Tag Archives: Jennifer Connelly

The Rocketeer (1991, Joe Johnston)

Joe Johnston never getting recognition for The Rocketeer astounds me. Johnston creates a perfect adventure film, a now neglected and abused genre. Additionally, Johnston never fetishizes the historical setting. The late 1930s, Nazis as villains setting is practically its own genre at this point (strange how after a half decade, there are so few choices of undeniable evil for storytellers to use–well, at least ones white Americans would care about), but The Rocketeer never lets it get goofy. Johnston lets other, familiar trappings of the era (at least as it’s celebrated in film)–the radio, the friends at the cafe–take precedent. The Rocketeer puts more stock in California oranges than the more sensational possibilities.

And this emphasis is in a film featuring the FBI teaming up with the mob to shoot it out with Nazis in the middle of Los Angeles.

Past Johnston, the beauty of The Rocketeer is in the script, which is odd, given the screenwriters’ other work. The film starts gradually, with a beautiful flight sequence (James Horner’s score, again highly derivative of his other scores, is essential and wonderful). Having Alan Arkin helps, the script’s still responsible for immediately establishing the characters. Only during the first forty-five minutes of the film is it unsure… it’s good, but it isn’t fantastic. The big problem is the attention given to Jennifer Connelly. She’s the girlfriend and she’s kind of there. The Rocketeer makes an odd choice of introducing she and Bill Campbell’s relationship to the viewer when it’s on shaky ground. And the viewer doesn’t know it’s on shaky ground.

And here again is where The Rocketeer is strange. That instability agitates the plot until all the elements meet–not a revolutionary process, but in The Rocketeer it isn’t about set pieces, it isn’t about melodrama, it’s about actual human concern. The film’s enthralled by the idea people care about each other and it’s infectious.

Eventually, Connelly becomes a leading lady. I was entirely unimpressed with her as the film started and the exact opposite when it ended. It’s kind of a cheat, since the viewer gets to see her become that lead. Connelly’s transition kicks off the film’s third act, which is the finest adventure film act I can think of. It’s absolutely perfect, doesn’t make a single wrong move.

Campbell’s good in the lead–making the goofball dreamer real while still endearing him. He and Connelly are great together (better as the narrative progresses and a sequel with them as leads would have been lovely). Arkin’s fantastic, he and Campbell have some great scenes. Terry O’Quinn’s also good as Howard Hughes. Where Campbell really succeeds, coming in a practical nobody with some (supporting) TV experience, is maintaining himself as the lead when he’s got to contend with Timothy Dalton. As the villain, Dalton’s incredible. In anything else, he would walk away with the picture.

Dalton gets a lot of help from the script–there’s stuff in here I couldn’t believe I was hearing under a Disney Pictures banner. The script’s got some great dialogue and a lot of Disney-unfriendly one-liners. Dalton gets almost all of them. But the script’s also got a lot of discrete sensitivity and some wonderful little details.

I was concerned with The Rocketeer, not having seen it in ten years and the film’s online supporters waning in recent years. Even with the strong filmmaking, the narrative seemed troubled. It never occurred to me it might just be a real script.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Johnston; screenplay by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, story by Bilson, De Meo and William Dear, based on the graphic novel by Dave Stevens; director of photography, Hiro Narita; edited by Arthur Schmidt; music by James Horner; production designer, Jim Bissell; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Charles Gordon and Lloyd Levin; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Bill Campbell (Cliff), Jennifer Connelly (Jenny), Alan Arkin (Peevy), Timothy Dalton (Neville Sinclair), Paul Sorvino (Eddie Valentine), Terry O’Quinn (Howard Hughes), Ed Lauter (Fitch), James Handy (Wolinski), Tiny Ron (Lothar), Jon Polito (Otis Bigelow), Eddie Jones (Malcolm the Mechanic), William Sanderson (Skeets), Don Pugsley (Goose), Nada Despotovich (Irma) and Margo Martindale (Millie).


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Hulk (2003, Ang Lee)

Hulk had a huge box office drop-off after its opening weekend–wow, almost seventy percent. It’s actually somewhat lucky, because I’d have thought people would have gotten up and walked out of the theater. The Hulk doesn’t show up until about an hour into the movie and doesn’t do anything interesting for another half hour after the first appearance. There’s a lot of angst in the first couple Hulk appearances, before it finally gets to him fighting tanks and such. The tank fights and the helicopter fights and the Hulk jumping all over the place–those scenes Ang Lee does all right with. The Hulk doesn’t look “real” in any of the close-ups, but given how unbelievable the acting is from the principals… ILM’s Hulk by far gives the film’s best performance.

The worst performance is–just because it’s so absurdly easy–Josh Lucas. I don’t remember him from anything else, but his big business scientist seems to be an homage to… Himmler, maybe. The actor is bad, nothing else. For all the pseudo-angst Lee and James Schamus drown Hulk in, they don’t mind one of their principal characters being shallower than a piece of newsprint. I think they even gave Lucas extra blue eyes, though I’m not sure why… It’s a horrific performance, but the terrible writing contributes.

The other two–primary–terrible performances are Jennifer Connelly and Eric Bana. Bana hurts the most, since he’s the ostensible lead (it’s really Nick Nolte). Either Bana was on tranquilizers the whole time or mastering getting rid of his Australian accent also removed all animation. Connelly–for the first half–acts with her hair. Once they change the style, though, look out. She’s incapable of doing anything realistically. A big problem with Hulk seems to be casting actors who think the project is crap. Both Bana and Connelly are abjectly disinterested in their performances.

Sam Elliot’s also bad, but that one’s not particularly surprising.

Once again, Nick Nolte shows off just what he can do with a wacky, crazed role and turns in the film’s most sympathetic character.

Lee’s stylistic choices are car wreck interesting. For example, what were the producers thinking trusting Lee with a $140 million budget (glib answer, they weren’t). Lee can’t handle the money, but the other choices he makes–the split screens meant to imitate comic book panels (doesn’t work) or using comic sans as the movie’s font (that one should get one ejected from the DGA, if not incarcerated). But at the beginning, when Lee’s zooming in on all sorts of molecules and lab animals and doing all sorts of dumb fades, Hulk actually works as a super-budget b-movie from the 1950s (the dangers of nuclear power and all). It’s interesting to look at, interesting to experience. Of course, once the Hulk shows up, Lee flushes all that stylization (but sticks to his multi-screen thing, which seems more inspired by security cameras than comic books).

Hulk is a disaster, as the lack of a definite article should suggest, but it’s a disaster caused by incompetence. How hard is it to mess up a big green guy breaking stuff? Very easy, apparently.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ang Lee; written by John Turman, Michael France and James Schamus, based on a story by Schamus and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Gale Anne Hurd, Avi Arad, Schamus and Larry J. Franco; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Eric Bana (Bruce Banner), Jennifer Connelly (Betty Ross), Sam Elliott (Ross), Josh Lucas (Talbot) and Nick Nolte (Father).


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