The Rocketeer (1991) Review

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It’s easy to imagine any sane filmgoer becoming tired of super-hero films, particularly film critics who have an obligation to watch at least some of them. Yet here you are reading a review of “The Rocketeer,” the 1991 adaptation of the Dave Stevens graphic novel. In an era of critically acclaimed super-hero epics, what does the quaint and dated “The Rocketeer” have to offer?

rocketeer-thumb-560xauto-28521After a shootout leaves their plane ruined and themselves broke, Cliff Sefford (Billy Cambpell) and his mechanic Peevy (Alan Arkin) stumble across a mysterious rocket engine left in their hanger by a dead mobster. Testing out the engine, they’re surprised to find it’s actually a jetpack and take advantage of their good fortune to make a little money. However, that won’t be easy with both the FBI and superstar actor Neville Sinclair’s (Timothy Dalton) henchmen after the device. Adopting the guise of The Rocketeer, Cliff sets off to protect his friends and his beloved Jenny (Jennifer Connely) from getting caught up in this chaotic war for the rocket.

It should be stated that “The Rocketeer” is little more than nostalgic action fun. That is all. It doesn’t try to be anything more, putting it’s energies into doing just that well. Besides the solid cinematography and special effects, it has an extremely tight script, with cliches being used at their finest and plot threads being interconnected fairly well. For example, Cliff’s character bit of gum chewing affects the plot at least three times over the course of the film. What really stands out, however, is the characters, being that there are some. While the main cast hits their rather flat marks well, the minor characters end up having the same amount of effort put behind them. The clever and charming dialogue leaves you with a sense of who each small character is, if not some attachment to them.

Disney-Considering-The-Rocketeer-RemakeWhile the comic played up a nostalgia for both film serials and golden age comics, the movie emphasizes the serial aspect a lot more (for obvious reasons). It’s actually one of the few times an adaptation makes a lot of sense, since it’s a return to a form the original material is based on. That being said, “The Rocketeer” only feels like an old serial, having all the maturity of storytelling that modern films have. Thankfully so, as those old “Commander Cody” shorts are hard to watch at times.

What “The Rocketeer” has to offer is simplicity. There’s no epic CGI climax, no political commentary, and no questionable content in any way. It’s not dumb or manufactured, it simply concentrates on doing the little things well. I look at “The Rocketeer” and I see so many tropes and story similarities present in super-hero films nowadays, but somehow they work better here. Perhaps it’s the acknowledgement that these things are cheesy and the humbleness of asking the audience to accept it, as compared to the assumption that the audience will accept it and presenting it flatly. “The Rocketeer” has no misconceptions of what it is and I think modern super-hero films have lost that. The makers have forgotten they’re filming silly little stories of men in tights, mistaking popularity for permission to relax. In a post-modern world you can’t present a simple good/evil story and expect a few jokes will make it clever. These stories aren’t new, we’ve been creating them for over 80 years or, according to “The Rocketeer,” at least 20 years.

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Welcome to the Space Show (2010) Review

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An old review of mine, approximately four months old, so I figured I’d finally publish it.

My Neighbor Totoro meets A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” is how a friend of mine described Welcome to The Space Show and that’s really quite the perfect encapsulation. Welcome to The Space Show is a whimsical adventure through the wonders of space, the final frontier viewed through a child’s eyes. It’s an adorable little film that has more genuine innocence to it then most of the pandering cartoons seen on TV. I would recommend it to every parent for their kids, but with some hesitation due to certain flaws. Welcome to The Space Show is a film I really wish was better than it is, and not just because I would like all films to be good. It has effort, heart, and competence behind it far beyond most other films.

Welcome to The Space Show details the journey of five kids as they make their way through space, thanks to an alien dog named Pochi, whose life they save after finding him injured in a grain field. Traveling from planet to planet, the kids hear about the mysterious and spectacular Space Show, a traveling circus that broadcasts across the galaxies. Due to unforeseen circumstances they have to take a detour to get back to Earth, but this proves to be difficult with greedy poachers after a rare Earth plant that they carry with them.

In 20-30 minute chunks, Welcome to The Space Show works extremely well. It’s technically beautiful and well made, with actual subtlety and thought put into every shot. The characters are likeable, diverse, well-developed, and learn important lessons that you want your kids to learn. You may not remember their names by the end of the film, but you will have a definite feel for who they are, if only by default of having spent so much time with them. The setting of Welcome to The Space Show represents the most innocent view one could have of a sci-fi universe, with bright colors and harmless creatures all willing to help you. It’s a film that asks you to “leave your logic at the door, and just have a little fun” and for the most part, you will have fun.

Looking at the film as a whole, however, reveals a tragically different image, as Welcome to The Space Show clumsily moves from set piece to set piece, taking far too much time to reach its end goal. The plot’s pacing only starts to pick up an hour in, and an unfortunate amount of last minute plot devices and character motivations are used to wrap up the story. Even ignoring that, the film is just too long, clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes. Despite how much fun the movie is, once you hit the hour and a half mark the movie’s length starts to take its toll. The film is a touch slower than most children’s films, so this combined with the average child’s attention span is going to detract from a kid’s enjoyment of the film.

Welcome to the Space Show disappoints, but nowhere near as much as it leaves you feeling warm inside. Perhaps breaking the film into two parts would serve as a better way to view it, but as it stands Welcome to The Space Show is tragically too long and too clunky in order to be the perfect kids film it ought to be. That’s not to say there’s no enjoyment to be had. It consistently manages to immerse you in the universe it has created, and even the most skeptical cynic will find themselves smirking and feeling like a kid again.

The Imitation Game (2014) Review

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With four of the 2014 Best Picture nominees featuring the struggles of historical figures and two specifically being the struggles of geniuses, it makes sense that Benedict Cumberbatch would star in one of said films. Cumberbatch has moved safely within his comfort zone from Sherlock Holmes to the character of Alan Turing, dubbed the “Father of Computer Science.” While Turing led a very interesting life, The Imitation Game focuses on his work cracking the infamous German Enigma code of World War II, by creating a computer to sift through the millions of possible solutions to its cypher.

In 1951 a police officer is curiously investigating a break-in at Alan Turing’s residence, only to find that all information about the man is classified. In 1939 Turing is hired to be a part of the top secret program to crack the German code, making enemies out of his bosses and colleagues immediately. Slowly he gains support and enlists several mathematical geniuses to help him, including sole female member Joan Clarke, played by Kiera Knightly. The film’s drama operates mostly on people’s lack of faith in Turing, with several scenes of him stammering out a confused defence to either his military overseers or his partners. It seems astounding that so many people of such a high intelligence can’t comprehend Turing’s rather logical plan. While not an expert on Turing’s life, it seems that this is a cliche and lacking source of drama, probably because it wasn’t one in reality.

Turing’s homosexuality would seem like the obvious choice for Oscar-worthy drama, but despite the epilogic captions emphasizing its greater historical context, it is ultimately a sub-plot. While Turing’s social ineptness and homosexuality may be the emotional heart of the film, the key scenes and major turning points all hinge on his machine. Turing himself acts as a machine, but with the aid of Joan Clarke as the one true friend he gains, Turing comes out of his emotional shell as the film goes on. It’s certainly interesting to see emotions bubble up inside someone incapable of handling them due to a lack of exposure, but it never quite emotionally resonates. Towards the end of the film when Turing’s outed and subjected to hormonal treatment, it becomes painfully clear that the emotional connection the film thought it was building up, isn’t there. Perhaps it’s the film’s emphasis on narrative and melodrama in the first two-thirds that result in its genuine efforts feeling empty. When you attach a film’s core to a machine and not a person, you’re leaving out factors in the equation, bits in the cypher, and creating a flawed and hollow result.

While smooth and comfortable to watch, easy and entertaining to digest, The Imitation Game is nothing more then a well-oiled machine. A machine pumping out a calculated and predictable result. One that imitates the genuine films that came before it, but without the key that will crack the code of greatness. If the film’s thesis of “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine,” then it is also evident that those we can easily imagine something of can do the things we easily can imagine.