The Rocketeer: Revisited

The Rocketeer revisited. In this series I re-watch a movie I haven’t seen in a long time to look at it with new eyes, and (hopefully) more experience. This time I revisit The Rocketeer.

For some reason I can’t remember much about The Rocketeer. Watching it again, I mostly recall the zeppelin at the end of the film. I wonder if I fell asleep the first time I watched it …

It’s certainly possible. Sometimes I did that as a kid on movie nights when I was bored. And re-watching The Rocketeer, I can see how that might have happened. The Rocketeer takes place in 1930’s Hollywood. The setting imbues the film with a sense of the era and it isn’t in a big ol’ hurry to get anywhere. On the surface it has pizzazz; The Rocketeer is about a struggling young pilot, Cliff (Billy Campbell), who stumbles across a jet pack that allows him to fly. Unfortunately, a lot people are pursuing that jet pack including the FBI, famous actor Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton), some mobsters Sinclair hires, the Nazis, and a hulking brute named Lothar (Tiny Ron Taylor).

But the film is more about people and relationships than it is about The Rocketeer. Like Cliff’s relationship with Peevy (Alan Arkin), who is Cliff’s friend / roommate / father figure / mentor / partner (it’s a multi-layered relationship). Peevy is a modest mechanical genius who stays up half the night making Cliff a helmet after they find the jet pack, even though Peevy thinks using the jet pack is a bad idea. The other big relationship in the film is the one between Cliff and Jenny (Jennifer Connelly). Jenny is an up-and-coming actress who is just gaga for Cliff. When Cliff takes her to the local airfield diner for the umpteenth time and one of the bumbling regulars splashes soup on Jenny’s blouse, she let’s it slide. She simply takes Cliff’s hand and makes plans for their future, saying they should celebrate at a fancier place when Cliff wins the National Flying competition.

Whatever else The Rocketeer is about, it always comes back to Cliff wanting to become the kind of man who deserves Jenny. That’s something I wouldn’t have caught when I was younger.

Here are four things I noticed when I re-visited The Rocketeer.

Westworld: The Cracks of Humanity in its Pristine World

The first episode of Westworld paints with two brushes. With the first, it carefully paints a future that is so advanced and devoid of danger that the Westworld institution is the only way people can experience excitement. As if Westworld’s simulated, rugged western frontier is somehow more alive than the real world. With the second brush, Westworld paints small, passionate strokes that threaten the precision the first brush is trying to create.

I believe the initial canvas Westworld creates in the first episode is simply the emotionless foundation upon which more and more cracks of humanity will seep into until it fractures. I think Westworld intends to have a discourse about humanity and this fractured painting is how it is going to do it.

Here are five ways Westworld tries to portray a controlled world and the cracks of humanity we see seep out.

Innerspace: Revisted

Innerspace revisited. In this series I re-watch a movie I haven’t seen in a long time to look at it with new eyes, and (hopefully) more experience. This time I revisit Innerspace.

I watched Innerspace when I was a kid and remember enjoying it. But my memory of it is so hazy I’ve been meaning to re-watch it for years.

Innerspace is about a washed up, drunken fighter pilot named Lt. Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) who participates in an experiment to shrink a submersible down to microscopic size (with Tuck in it). During the initial test, the lab is attacked by an organization who intends to steal the technology. The lead researcher escapes with the microscopic Tuck, and to protect him, injects Tuck into Jack Putter (Martin Short) a hypochondriac grocery clerk with cripplingly low self-confidence. Because Tuck’s initial test was meant to be brief, he only has twenty-four hours worth of air and the movie is a race for Tuck and Jack to work together to get Tuck back to normal size while avoiding the evil organization who is pursuing them.

The submersible has all this impressive technology, like the ability to automatically map the body’s pathways, sense location, emit electromagnetic pules and connect devices to the optic nerve and ear drums to see and hear what the subject sees and hears. What did these scientists intend to do with this technology? We never find out. I think the technology is really just a premise so we can get a movie with scenes like this:

Apparently Innerspace was originally written as a spy movie, but was re-written as a comedy when the film acquired director Joe Dante. The film still has elements of both genres, but it is a comedy first. Re-watching it revealed a lot of interesting an unexpected elements.

Here are six things I noticed when I revisited Innerspace.

Birth of the Dragon: The Art of Making Movies About Bruce Lee

Birth of the Dragon is a movie inspired by the fight that occurred between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man in 1964 (before Lee was even cast in The Green Hornet). While Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) and Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia) are central characters to the story, we follow protagonist Steve McKee (Billy Magnussen) who trains (initially) under Lee. Steve is an angry guy looking for direction, which he believes he finds under Lee’s tutelage until he meets Xiulan (Jingjing Qu), a Chinese woman who is enslaved by a local triad organization. When Steve falls for Xiulan, he looks to Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man to help him in his plot to set her free.

The best way to describe the film is that it is inspired by true events since the only universally accepted truth is that these two men did indeed fight. While there were a small number of witnesses, there are differing accounts of what occurred. Some say the fight lasted three minutes, others, that the fight lasted twenty minutes.

What actually happened will always be a mystery, but Birth of the Dragon works to show how their fight changed both men. The movie is as much about personal philosophy and growth as it is about martial arts and is part of what makes Birth of the Dragon so charming.

Here are six thoughts on Birth of the Dragon.

Snowden: Why Filmmaking Differs from Novel Writing

The Snowden movie is based on many sources, including The Snowden Files by Luke Harding, Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena, and director Oliver Stone’s own research. The two books are non-fiction accounts of Edward Snowden and the events that led to him perpetrating his smuggling and leaking of a large portion of data that demonstrated the NSA’s massive surveillance capabilities on American citizens and the world at large.

Snowden follows not only the events leading up to Snowden’s NSA leak, but also some of the aftermath of the leak as well, with Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) holed up in a Hong Kong hotel being interviewed by Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), Laura Poitras (documentary filmmaker), and Guardian Washington correspondent Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), who help break the story to the world.

When I’ve seen movies based on non-fiction books (or even fiction, for that matter) in the past, I’ve often heard people complain about the details that were left out. One friend even told me that such movies should simply be 100% faithful, event for event re-tellings of the book since the books are usually perfect.

Unfortunately, movies and books are different mediums with different capabilities, audiences, and demands. Since the movie Snowden appears to be heavily based on The Snowden Files, I thought this would be a good opportunity to look at why movies based on books are not (and should not be) completely accurate to their source or reality. (Please note: I will be discussing the film in its entirety, so, spoiler warning).