Film Review: The Rocketeer (1991)

Also known as: The Adventures of the Rocketeer (Australia)
Release Date: June 19th, 1991 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, William Dear
Based on: The Rocketeer by Dave Stevens
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton, Paul Sorvino, Terry O’Quinn, Ed Lauter, James Handy, Jon Polito, William Sanderson, Margo Martindale, Clint Howard, Melora Hardin, Tiny Ron Taylor

Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, 108 Minutes

Review:

“That son of a bitch will fly!” – Howard Hughes

It’s been close to three decades since I’ve seen The Rocketeer, as I saw it in the theater in 1991 and once on VHS just after that. I hadn’t seen it since but I have always had pretty fond memories of the film. Now that it’s on Disney+, I figured I’d revisit it.

The film is actually much better than I remembered and I’m surprised that it didn’t leave a big enough mark on me to inspire me to buy it over the last 29 or so years. But I feel like the things I appreciate about it now are mainly due to my age and the lack of imaginative filmmaking that closed out the 2010s.

It feels very much like a 1990ish live action Disney movie but it reminds me a lot of Dick Tracy because of the period it takes place in, as well as the Indiana Jones films due to the involvement of Nazis, as well as being full of adventure, action and very ’30s-’40s pulpy elements.

The film is actually based off of a comic book character and that character was created as an homage to the rocket-backpack heroes of the old serials like Commando Cody.

The Rocketeer greatly benefits from having a large, great cast. Many of these people I didn’t even realize were in this, as I saw this in a time where I probably wouldn’t have recognized many of them. The bulk of the acting duties, however, fall on Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly and Timothy Dalton. All four are pretty good in this and Connelly, who’s never not been beautiful, looks like an old school Hollywood starlet from the silver screen era.

I loved Dalton in this, as the villain who is one-part Nazi stooge and one-part Basil Rathbone. His role as the actor within the film was really neat and a cool idea for a bad guy. He’s slimy and vile but you also kind of feel for him, as he’s being forced into evil by the Nazis. But don’t get me wrong, he’s still a total bastard and a great one at that.

The special effects, for the most part, hold up well. The only shots that looked odd were kind of unavoidable, as this was made in a time where you could hide things on celluloid film. This wasn’t made for the digital HD era, so there are a few bits that look wonky in a way that they probably didn’t in 1991.

From memory, this film was kind of a dud, financially. It should have been the start of a franchise for Disney but it didn’t connect with a large enough audience and we only ever got this one film. When I was a kid, I was really looking forward to more of these, as well as more Dick Tracy. Part of me kind of hoped that they could’ve crossed over but none of my dreams for these films materialized.

If you’re going to cancel Disney+ because The Mandalorian is over, you might want to give this a watch first.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other early ’90s family action movies, most notably Dick Tracy.

TV Review: X-Men (1992-1997)

Also known as: X-Men: The Animated Series
Original Run: October 31st, 1992 – September 20th, 1997
Created by: Eric Lewald, Sidney Iwanter, Mark Edens
Directed by: Larry Houston
Written by: various
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Ron Wasserman, Shuki Levy, Noam Kaniel, Amotz Plessner
Cast: Norm Spencer, Cathal J. Dodd, Lenore Zann, Iona Morris, Alison Sealy-Smith, George Buza, Chris Potter, Tony Daniels, Alyson Court, Catherine Disher, Cedric Smith

Saban Entertainment, Graz Entertainment, AKOM, Fox Kids Network, 76 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This animated show was the absolute highlight of my week back when it first came out and for a few years until high school took over my life and with it, the pursuit of other things. Honestly, I kind of checked out on this show around the same time that I checked out on comics because I was playing sports and trying to impress girls.

I did end up watching the show in its entirety, years later, after it was all available to stream on Netflix some time ago. I liked it and I thought that the show mostly maintained its consistency till the end, minus a few bad episodes, here and there.

Now that it’s on Disney+, I felt compelled to revisit it, as its been awhile and my memories of it are so fond.

However, despite still recognizing its greatness, it doesn’t quite resonate the same way for me anymore. I don’t blame the show, though, I blame the age of the viewer: me.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s harder for me to sit through long bursts of animation. I’m not sure why but I watched a handful of episodes and found my mind wandering, looking at my phone, looking at the clock and then thinking that I’d rather just read the comics that these stories are trying to adapt.

Again, it’s not X-Men, it’s me.

I then talked to a friend about it and he said that he feels the same way with most of the cartoons he used to watch. He’s 44 and I’m now 41. So I wonder if 40 is some sort of point where the mind severs itself from this type of entertainment? But then, I can still watch Batman: The Animated Series and the Marvel/Sunbow era of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

That being said, I can’t shit on the show for my personal inability to sit through it now.

It’s a stellar animated series, one of the best of its era. The stories were well adapted, even if they took a lot of liberties and didn’t follow the same sequence as the comics.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel animated shows from the ’90s.

Film Review: Jack Frost (1997)

Release Date: November 18th, 1997
Directed by: Michael Cooney
Written by: Michael Cooney, Jeremy Paige
Music by: Chris Anderson, Carl Schurtz
Cast: Christopher Allport, Stephen Mendel, F. William Parker, Rob LaBelle, Shannon Elizabeth, Jack Lindine, Zack Egniton, Brian Leckner, Marsha Clark, Eileen Seeley, Kelly Jean Peters, Scott MacDonald

Frost Bite Films Ltd., Moonstone Entertainment, Storyteller Films Ltd., A-Pix Entertainment, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Gosh. I only axed you for a smoke.” – Jack Frost

I’ve heard people refer to this as the movie that made Shannon Elizabeth famous. Actually, I think this is the movie that Shannon Elizabeth made famous after she blew up from her part in the original American Pie and rumors that she was also nude in this flick.

Apart from Shannon Elizabeth, there really isn’t anything in this film worth looking at.

It’s a horror comedy about a killer that has his body turned into shapeshifting sentient snow. So basically, he’s a killer snowman with some nonsensical snow-based powers and lots of really bad one-liners.

While this isn’t a movie made by Full Moon, it has a similar vibe in its cheapness, its terribly bad humor and its lack of anything that will make you want to sit still for 89 minutes. Well, except the infamous Shannon Elizabeth scene but that only takes up about three percent of the film’s run time.

The special effects are bad, the acting is bad, the jokes are even worse and the film is pretty boring, even though it features one of the strangest horror monsters of its time.

There’s not much else to say about the movie, as there isn’t much worth talking about other than Shannon Elizabeth. But you can just watch her important scene online and skip the other 97 percent of the movie.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel and other terrible, terrible horror movies.

Film Review: Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

Release Date: November 10th, 1990
Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Graeme Revell, Bernard Herrmann (original themes)
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Henry Thomas, Olivia Hussey, C. C. H. Pounder, Warren Frost, John Landis, Kurt Paul, Sharen Camille

Smart Money Productions, Universal Pictures, NBC, Showtime, 96 Minutes

Review:

“All that faith and no potatoes.” – Norman Bates

For being a made-for-TV movie and the third sequel in a series, Psycho IV isn’t half bad. Hell, I even like it a bit more than the third film, even if it is missing Jeff Fahey, who killed it in that picture.

The cast in this one is really well-rounded though between the returning Anthony Perkins, as well as Henry Thomas, Olivia Hussey and C. C. H. Pounder. Honestly, this is a really well acted picture that saw its main players give it their all with really solid and compelling results.

The picture starts with Norman Bates being cured but we’ve seen that in the two previous pictures until events pushed him over the edge and back towards his serial killing slasher self.

What’s different and unique about this picture is it involves Norman calling a radio show discussing boys who have murdered their mothers. He uses the name “Ed” while on the air but he talks through his past, primarily his early years, in an effort to fight off his killer tendencies from returning.

With that, this film serves as both a sequel and a prequel. It takes place after Psycho III but it spends a great deal of time flashing back to his life before the events of the original Psycho. It delves into his bizarre relationship with his mother and how it shaped him into the man he became.

Henry Thomas, most famous for playing Elliot in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, shows that he was a good actor and he creates a young Norman that is sympathetic yet disturbed.

However, his performance is enhanced by the talent of Olivia Hussey, who plays his mother Norma Bates. The film examines the sexual tension between mother and son and it’s really the plot of this movie that gave birth to the concept that became the Bates Motel television series. And honestly, I prefer this version of a Psycho prequel.

Adult Norman, still played by Perkins, who really committed his life to this role and who always delivers an A-plus performance, shared most of his scenes with the always good C. C. H. Pounder. While the scenes they share are over the phone, as both act out their scenes in different rooms separate from each other, the two had perfect chemistry and their discussions are emotional and believable.

But giving credit where credit is due, a lot of this also probably has to do with the quality of the editing and the overall film direction. These two actors were on completely different sets, probably filming on completely different days but their combined efforts worked and it carries the picture at its most important parts.

What’s fantastic to me, is that I never expected much from Psycho sequels. The first one is perfection and anything else, I thought, would diminish it. But I was wrong. While none of the sequels are as good as the original Hitchcock film, each is still good in their own way and every chapter feels like it enhances the larger story that is Norman Bates’ complete life.

I hope that Anthony Perkins was pleased with the end result of all these films.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other Psycho films.

Film Review: Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992)

Also known as: Big Baby, Honey, I Blew Up the Baby (working titles)
Release Date: July 17th, 1992
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Garry Goodrow, Thom Eberhardt, Peter Elbling
Based on: characters by Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Ed Naha
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Rick Moranis, Marcia Strassman, Robert Oliveri, Amy O’Neill (cameo), Lloyd Bridges, John Shea, Keri Russell, Gregory Sierra, Julia Sweeney, Ron Canada

Touchwood Pacific Partners 1, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“There’s one thing every little kid knows. Daddies mean fun; mommies mean business.” – Diane

This is a bad sequel. In fact, it’s a horrendous sequel.

And that sucks because Rick Moranis is a Canadian national treasure.

The reason this film is terrible is because it completely lacks the most important element of its predecessor: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. That element is adventure.

Honey, I Blew Up the Kid is just a goofy comedy where a giant toddler descends upon downtown Las Vegas and brings no real kaiju level terror. He just picks up random things and plays with them like an actual f’n toddler.

The previous film saw four kids get shrunk to a size smaller than ants and then saw them have to make it across their backyard, fending off giant bees, fighting giant scorpions, surviving a lawn mower and dealing with a half dozen other threats to their lives.

This film dealt with babysitting a giant toddler that just ends up escaping anyway. None of this is fun, funny or all that entertaining. The jokes are weak, the gags are lame and the only giant props in the film are the random pieces of crap the toddler has in his front pocket.

There’s honestly not a whole lot to say about this movie. It’s bad on just about every level and it shouldn’t exist.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: I guess the other Honey, I Re-Sized A Family Member movies.

Film Review: The Dead Talk Back (1957/1993)

Release Date: 1993
Directed by: Merle S. Gould
Written by: Merle S. Gould
Music by: Don Cheek, George Rhoden, Van Phillips (uncredited)
Cast: Aldo Farnese, Scott Douglas, Laura Brock, Earl Sands, Myron Natwick, Kyle Stanton, Sammy Ray

Headliner Productions, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Tellin’ them innocent kids stories about the dead and their hauntings! That’s the work of the devil. You’ll pay for it. The Devil! That man is the Devil Himself!” – Christy Mattling, “Oh shut up, you potentate of righteousness!” – Renee Coliveil

The Dead Talk Back was a lost film; shot in 1957, it never saw the light of day. Nearly four decades later, however, it was discovered in a warehouse and then found a video release in 1993 by Sinister Cinema. A year later, it was ripped to shreds courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

At the start of this picture, I was taken aback by the really bad opening titles. But once the film cut to the first scene and the fourth wall was broken by the paranormal scientist guy explaining what we were about to see and the “science” behind the dead’s ability to speak to us, I was sort of captivated.

The opening was so bizarre that it was intriguing. It wasn’t something that you really see from the era in which this was made and it showed me that this schlock-y filmmaker was possibly ahead of his time or that he was so bad he broke the rules of the medium without realizing he was doing so. I think it might be a little bit of both because as hammy as it was, it still aroused my curiosity in a way that was positively effective to the narrative of the movie.

Beyond that, however, everything really does sort of turn to shit.

This paranormal scientist lives in a house with a bunch of roommates. One of the girls is then killed by a crossbow, which is pretty brutal and over the top for 1957. Anyway, the paranormal scientist is pretty sure that one of his housemates murdered her. The police also believe this so they hire the scientist to conduct a paranormal investigation.

The scientist interviews his housemates in an effort to draw out clues or a confession. He can’t really talk to the dead yet so he makes it appear that he can, hoping that the experience will cause the killer to crack under the pressure.

The killer is discovered and then the scientist admits to his ruse but says that he will eventually find a way to communicate with the deceased.

I actually like the concept and thought that the plot was interesting, however, it was unfortunately executed poorly and the film is mostly drab and boring despite a few neat highlights.

It keeps you a bit on edge, thinking that something paranormal may actually happen but I like that it doesn’t and that this is realistic in that way, as opposed to going for a cheap, predictable thrill. I’d like to think that this was an intentional subversion of expectations but I think it had more to do with the limitations of the production.

The Dead Talk Back is mostly a bad movie. But it was still engaging in parts and quite unique.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: other crime/mystery movies shown on MST3K.

Film Review: L.A. Confidential (1997)

Release Date: May 14th, 1997 (Cannes)
Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Written by: Brian Helgeland, Curtis Hanson
Based on: L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Ron Rifkin, Graham Beckel, Matt McCoy, Simon Baker

Regency Enterprises, The Wolper Organization, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes

Review:

“Go back to Jersey, sonny. This is the City of the Angels, and you haven’t got any wings.” – Capt. Dudley Smith

I’ve seen parts of L.A. Confidential over the years and I knew enough about the story before even watching it but yes, this is my first viewing of the film in its entirety.

While that may seem odd for a fan of film-noir, I didn’t become a true lover of noir fiction until I got past my teen years. Sure, I always liked crime movies but the noir aesthetic didn’t truly penetrate my psyche until my late 20s and really didn’t make me do a deep dive into the cinematic style until my mid-30s.

Now L.A. Confidential is a modern neo-noir that takes its narrative and stylistic cues from classic film-noir but it has this pristine razzle dazzle about it and that’s not simply because of the star power. It’s visual allure is just breathtaking and while other films in the ’90s tried to encapsulate the noir look, albeit in color, there is just something fantastical about how this comes off on screen.

On one hand, the movie feels like a dark fairytale of a time long gone and a world that doesn’t exist in the same way. On the other hand, there is a gritty realness to it that makes the darker parts of humanity come across as genuine and frightening.

That being said, this is still great because of its star power on top of the film’s visual look. You really have a solid cast between Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito. Everyone does a perfect job with the script and the story.

However, I think the glue that holds everything together so well is director Curtis Hanson. While not having a prolific name like Scorsese, Coppola or De Palma, he takes the crime fiction material and makes it work, incredibly well. He got the most out of his cast while having a great eye for mise-en-scène. The film boasts stupendous cinematography and shot framing.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith is also pretty close to perfect.

My only real complaint about the film comes in regards to its pacing. While mostly energetic, there are a few points in the film that drag a bit more than they need to. I didn’t find it to wreck the movie or even be much of a distraction, though.

The ’90s produced a lot of neo-noir motion pictures but L.A. Confidential certainly deserves its place in the upper echelon.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’90s neo-noir films: Heat, The Two Jakes, The Usual Suspects, Mulholland Falls, Seven, Red Rock West, Devil In a Blue Dress, Dick Tracy, etc.