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.

Film Review: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Also known as: T2 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: July 1st, 1991 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron, William Wisher
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton, Earl Boen, Jenette Goldstein, Xander Berkeley, Dean Norris, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Nikki Cox, Michael Biehn (cameo – Special Edition and Ultimate Cut)

Carolco Pictures, Pacific Western, Lightstorm Entertainment, Le Studsio Canal+ S.A., TriStar Pictures, 137 Minutes, 153 Minutes (Special Edition), 156 Minutes (Ultimate Cut)

Review:

“[narrating] The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.” – Sarah Connor

When I was middle school aged, this film hit theaters. At the time, I thought it was just about the best movie ever made. At that age, it appealed to me more than the superior original but I think that’s because I was roughly the same age as John Connor and I was living vicariously through his experience in the film.

The thing is, this is still an utterly stupendous motion picture and one of the best that James Cameron has ever done. But, as an adult, I can’t put this over the masterpiece that is the original film.

Still, it is an incredible film and a great thing to experience, even for the 38th time watching it. Honestly, I may have seen it more than that as my VHS copy broke years ago.

It’s been a long time since I’ve revisited this classic, though. But this was the first time I watched the Special Edition, which added in new scenes and longer cuts. The most important of those is a scene where Michael Biehn returns as Kyle Reese in a dream Sarah Connor has while still locked up in the mental hospital.

There is also a cool scene that shows John defy his mother in order to spare the Terminator that is protecting them. It’s actually a good character building scene that probably should have been left in, as it shows John’s natural leader personality come through and it also amplifies Sarah’s paranoia about working with a Terminator.

The only other notable addition is a scene that shows Miles Dyson and his family. This probably should have been cut but it is nice to see him trying to balance his personal life and work life.

Everything in this movie still holds up today. While the special effects might not be as impressive in 2019, they don’t look bad and for the time, they were lightyears ahead of what anyone else was doing. And it was those great digital effects that made the villainous T-1000 exist and frankly, he is still one of the most terrifying villains in movie history. But I have to give credit to Robert Patrick for that, even if its the effects that allowed him to come into being.

All the practical effects are top notch too, from the opening sequence of the war from the future and all the makeup, prosthetic and animatronic work they had to do for Schwarzenegger’s Terminator in the second half of the film.

But getting back to the acting, it’s a mixed bag, really.

Linda Hamilton has never been better. Also, Schwarzenegger is pretty perfect but this version of the Terminator character is written in a way that doesn’t require much from him other than what is naturally present in his real personality. That’s not a knock against Arnold, as much as it is a nod of respect to James Cameron for giving us a more human cyborg that is trying to become something more than just a killing machine. The script and the dialogue written for Arnold enhance his strengths and don’t force him to have to deal with his weaknesses. Frankly, it enhances the overall experience.

Now Edward Furlong did okay, being that this is his first film but I felt like his performance could’ve been fine tuned more. When I was a kid, I didn’t give a shit, I thought he was cool. As an adult, I see some of the problems with his acting but at the same time, he’s far from terrible. Where it sometimes doesn’t work really isn’t his fault either. James Cameron should’ve just stepped in more and helped the kid. But then, I also don’t know how many takes were shot and its possible that these were just the best they could get and had to move on.

I mentioned that I like the first movie the best but this one does a much better job of world building and in that, this feels like the most complete and overall satisfying film in the franchise. Where the first film feels more like a sci-fi slasher movie with guns instead of knives, this feels more like something akin to the epic world building of Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings.

This film certainly has the most to offer in regards to the franchise as a whole. And since nothing after has really come close to its greatness, there isn’t much reason to watch the films that follow. Besides, they all start contradicting each other and this franchise has been rebooted three different times because it became a giant mess.

Eventually, I will get around to the other films just to review them. I already reviewed Terminator: Genisys when it came out back in 2015 but I haven’t revisited Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines or Terminator: Salvation since they were in theaters. Plus, I’ve still got to watch the TV show but I’ve heard that it’s actually pretty good.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the first Terminator film. Ignore the sequels after this one.

Film Review: Showdown In Little Tokyo (1991)

Also known as: Sgt. K (script title), Yakuza (working title)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1991
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Written by: Stephen Glantz, Caliope Brattlestreet
Music by: David Michael Frank
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere, Professor Toru Tanaka, Al Leong

Little Tokyo Productions, Original Pictures, Warner Bros., 79 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, will you do this right? Clean? Like a cop in the 20th century, not some samurai warrior? We’re gonna nail this guy. And when we get done… we’re gonna go eat fish off those naked chicks!” – Johnny Murata

This is one of those movies that came out when I was middle school age and I didn’t know about it because it never came to my local theater. But once I caught wind of it on video, I would rent it almost bi-weekly for about a year.

First of all, this features Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee, as buddy cops out to stop the Yakuza in Los Angeles. Plus, the Yakuza in the film were led by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa!

So this was like Ivan Drago teaming up with the Crow to kill Shang Tsung!

Plus, this had Tia Carrere in it and I was crushing hard on her back then. And what made this especially awesome was the nude scenes. Sure, I now realize that she had a nude body double due to how those moments were shot but when I was a kid, as far as I knew, I got to see one of my dream girls naked.

This is pure late ’80s/early ’80s toxic masculinity at its absolute finest. This is a balls out, violence festival with solid humor, hot chicks, martial arts and explosions. What more could a middle school boy want in 1991? And frankly, what more could a grown ass man want in 2019? Just because a bunch of crazy busybodies frown upon escapism like this in modern entertainment, doesn’t mean that I have to change to appease people that I don’t even want to talk to.

One thing that I always loved about this film is how the white guy is completely immersed and influenced by Japanese culture while the Asian guy is pretty much just some dude from the Valley. Granted, the Asian dude from the Valley knows a good amount of martial arts.

Additionally, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa was dynamite as the Yakuza boss that the good guys had to squash. Tagawa just has that look that makes him feel like a genuine evil bastard. He spends a great deal of his most badass moments, shirtless, showing off his Yakuza tattoos. He just feels like the final boss of a side scrolling beat’em up arcade game from the same era.

I love this damn movie. For what it is, it’s pretty close to perfect. Lundgren and Lee both have charm, solid charisma and it sucks that Lee died because I could’ve watched countless sequels to this movie. But then again, Hollywood rarely gives us sequels to movies like this unless they were Cannon Films properties.

That being said, this is probably the most Cannon film that wasn’t actually made by The Cannon Group.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Commando, Rapid Fire, Black Rain, Tango & Cash and Dark Angel.

Film Review: Boyz N the Hood (1991)

Release Date: May 13th, 1991 (Cannes)
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: John Singleton
Music by: Stanley Clarke
Cast: Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Larry Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Nia Long, Tyra Ferrell, Redge Green, Dedrick D. Gobert, Regina King, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Whitman Mayo

Columbia Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Why is it that there is a gun shop on almost every corner in this community?” – Furious Styles, “Why?” – The Old Man, “I’ll tell you why. For the same reason that there is a liquor store on almost every corner in the black community. Why? They want us to kill ourselves.” – Furious Styles

Boyz N The Hood was a movie that had a pretty big impact on me in my middle school years. I was going into 7th grade when it came out but by the time it hit video, I rented it a lot.

What lured me into it was the edge the film had with Ice Cube in it, a rapper I listened to almost daily back then. But beyond that, I was pulled into John Singleton’s unique knack for storytelling. While this is well acted, a lot of the story and emotion comes through in more of a visual way.

Unlike many of the “gangsta” films that came out after and were inspired by this and Marion Van Peebles’ New Jack City, this one is truly a masterpiece on just about every level. And, once seeing this, it is easy to understand how this film gave birth to a new genre in the early ’90s.

To start, the acting by just about everyone in this picture is superb. The main cast delivers their performances with passion and gusto.

I love how in your face Ice Cube can be but there is a subtle gentleness under the surface that really comes out in his final scene, which is still maybe the best he’s ever been onscreen.

Cuba Gooding Jr. gave a somewhat understated performance that worked really well for his character and when the point comes in the movie for him to show real emotion, it has an impact that might have been lacking without his cool and chill demeanor leading up to it.

I also like Morris Chestnut, who is mostly just a regular guy here. He’s got issues but he’s a guy with a bright future, which makes his fate in the film extremely tough to process no matter how many times you’ve seen this play out.

The real scene stealer is Laurence Fishburne and while that shouldn’t be surprising, this was pretty early in his career and even though he’d been in many films before this, it is his role here that put his career path on a strong upward trajectory.

It’s also worth pointing out how beautiful and perfect Stanley Clarke’s score is. The music conveys real emotion and it grounds the drama in a way that the mostly hip-hop soundtrack can’t on its own. There is a great balance between hip-hop, soul and the score itself. However, in contrast to what became typical of this style of film after Boyz N the Hood, this doesn’t use a ton of rap music. It’s there where it needs to be but this wasn’t a movie that was trying to sell soundtrack tie-ins like everything that copied it. And it’s not that that’s a bad thing and I didn’t even notice it back in the day but seeing this film now, it was kind of refreshing knowing that the filmmaker relied heavily on his composer to assist with the tone and the movement of the plot. Side note: Stanley Clarke’s first score was Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, which got him an Emmy nomination.

This is a heavy and emotional film; it works because it feels genuine and real. It has aged tremendously well and is kind of timeless, even if it is set in a specific era that comes with its own stylistic and cultural tropes.

Singleton, with Boyz N the Hood, crafted a perfect motion picture that deserves to be called a masterpiece and is still above all the films that came along and tried to emulate it. Not bad for a first time director.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Menace II SocietySouth CentralColors, Baby Boy, Higher Learning and Poetic Justice.

Film Review: Alligator II: The Mutation (1991)

Also known as: Alligator 2 (UK video title)
Release Date: March 28th, 1991
Directed by: Jon Hess
Written by: Curt Allen
Music by: Jack K. Tillar
Cast: Joseph Bologna, Woody Brown, Harlan Arnold, Nicolas Cowan, Brock Peters, Dee Wallace, Carmen Filpi, Voyo Goric

Golden Hawk Entertainment, 92 Minutes

Review:

“It was about the size of an Eldorado.” – J.J. Hodges

Man, did this film miss the fucking mark.

How hard is it to make a movie about a killer alligator? Also, by 1991, there were enough killer animal movies to look at and see what works and what doesn’t. Frankly, nothing in this film works. Hell, I don’t even think the actors were working.

The film stars Joseph Bologna, who should have changed his stage name to Joey Bologney. We also get to see Brock Peters in this, who I always enjoyed in Star Trek films, but here he looks like he misses his Starfleet friends. Horror queen Dee Wallace is also in the picture but I think she was just scooping up paychecks by this point. Although, in all seriousness, it is always a delight to see Dee Wallace because she can brighten up the worst movies.

The first Alligator was a badass, fun, killer animal movie. It had great moments with the gator going banana sandwich on people too dumb or too slow to get out of its way. There are so many cool scenes in the original film that one would think that a sequel would try to top them all. But this dud of a motion picture fails… miserably.

Nothing exciting happens over the course of this entire film. Even the gator effects are shit and pale in comparison to some of the coolest gator spots from the previous outing.

I was bored watching this and to be honest, I had some high hopes for it, as I enjoy the first flick and I vaguely remembered enjoying this one as a kid. But maybe I only saw the first one and thought that I saw both of these.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: I guess, Alligator but by comparison it makes that movie look like Jaws.

Film Review: Career Opportunities (1991)

Also known as: One Wild Night (working title)
Release Date: March 29th, 1991
Directed by: Bryan Gordon
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Frank Whaley, Jennifer Connelly, Dermot Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney, Barry Corbin, William Forsythe, John Candy (uncredited)

Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[to himself] She’s so beautiful. And I’m the town liar.” – Jim Dodge

This film probably gets a worse rap than it should. If you are comparing it to John Hughes’ top films, yeah, it falls short. But it is still a fun and amusing coming of age comedy that still has the John Hughes spirit worked into its script.

Maybe some of the problems with this is that Hughes didn’t direct the movie and that it rehashed a lot of ideas that he already addressed in better ways with previous films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles but those ideas are still worth exploring in a fresher way with characters that are a bit older.

I liked Frank Whaley and I know that even he had reservations about his own performance and being cast in the role but I think he did a good job and he was certainly likable in this, despite being the “town liar”. Really, he’s just a chronic embellisher and storyteller.

Jennifer Connelly also did a good job and her performance and line delivery were actually better than what the script called for. But I think the thing that worked well for this picture was that she had really good, natural chemistry with Whaley.

I also liked all the smaller characters in the film like the cameos by John Candy and William Forsythe, as well as the scenes with the always entertaining Barry Corbin. Dermot and Kieran Mulroney were also enjoyable as the bumbling bandits that come in at the end of the film.

If I’m being honest, some of my love for this movie could be due to nostalgia. As a kid, this movie was cool because what kid didn’t want to be locked in a Target all night with the entire store as a playground? Plus, I was crushing hard on Jennifer Connelly and frankly, that’s a crush that never really died, as she still catches my attention in almost every film she’s in.

For the time, the soundtrack is also solid. It features a lot of pop hits but it’s that weird era where music was transitioning from the ’80s into the ’90s and being middle school age when this movie came out, meant that a lot of the music worked for me and the time.

While I wouldn’t put this in the upper echelon of Hughes’ work, it’s still a fun, energetic and entertaining movie. Hughes actually requested to have his name taken off of the film, as he didn’t like the finished product, but I still think this is a better picture than most people give it credit for.

Career Opportunities achieved what it set out to do. It was made to be a lighthearted coming of age comedy that served as escapism for an hour and a half. Okay, maybe it fell just slight of that running time but it was good escapism for a twelve year-old in 1991. And I still revisit it every half decade or so.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other coming of age John Hughes comedies: Ferris Bueller’s Day OffWeird ScienceSixteen CandlesThe Breakfast ClubPretty In PinkSome Kind of Wonderful, etc.

Film Review: Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

Release Date: June 8th, 1991 (Japan)
Directed by: Sylvio Tabet
Written by: Jim Wynorski, R.J. Robertson, Sylvio Tabet, Ken Hauser, Doug Miles
Based on: The Beast Master by Andre Norton, characters by Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Marc Singer, Kari Wuhrer, Sarah Douglas, Wings Hauser, James Avery, Robert Z’Dar, Michael Berryman

Les Films 21, Republic Pictures, New Line Cinema, 107 Minutes

Review:

“He who defies Arklon, shall be destroyed… by Arklon!” – Arklon

This is such a shitty movie but it is a wonderfully entertaining shitty movie.

Where the original Beastmaster is truly a sword and sorcery classic, this film is pretty much just a “fish out of water” comedy with some sword and sorcery elements.

I’m not sure what the filmmakers were thinking with this. It wasn’t like they rushed out a sloppy sequel because this came nine years after the original. But it is very cheaply made and it completely lacks the superior craftsmanship of the previous film’s director, Don Coscarelli.

What saves this film, at least in my eyes, is the over the top performances of its cast. Marc Singer is dry when compared to his cast mates but he’s still enjoyable as Dar and I’ll always be a fan of his version of the character.

However, Singer is pretty much overshadowed by the energetic cuteness of Kari Wuhrer in one of her earliest film performances. He’s also usurped by the charismatic Wings Hauser, as his evil brother Arklon. Plus, you have Sarah Douglas as a sorceress and she’s always fantastic. But the real scene stealer is James Avery, who isn’t in this as much as the other actors but you’re always locked on him when we walks on screen. Avery is used as comedic relief and he’s a master of that but I can’t discount the fact that this entire movie really is comedy.

This lacks the edge and darkness of its predecessor and if I’m being honest, I would have preferred a proper sequel. However, I still like this strange movie for all of its batshittery. It’s a very smudged up gem but it’s still a gem. But you also have to be the right sort of film fan for this movie to click for you. The average person isn’t going to find much value in the picture and that’s fine. All this shit is subjective, anyway.

Beastmaster II already had its work cut out for it, as the first film casts a big shadow. But all things considered, this is bizarre and unique enough to justify its existence and at least it wasn’t just a rehash of the previous movie.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies of the time, most notably the Conan films. It’s also fun to watch with the other films within its own series.