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"The Astronaut Farmer"

Directed by Michael Polish.
Written by Michael Polish and Mark Polish.
Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Tim Blake Nelson and Bruce Willis.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  2/1/07


You would think that seeing almost 20 movies at Sundance would have slowed my roll now that I'm back in the world, but nope--I still can't turn down free movies, even ones where I have no idea what the film is about.

And, since the star and writer/directors of "The Astronaut Farmer" were going to be in the house tonight for the screening, I figured, what the fuck?  I've got metro cash to burn!  Billy Bob Thornton and the Polish Brothers were in town to promote their new film, which follows--you guessed it--a farmer who wants to get to space (Thornton), and to do it, he has literally built his own rocket in the comfort of his own backyard.  With the help of his loving wife (Virginia Madsen) and his three jovial children, this new-age space cowboy is going to make the magic happen...even IF the bank is about to foreclose on his home thanks to $600,000 in debts and the fact that he needs $50,000 in rocket fuel in order to get up into space.

Thornton told the audience before the film that he made "The Astronaut Farmer" as a tribute to the films he watched as a kid; whimsy tales like anything by Frank Capra are the model for his new drama/fantasy, because he felt he wasn't seeing films like this normally come across his table.  As such, "The Astronaut Farmer" does do interesting things as a dreamer vision, one where anyone can reach the stars if they have the technical know-how to build their own spaceship and skirt the laws established by the FAA (represented here by J.K. Simons as the head of the FAA, and Bruce Willis as a former astronaut who advises Thornton's character to walk away from this dream).  As a PG-rated family film, I think that Thornton has accomplished his goals; it doesn't get bogged down into much detail about how a guy with no cash might turn into an overnight sensation by having this sort of outlandish dream, and it sticks to the script of being a role model for your family and your community by making this whacko a stand-up guy.

None of the performances here knock your socks off, but I don't think that was ever the intention here, despite having a surprisingly stellar cast for a film that has flown low on the radar thus far.  It moves a bit too fast for its own good; seriously, the sequence that takes us from "that guy's got a rocket ship in his backyard barn" to "Jay Leno is taking potshots at my dream on his late-night talk show" is lightning-fast...some buildup would have been nice here.  The first liftoff sequence is very poorly done; it's not so much the special effects as it is another case of the film moving too fast for its own good; audiences have to see a progression, for crying out loud!

But, in general, "The Astronaut Farmer" is an interesting film, a bit of a throwback, a safe pick for hangin' out with your grandparents.  Kudos to Thornton for doing something mainstream yet still a little different.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09