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: Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Release Date: February 5th, 2019 (Spain premiere)
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis
Based on: Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro
Music by: Tom Holkenberg
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Jeff Fahey, Derek Mears, Casper Van Dien, Edward Norton (uncredited), Michelle Rodriguez (uncredited), Jai Courtney (uncredited)

20th Century Fox, Lightstorm Entertainment, Troublemaker Studios, TSG Entertainment, 122 Minutes

Review:

“I do not standby in the presence of evil!” – Alita

I didn’t get to see this in the theater but I did catch it on a Delta flight, as I was returning home from Las Vegas.

I’m glad that I finally got to see this movie, as I had been waiting a long time for its digital release.

Overall, I really enjoyed Alita. But it has become a movie that Hollywood and its shill media outlets are apparently shitting on now because some people seem to think it is tied to the Nazi-esque Alt-Right or something.

One, I don’t even really know what the Alt-Right is and I don’t care. Two, how the fuck is it Alt-Right when it was directed by Robert Rodriguez, a famous director of Mexican decent and stars an actress of Peruvian decent with another major character being a black man? Plus, it was put out by a major Hollywood (i.e. uber leftists) studio, as well as being written and produced by James fucking Cameron?!

Anyway, that criticism is stupid but I guess some people still subscribe to the mainstream media’s bullshit.

Moving on.

I thought the film had a solid story. In a day and age where we are spoon fed stories about unchallenged Mary Sues (the Star Wars sequel trilogy and Captain Marvel, for instance) it’s refreshing to see a strong, female character that has to fail and learn from that failure in order to grow and become better. In that, Alita: Battle Angel is a much more relatable story than those other films. But I guess that’s why the media wants to shit on it.

Personally, I like strong yet flawed characters that can learn and grown. All people have flaws and limitations and its the process of overcoming those limitations that build character and make people stronger. It has nothing to do with gender, race or any sort of identity politics despite the entertainment industry’s insistence that it does.

Plus, Rosa Salazar is incredible as Alita. She has more charisma in one CGI finger than Brie Larson had in her entire body for over two hours in Captain Marvel. You almost love Alita from the first moment you meet her and watching her grow, throughout the film, is really the whole point of the story. When she conquers evil, you feel it. It doesn’t matter that the film is somewhat bogged down by its CGI effects, the story is relatable and very human. But that also has a lot to do with the skill and craftsmanship of two great filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron.

The rest of the cast is solid, especially Christoph Waltz. But man, that guy is damn near perfection in everything he does.

Like the Alita character, the film does have its flaws too but the sum of its parts made it a fun, enjoyable picture. And frankly, I’d be on board for future sequels.

In the future, I’d like to see the CGI get more detailed and less artificial looking. But this is sort of the trend of the time now, as visual effects artists are rushed and have less time to produce top notch effects when Hollywood has become way too reliant on them over practical, physical effects that can be crafted in the real world.

In conclusion, this is not as great of a movie as some have said but it is still a fine way to spend two hours and it is more human than a lot of the alternatives in modern sci-fi action films.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the original manga and anime, as well as Ghost In the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Film Review: Once Upon A Time In America (1984)

Also known as: C’era una volta in America (original Italian title)
Release Date: May 20th, 1984 (Cannes)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, Sergio Leone
Based on: The Hoods by Harry Grey
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, Scott Tiler, Rusty Jacobs, Jennifer Connelly, Danny Aiello, William Forsythe, Adrian Curran, James Hayden, Brian Bloom, Darlanne Fluegel, Mario Brega, Estelle Harris, James Russo, Louise Fletcher (only in 2012 restoration)

The Ladd Company, Embassy International Pictures, PSO Enterprises, Rafran Cinematografic, Warner Bros., Titanus, 229 Minutes (original), 139 Minutes (original US release)

Review:

“Age can wither me, Noodles. We’re both getting old. All that we have left now are our memories. If you go to that party on Saturday night, you won’t have those anymore. Tear up that invitation.” – Deborah Gelly

I tried watching this about fifteen years ago but if I’m being completely honest, it bored me to tears. And I’m speaking as a guy that has a deep love for the films of Sergio Leone, a man who sits among the best in my Holy Trinity of Motion Picture Directors. The other two being Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick, naturally.

So years later, I felt that I really needed to revisit this, as maybe I wasn’t in the right head space and because I generally have a hard time sitting through movies that feel like they could take up an entire day. Well, this took up an entire afternoon and I did have to take a halftime break and make a ribeye.

But regardless of that, I really enjoyed this picture and I can’t deny that it is one of Leone’s best. In fact, I may have to edit my rankings of his films, as I would now put this third behind The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon A Time In the West.

What’s interesting, is that this movie has more in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy than Leone’s own pictures, which were mostly top tier spaghetti westerns. But like his westerns, he also employs the talents of musical maestro Ennio Morricone, who gives real life to the motion picture full of mostly understated performances.

This movie is incredibly slow paced but it’s that kind of slow pace that is more like a slow simmering stew of perfection than the chef accidentally setting the burner too low and walking away.

As far as the acting goes, this is a superb film. Robert De Niro and James Woods own every scene that they’re in. However, the supporting cast is also stupendous, especially the child actors, who play the main characters in lengthy flashback sequences.

This is also compelling in that it is full of unlikable, despicable characters yet you are lured into their world and you do find yourself caring where this is all going and how life will play out for these characters. You never like them but that’s kind of what makes this story so intriguing. With The Godfather‘s Michael Corleone, there were things you could connect with and respect about the man, despite his crimes. In Once Upon A Time In America, you don’t really have moments with these characters that humanizes them all that much, in fact it does just the opposite of that. I can see where that might be bothersome to some people but we also live in a world where people saw Walter White from Breaking Bad as some sort of hero.

Once Upon A Time In America also shines in regard to its visual components. It’s a period piece that covers different periods, all of which come off as authentic, even if the city sometimes looks more like it was shot in Europe (some of it was) than truly being Depression Era New York City. But the sets and the location shooting all worked well and this picture boasts some incredible cinematography. It should be very apparent to fans of Leone that he’s taken what he’s learned making fabulous movies and found a way to perfect it, in a visual sense, even more with this, his final picture.

There’s not a whole lot I can pick apart about the movie, other than the pacing being slow. But again, it’s not a painful slow and it certainly isn’t full of pointless filler and exposition. Every frame of this movie needs to exist. But maybe take some breaks or just approach the film like you’re binge watching a short season of a TV show.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Sergio Leone’s other films but this has a lot in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather films.

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: Dark City (1998)

Release Date: February 27th, 1998
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O’Brien, Ian Richardson, William Hurt, Bruce Spence, Melissa George, David Wenham

Mystery Clock Cinema, New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes, 112 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“First there was darkness. Then came the strangers. They were a race as old as time itself. They had mastered the ultimate technology. The ability to alter physical reality by will alone. They called this ability “Tuning”. But they were dying. Their civilization was in decline, and so they abandoned their world seeking a cure for their own mortality. Their endless journey brought them to a small, blue world in the farthest corner of the galaxy. Our world. Here they thought they had finally found what they had been searching for.” – Dr. Schreber

Dark City wasn’t a very successful film, upon its release. However, it has gone on to have a large cult following and deservedly so.

It is directed by Alex Proyas, the man who gave cinematic life to 1994’s The Crow, which is still the best film in its franchise. With this film, he teamed up with David S. Goyer, who penned the scripts for The Crow‘s first sequel, as well as Blade, which wasn’t yet made by the time that Proyas read it and decided to bring Goyer on to help write this project. It was a pretty good marriage, as Dark City is an incredible experience, overall.

This is a sci-fi neo-noir in a similar vein to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil but it is almost dark enough to be a horror picture. Plus, it has some pretty cool monsters in the alien race that serves as this villains of this story, the “Strangers”.

Dariusz Wolski handled the cinematography. He also worked on The Crow with Proyas and also had Romeo Is BleedingCrimson Tide and The Fan under his belt. His visual style was pretty consistent with what he did in The Crow but it was even darker and had a vivid richness with his use of neon and colorful lighting to accent the scenes.

The story follows a man (Rufus Sewell) who wakes up, not knowing who he is. We soon discover that he is wanted for the murders of several prostitutes in the city. Nothing is what it seems though, as the man has run-ins with the “Strangers” and discovers that he essentially has superpowers. He is assisted in solving his own mystery by his wife (Jennifer Connelly), a detective (William Hurt) and a strange scientist (Kiefer Sutherland). There is a big conspiracy that drives the film and it is uncovering the mysteries of the strange city they live in that leads to a fantastic narrative payoff and a great finale.

Dark City is visually stunning and impressive from a technical standpoint. It didn’t have a hefty budget but the effects of a moving city, more than a decade before Christopher Nolan did it in Inception, are well orchestrated and executed. All the other visual effects may look a bit dated now but they still work well within the context of the film. It’s a strange universe where Dark City takes us but it looks magnificent and has held up pretty well.

This is one of my favorite films of the late 1990s. It is effective emotionally and it sticks with you. In fact, it has stuck with me in a way that I’ve always hoped for a sequel, even if it’s a literary one. Proyas created an interesting world that needs further exploration. I’m surprised it hasn’t been revisited, actually.

I love Dark City. It’s dark, it’s bizarre, it’s unique and it’s my cup of tea. Plus, it is a real throwback to film-noir even if it is set in a futuristic sci-fi universe: a place that is hard to explain without spoiling important plot details.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Release Date: June 28th, 2017 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, Martin Starr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Evans, Paul Rudd, Jennifer Connelly, Hannibal Buress, Kenneth Choi, Selenis Leyva

Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“You need to stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.” – Aunt May

For lack of a better word, Spider-Man: Homecoming was amazing.

While it isn’t a perfect film, it is the best that any of the Avengers related properties have produced in awhile, minus the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Finally, we get a Spider-Man that looks and feels the appropriate age. Tom Holland was magnificent and a perfect choice to play Peter Parker and thus, Spider-Man. Tom Holland brought something special to the role and he was the first actor to truly feel like the Spider-Man of the comic books.

Bringing Spider-Man into the bigger universe that has already been established by Marvel was long overdue and thankfully, the famous webslinger fits right in. The chemistry between the young Holland and veteran Robert Downey Jr. was uncanny. I hope we get to see them come together more often in the future, even if Downey Jr. feels like his time as Iron Man is winding down. Ultimately, even if Avengers: Infinity War fails to deliver like its two predecessors, at least these guys will make it fun. Assuming they aren’t an afterthought with all the heroes that are getting squeezed into that picture.

Michael Keaton stole the picture, though. He played the villainous Vulture but only went by his real name: Adrian Toomes. It was cool seeing him play the bad guy and it was a stark contrast to him being the hero in the Tim Burton Batman films from 1989 and 1992. He was chilling and bad ass and was the best on-screen villain for Spidey since Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin back in 2002. Keaton may have surpassed Dafoe overall but Dafoe was just pure intensity and a maniac, which worked really well for his character, fifteen years ago.

We also get other appearances by other Marvel characters. Jon Favreau returns as Happy Hogan, in his first appearance since the solo Iron Man films. Gwyneth Paltrow also makes an appearance as Pepper Potts. We even see Chris Evans in some really funny cameos as Captain America.

The film also gives a few small roles to some of my favorite people from television. Silicon ValleyParty Down and Freaks & Geeks‘ Martin Starr plays a teacher. Other teachers are played by Kenneth Choi from Last Man On Earth, Selenis Leyva from Orange Is The New Black and Hannibal Buress.

The plot of the film benefits from not being an origin story. Spider-Man already exists with his powers and how he got them is just casually mentioned and then the movie moves on. Everyone already knows the story, just like any future Batman films don’t need to show Bruce’s parents being murdered.

The movie is about Peter Parker becoming a hero. Not just a masked vigilante but truly learning and understanding what it takes to be a real Avenger. There is friction and tough love from his mentor Tony Stark and for good reason. This picture is really Spider-Man’s training wheels. It is his first big test to see if he has what it takes to stand alongside Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hulk and the others.

Everyone in the film did well with their roles. The story was entertaining and there was a good balance between action and the coming of age drama that fans can expect from a Spider-Man story. It doesn’t get bogged down in the romance side of things and Parker isn’t chasing either Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane in this version.

There is a good twist in regards to his romantic relationship in the film but that relationship is just used to add a bit more weight to the bigger story and the emotional and heroic development of our beloved main character.

Spider-Man: Homecoming may fall a bit short for some when compared to the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies but I think it stands above them. It is more genuine and closer to the roots of the comic series, especially the old school stories. Plus, seeing him enter into a larger universe opens a lot of doors for what’s next for the spectacular wall crawler.

Also, comic book fans will probably be happy to see cameos from villains the Shocker, Scorpion and the antihero Prowler.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Labyrinth (1986)

Release Date: June 27th, 1986
Directed by: Jim Henson
Written by: Dennis Lee, Terry Jones
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly

Henson Associates Inc., Lucasfilm Ltd., TriStar Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

Thanks to Flashback Cinema, I got to relive the theatrical experience of Labyrinth for the first time since I saw it at seven years-old.

The film is a classic of children’s cinema and also one of the coolest things that Jim Henson did, even though everything Jim Henson did was beyond cool. It was also produced by George Lucas and Lucasfilm just after they became household names with the original Star Wars trilogy and a few Indiana Jones movies.

The film also stars a very young Jennifer Connelly in the role that first introduced her to the boys that fell in love with her in the 1980s. It also stars messiah-like space alien David Bowie, who has never not captivated audiences in anything. Bowie literally is a god but we saw him downgraded a bit here to the role of goblin-ruling wizard or Jareth, the Goblin King. But when your goblin army is made up of Jim Henson Muppets, you may actually surpass your status as a god.

While the film is fantastic for all the right reasons, thirty-plus years later, it does feel quite dated. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but I don’t feel as if it would be effective for the children of today’s film market. It’s not the children’s fault but when everything they have been brought up seeing is CGI festivals of gigantic proportions, it is hard for something like Labyrinth to compete with that.

However, it does greatly excel at fun, creativity and heart and those are the keys to unlock a child’s imagination. It is hard for me to say how it may effect kids, as no one in the theater was a child. My experience watching this now, involved sitting in a dark room with other people in their thirties. It would have been cool to gauge a child’s reaction to the film on the big screen because I know how it effected those of us in the 80s.

The film is well shot and the cinematography is mostly pretty good. There are sequences that don’t look great, however. The scene with the Fireys didn’t necessarily look good at the time the film was made and it looks even worse now, as the imperfections are much clearer when the mind can’t help but compare it to films today. There are also scenes were you do see puppet strings, which weren’t as easy to hide in 1986. All thing considered, the strings never bothered me though; I know that this is really just a puppet show and it doesn’t really take you out of the magic of the film.

Despite the talents of Bowie and Connelly, the acting isn’t superb. Granted, this is one of Connelly’s first big roles and she was very young. Also, Bowie was playing it up for the subject matter but was still alluring and mesmerizing as Jareth, the Goblin King. The real issue with the acting probably falls more on the script and the directing of Jim Henson, who is more a maestro of puppets than human beings.

With Labyrinth, the postives far outweigh the negatives and it isn’t a film you see for superb acting and pristine cinematography. It is a film about imagination and fun. It accomplishes what it sets out to do and it is still a worthwhile experience.