Sunday, May 16, 2010

F This Movie! - The Rocketeer

Alex Lawson returns (with a new and improved mic) to gush over Joe Johnston's 1991 superhero effort The Rocketeer, the state of comic book movies and the sad decline of Jennifer Connelly's otherworldly hotness.

Download this episode here. (48.1 MB)

Email F This Movie! at fthismoviepodcast(at)

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  1. Finally got to hear this podcast after watching THE ROCKETEER on 2/2/13, my new-to-me movie for that day. I actually laughed out loud (belly laughs almost) when Patrick mentions that Paul Bettany basically screwed the warmth and humanity out of Jennifer Connelly ('I know he, Paul Bettany, did it...' :-P). Problem is I was in the middle of a crowded KFC during Couchgating and everyone turned around to look at the guy with his back to the TV showing the game laughing to himself while standing in line. Or, as I like to call it, any given Sunday. (boom!)

    I know Alex loves this movie so I'll thread lightly. SFX is dated but for the time it holds up pretty well in a retro-charming sort-of way. When it works "The Rocketeer" takes off and it's on fire (bad puns alert!). The supporting cast, production design (a warm-up for the real deal in "Captain America") and villain are as good as you can ask for. Alan Arkin, Paul Sorvino (as a 'PG' gangster?!), Terry O'Quinn, Jon Polito and even Jennifer Connelly (who looks like she could have starred in a 1930's picture) all acquit themselves admirably. It's Timothy Dalton that makes "The Rocketeer" special though, doing for it what Treat Williams does for "The Phantom" (also set in 1938): breath life into an antagonist you both want to see more of, miss when he's not on screen and actively enjoy rooting for his eventual demise.

    That said, my favorite scene in the entire "Rocketeer" is when Eddie Valentine and the G-Man exchange a glance as they're machine-gunning the Nazi soldiers at the observatory. It's so cliche now for movies and TV shows to have the good and the bad guys cooperate against a common enemy, but that scene (along with the classic Valentine line, which I won't repeat here because it should only exist within the movie's universe) makes the twist feel not only feel believable but earned, which some flicks with similar plots fail at.

    What keeps "The Rocketeer" from fully taking off are (a) the pacing issues that Patrick talked about in the podcast (whenever Cliff takes off the backpack/mask the movie literally goes limp and only picks up when either Sinclair or Rocketeer comes back on-screen) and (b) Billy Campbell. In an action movie in which Howard Hughes invents a jetpak, a movie star is a high-level Nazi spy (and ends up creating the 'Hollywood' sign) and flames don't roast Cliff's butt as he's flying it says something that the scene of Campbell (OK, his character Cliff) setting foot in a Hollywood movie set is the one moment that struck me as the most preposterous and fantastic. The dude is a vacuum of charisma at the center of a movie he stars in and is the lead, which is more evident whenever Billy's in a scene together with Connelly or Dalton (or both, heck, anybody) and he shrinks before our eyes EXCEPT when he's wearing the mask. Then he (Campbell) disappears, and "The Rocketeer" is awesome. If Batman and Iron Man are the superheroes whose civilian alter egos are way more interesting than the masked one's (like Mike says in the 'Favorite Superhero Movies' podcast) then Rocketeer has to be the complete opposite, all because of Campbell's charisma-free leading man chops. Then again, he got to make out with Jennifer Connelly so in the end Billy wins at life. :-)

    Overall, good and fun time watching "The Rocketeer" as part of the Twitter Film Fest. Shame the Blu-ray has no bonus features whatsoever, they'd go a long way to put the movie's fantasy into enjoyable geek context.

    1. PERSONAL ASIDE: I bumped into Jennifer Connelly, literally, 11 years ago at the then-new Tribeca Film Festival during the theatrical premiere of the restored extended edition of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly." I was walking backwards looking for a bathroom and, without seeing, bumped against another person I hadn't seen, really hard. I turned around and a very pregnant (7-8 months) Jennifer Connelly is standing in front of me. I apologized profusely and she smiled, said 'watch were you're going next time' (words to live by, I know) and walked away. As gorgeous as she looks on-screen, even in an empty hallway and pregnant, she looked just so damn pretty and movie star-like in person. I'll never forget that face for as long as I live, and this coming from someone that's no great fan of her work. Did I mention I love living and working in NYC? :-)

  2. Oh man, I was drinking from my beverage when Alex said "I don't mean to offend any gays or Nazis who are listening" and it almost came out my nose. Curse you, Mr. Lawson, and your natural sense of humor!

  3. Recently listened to this "Rocketeer" episode and was surprised that a couple of horror fans didn't know the source of the Lothar character, which was of course modeled on the real life actor Rondo Hatton. Unlike Tiny Ron, Hatton required no prosthetics -- that was his actual face and build.

    Hatton is known for playing a minor Universal monster, "The Creeper", in three movies from 1945 to 1946. I know him from one of these - "House of Horrors" - a pretty decent little flick which was included in one of the horror/SF packages sold to TV in the 50's and 60's which were played on countless afternoon matinees and Fri/Sat late shows when I was growing up (I'm a Boomer and a Monster Kid).

    I'm not sure I've actually seen either of the other two Creeper flicks, the first of which is also a Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes number - "The Pearl of Death".