"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
"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 bad...man, 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
"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