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: Dick Tracy (1990)

Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Warren Beatty
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Dick Tracy created by Chester Gould
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R. G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Estelle Parsons, Mary Woronov

Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“You get behind me, we all profit; you challenge me, we all go down! There was one Napoleon, one Washington, one me!” – Big Boy Caprice

I guess, from a critical standpoint, this film didn’t get the sort of respect that it should have. I’m not really sure why or how it didn’t resonate with some critics but Roger Ebert adored it, as do I.

In fact, Dick Tracy is almost a perfect film for what it is and I’m not sure what else anyone would want from this near masterpiece. Warren Beatty directed and starred in this and he gave us something magical and marvelous. It fit the classic comic strip to a t and truly breathed live action life into it. As great as the comic strip was, I feel like this film is an improvement on the story, the characters and the ideas of Chester Gould’s beloved creation.

Unfortunately, this great launching pad for what should have been a franchise, never got to have a sequel due to copyright disputes between Warren Beatty and Tribune Media Services. The courts eventually settled in favor of Beatty but that wasn’t until 2011. He has since talked of a sequel but there hasn’t been much movement and so much time has passed. Also, Disney had hoped that this would achieve 1989 Batman numbers but it didn’t hit that mark, even though it was financially successful.

And at least this film has its fans and, at the time of its release, the public supported the picture. Some of this could be due to the film’s immense star power, boasting a cast of superstars, or because of the awesome marketing campaign this film had – one of the best of all-time, in my opinion. Especially, the tie-in stuff they did with McDonald’s. Plus, there was that great Batman picture the previous year, which finally proved that comic book movies could be something that can be taken seriously.

The film has held up tremendously well and may actually be more visually alluring today. The use of vibrant giallo-like colors and tremendous matte paintings gave the film a real pulp comic feel that felt lived in and lively. Today, the picture truly feels like a work of art and has a visual uniqueness that stands on its own.

The picture was also enhanced by the incredible score by Danny Elfman. This is one of the greatest scores of Elfman’s long career and is very reminiscent of his work on Batman, the previous year, and 1990’s short lived The Flash television show. The score is powerful and blends well with the old timey tunes and the performances by Madonna.

Being a poppy 1930s style gangster story, Beatty tapped the Bonnie and Clyde well and cast Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard in small roles. The film was only missing Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman in reuniting the gang from that classic 1967 film.

Beatty was a fantastic lead and perfect Dick Tracy. Additionally, the rest of the cast was magnificent. Al Pacino got to be a hammy mob boss and foil to Tracy. Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice is also one of my favorite Pacino characters ever put to celluloid. Both Madonna and Glenne Headly are stellar as the leading ladies and this is just one of many roles where I became a huge fan of Headly.

The cast is rounded out by so many other great actors in smaller roles. Dick Van Dyke plays a crooked mayoral candidate, Dustin Hoffman plays the gangster Mumbles and R. G. Armstrong is the sinister mob boss Pruneface. You’ve also got cameos by James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Kathy Bates and Paul Sorvino. William Forsythe and Ed O’Ross play Big Boy’s top henchmen Flattop and Itchy. You also have the always great Seymour Cassel as one of Tracy’s cop buddies. Plus, Charlie Korsmo was cool as The Kid.

Dick Tracy is action packed and stylish but it doesn’t put that style over its substance. The narrative works, the plot moves swiftly and there is never a dull moment. Plus, who the hell doesn’t love Tommy gun shootouts in the street?

It is also worth mentioning that the character of The Blank is one of the coolest film characters to come out of this era, even if used sparingly and in the dark. Had this gone on to be a film series, it would’ve been cool seeing someone else take up that mantle or The Blank living on in some way. The character also added an interesting twist to a film that, on its surface, looks like just a straight up cops and gangsters, good versus evil, cookie cutter type scenario. The Blank added a third, unpredictable element and a noir vibe.

Dick Tracy is one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever made and it deserves more recognition today than it receives. It took some creative risks that paid off and it brought together a literal who’s who of great bad ass actors.

My initial viewing of this motion picture on the big screen is one of my fondest childhood memories. It stands alongside Batman, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original animated Transformers movie and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as one of my favorite theatrical experiences of my early life.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Stuff (1985)

Also known as: Larry Cohen’s The Stuff
Release Date: June 14th, 1985
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Anthony Guefen, Richard Seaman (jingles)
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, Rutanya Alda, Scott Bloom, Brian Bloom, Patrick Dempsey (uncredited), Mira Sorvino (uncredited)

New World Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“The name’s Mo Rutherford. They call me that ’cause when people give me money, I always want mo’.” – David ‘Mo’ Rutherford

The Stuff was a film that flew under the radar when it came out in 1985. Its theatrical release was very limited. Also, when it was released in New York City, a hurricane hit on that day and newspapers weren’t able to be delivered. Apparently, as the director Larry Cohen claims, the film had good reviews that never made it into the audience’s hands. In 2017, the film does hold a 70 percent critics’ rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

There was also probably some genre confusion about the film. While it appears to be a horror film in all its marketing material, which it is, the film is also a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the health fads of the 1980s, which saw a huge influx of “diet”-branded foods hit the market that people jumped on like hotcakes covered in crack cocaine.

I never even heard of this film until the early 1990s and I was a kid that spent a great deal of time in video stores, wherever I went. I think that most people discovered this later, as it has since developed a pretty large cult following.

One thing this film has, is pretty brilliant special effects. Different substances were used throughout the movie to represent “The Stuff”, as it moved and attacked people. The scene with a lake of “The Stuff” was done by superimposing imagery and using animation techniques. It came off great for a film from this era with a very small budget. Also, the rotating bedroom set used in two scenes of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street is used in The Stuff to recreate the same effect but instead of blood crawling up the walls, we get homicidal marshmallow goo.

The effects that were especially cool where when people’s bodies started to rip apart and ooze out “The Stuff”. The scene, at the end, where Garrett Morris’ head starts to tear apart is a fantastic practical effect and still pretty horrifying.

Now the acting is far from commendable but this picture does feature the always great Garrett Morris as well as Danny Aiello and Paul Sorvino. Also, Michael Moriarty’s “Mo” is an entertaining character.

The Stuff is a fun movie and it is hokey in all the right ways. I’d almost like to see a sequel that is sort of the reverse of this that pokes fun at all the anti-GMO hysteria and the religiously pro-organic people.

Rating: 7/10