October Sky

October Sky is a triumph of the highest order, yet it is not a great film. It is a conventionally plotted, scripted and acted drama that rises above the cliches of the literally hundreds of films with this similar plot and for once becomes a truly uplifting, heartwarming motion picture. It’s really what cinema was meant to be.

Originally titled Rocket Boys, October Sky tells the story of Homer Hikkam (Jake Gyllenhaal) a boy born and growing up in Coaltown, West Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s. His father is a coal miner. Nearly all of the boys who grow up in Coaltown become miners. But Homer want something better for himself. Watching the Sputnik, the very first man-made satellite being launched he develops and interest in rockets. His father considers this new hobby of his a waste of time, he is determined to make his son a miner, and a damn good one at that.

So, of course, Homer strives for big things, such as winning the national science fair and getting a scholarship. And amazingly I was drawn into the proceedings. Now, being familiar with the general plot of the movie (I knew only what the trailers told me) and having seen tens of movies with a similar plot, I pretty much knew how the film was going to end before it began. And as I watched I was able to predict the next course of events, etc. But my eyes remained glued on the screen and I was riveted. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it may be because of the natural feel that director Joe Johnston brings to the course of events that take place here. It never feels manipulative or condescending. Except for a few minor lapses, it’s generally very plausible. The movie is a crowd-pleaser, for sure, but it never resorts to degradingly excessive sentimentality. October Sky is proof that even the most overused formula can work with the right approach.

The performances are solid all across the board. Jake Gyllenhaal, in a leading role for the first time is magnificent, wonderfully capturing the essense of a fed-up Papa’s Boy. Scott Thomas seems to be having barrels of fun as the scowling, degrading father, and Chris Owen is hilarious as Homer’s pal techno-geek.

As the obvious ending wrapped up, and the credits started to roll, I stood up. Only then I realized how engrossed I had been for the past hour and forty minutes. As I was putting my coat on, for the first time in years at a film such as this, I applauded.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

Snitch

Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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