spend his time working with a man who provides relief to Vietnamese refugees, casualties of war, etc. At least that's all he looks like he's doing. In reality Vinh's boss, along with a shady partner, are shipping weapons to Vietnam. Vinh stumbles across the conspiracy and accidentally murdered. The cohorts conspire to cover it up and make it look like just another teen suicide. (BTW, how perfect is is that teen suicide and Slater seem to go hand in hand. This, Heathers, Pump Up the Volume; stay the fuck away from that kid.)

While everybody else just accepts that Vinh killed himself, Brian isn't convinced. At first he just tries to exhaust himself physically, throwing himself into his skating to get it off his mind. But eventually Brian launches his own investigation, stepping on the toes of local police and digging as deep as he can. At first, he doesn't get very far, but soon comes to realize Vinh's boss is responsible. He can't convince anybody else, though. Who can blame them? Before all this Brian was an irresponsible brat. So, Brian gives himself a makeover, trying to play the part of the honor student and dating Vinh's ex, the daughter of Vinh's murderer. Getting closer to his prey, Brian finally enlists the help of his skater buddies (including legends like Hawk and Guerrero) and closes in for one last confrontation with Vinh's boss and his partner.

That final sequence, where Brian and his buddies, use their skating abilities to fight and capture the killers may come off as far fetched. But to skater kids like me watching the movie it proved that we were able to accomplish anything if we set our minds to it. The movie may have its cheesier moments, but like any great adventure movie it plays it all very straight, with a lot of heart. Recently I was watching Spielberg talk about making genre movies and how you have to make those movies as if they as important as any piece of cinema. That's the feeling you get from GTC. It's smart, ambitious, maybe a little too big for its britches, but finally a very entertaining film about doing what you love and fighting for what you believe in.


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