Some movies are ahead of their time. Some movies are behind it. And then there's Joe Johnston's The Rocketeer, which was both of those things when it was first released in 1991: too retro to thrill audiences of the day, and too savvy for its innocent pre-war setting.
Bill Campbell wasn't a big enough star to pull in the crowds; Jennifer Connelly was still an unknown quantity as his impatient but loving girlfriend; villainous Timothy Dalton was being blamed, unfairly, for killing the Bond franchise. The movie sank like a stone.
Now, with 20 years of hindsight, The Rocketeer seems ripe for rediscovery.
Connelly's become an Oscar-winning star, and it's a lot harder to miss her character's intentional resemblance to Bette Page; Dalton's performance now looks, rightly, like the first step in a series of sly, self-mocking performances designed to reclaim his cool. The effects have dated in just the right way, and effects journeyman Johnston is back on top with Captain America: The First Avenger - which, curiously, reaches right back to The Rocketeer for its exuberance, its innocence and its human-scale emotional canvas.
Largely neglected by Walt Disney Pictures - which is apparently holding a grudge against the picture for being difficult to market - The Rocketeer has been kept alive largely through the efforts of nerdy fans.
The picture's West Coast fans celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this summer with a gala screening in Hollywood, but Torontonians can catch it right here this weekend, as the final entry in TIFF Bell Lightbox's summer matinee series. It screens - in 35mm! - Saturday at 2 pm.
If you're in the mood for something a little less adventurous and a little more substantial, the Projection Booth on Gerrard St. East is screening two recent films by the Japanese director Koji Wakamatsu, United Red Army and Caterpillar.
The 2007 epic United Red Army is the more ambitious of the pair, attempting to craft a moral and psychological allegory for the conditions that birthed Japan's fanatical leftist movement in the Vietnam era - and the corrupting effect that movement had on its most fervent believers, like Tsuneo Mori (Go Jibiki), who embraces violence as a disciplinary tool far too quickly. At over three hours, and following a very episodic structure, it's a bit of an endurance test at times, but individual sequences are thrilling - particularly the climactic siege at the Asama Mountain Lodge.
Made in 2010, Caterpillar is the grim tale of a soldier (Shima Ohnishi) who returns home from the Sino-Japanese War having lost his arms, legs and hearing, and the wife (Shinobu Terajima) who is expected to devote herself to his care. There's only one problem - he was a monster before he went off to war, and he's a monster now that he's returned. The couple's battle of wills forms the spine of the film, contrasted with Japan's convulsions as it slides towards the Second World War. Showtimes for both features can be found at the theatre's website.
Finally, I'd like to gently remind you all that I'll be conducting a Q&A with director Daniel Cockburn tonight at the Lightbox for his excellent movie You Are Here, which I've been championing ever since it played last year's Toronto Film Festival. Here's my TIFF 2010 interview with Cockburn; here's a more recent conversation.
Yes, we used the same picture. Cockburn would appreciate it, I think. You Are Here plays the Lightbox all week; we're doing the Q&A at the 7:30 pm screening tonight. Join us, won't you? And get your tickets for The Rocketeer while you're there.