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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Gary Houston

The Astronaut Farmer (2007)

AstronautposterThe moon landing never happened anyway. So keep on dreaming, bro.

For as long as he’s been alive, Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) has always wanted to travel to the moon. Although he was a NASA pilot for a little while, he had to step out due to personal issues at the time. Now, Charles is trying to create his own spaceship that he can launch into space. It seems like a pipe-dream, but Charles is inspired so much, that he won’t take “no” for an answer; even though friends, confidantes, and hell, even his wife (Virginia Madsen), tell him it’s impossible, he doesn’t listen. When Charles’ plans get leaked to the world wide web, eventually, as they tend to do, the FBI finds themselves getting involved. Though Charles is not, from what people know, a terrorist planning on nuking the entire Earth, the government still doesn’t want to take any chances and keeps track of Charles’ everyday comings and goings. And hell, even though Charles has got the rest of the world behind him and his journey, the government still does not want to budge. This is a challenge that Charles accepts and stands against, even if it risks his own life, as well as those that he loves and cares for so much.

Bring out the rotten tomatoes!

Bring out the rotten tomatoes!

The whole time while watching the Astronaut Farmer, I kept on waiting for the subscript to start/end the movie saying something along the lines of, “based on a true story”. Does a story about some small-town farmer creating his own rocket and trying to launch it into space sound plausible? Not entirely, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen nor that I’ve never heard about it before. Crazier things have happened in this land we call Earth, right?

But the subscript never shows up.

The Astronaut Farmer is literally an idea written by Michael and Mark Polish, which is interesting to say the least. Silly? Sure, but it’s obvious that they’re both trying to aim for that you-can-do-anything-that-you-put-your-mind-to sensibility that so many Disney films seem to rely on. Through Farmers’ own journey of trying to get into space and do what he’s always wanted us to do, the Polish bros. are trying to get us to think of our dreams and have the idea that we too can make them come true, so long as we have enough heart and inspiration deep down inside of our souls.

And this is all fine and good, but the movie never seems like it earns that feeling of absolute and divine inspiration. Instead, it’s just a really old-timey, almost-retro story that may have a heart to work with, but never seems to go any deeper than the surface. Which is kind of a shame considering that the Polish bros. debut (Twin Falls Idaho) also dealt with the same sort of strange premise in a mindful way, but also gave us more to the story than just what was presented.

Here, it just sort of feels like everything and everyone is one-note, without there being any gray area left for the audience to decipher themselves.

The only interesting aspect of this story where it seems like the Polish bros. themselves are conflicted of a certain character-trait is with Farmer himself. While the Polish bros. clearly love and adore the character of Charles Farmer, his ambition, his heart, and his never-say-never attitude, the idea that, if he isn’t successful with his trip to space and does end up dying in the process, what will he leave his family back on Earth with? Because he’s put so much gosh darn money into this spaceship, he’s already bled them dry, so what could they possibly do without him around to keep the money flowing in? Will they be left high, dry, and without a fork to use? Or will they get by just fine because, well, Charles Farmer always has a tricky plan up his sleeves?

Take a guess of which conclusion the Polish bros. come to.

"It's okay, honey. If you die, don't worry, cause we're all screwed."

“It’s okay, honey. If you die, don’t worry, cause we’re all screwed.”

Like I’ve said though, I don’t mind the simplicity of most tales, but this one in particular doesn’t seem to really concern itself with much else other than, “dude wants to travel to space and he’ll stop at nothing to achieve that”. While it would have been interesting to see a complex, almost flawed-figure presented, Charles himself is painted in such a lovely portrait, that it’s almost like they’ve could had him run for president at the end, win, create his own world where everybody and their grand-mothers are allowed to travel into space, and it would seem uplifting, smart and, above all else, believable. It’s painfully clear that the Polish bros. don’t have much of a narrative-drive to go any further and it hurts the characters so much, that even the ones who may have some sort of interesting plight to show, it just makes it seem like a waste.

For instance, Billy Bob Thornton, surprisingly playing a good-guy, does what he can as Charles, but because the dude is so blue-eyed and optimistic, it just becomes irritating. Virginia Madsen, despite her character seeming as if she initially has something interesting to say, doesn’t really go anywhere you don’t expect her to, except by her husband as he possibly kills himself in the process of living his life-long dream. And then, as her daddy, Bruce Dern shows up as the voice of reason who, you might expect to be against the idea of Charles going out into space and risking his own life, but is instead happy that he’s doing it because, as he says, “he shares the dreams with his family”.

Yawn.

The only people in this movie that I could identify with were the FBI themselves – which, for a movie such as this, is not what’s supposed to happen. The FBI, as written by the Polish bros., are painted to be these sort of big brother, negative Nancies that are always trying to get on Charles’ case and tarnish his dreams forever, but in all honesty, they have a point for thinking the way that they do. Though Charles may not be a huge threat to the government per se, there’s still something incredibly dangerous and crazy about his idea of going out into space with his own, homemade spaceship that makes it understandable why they wouldn’t want him up in the sky to begin with. This may seem like I’m thinking too hard, but honestly, the Polish bros. want us think of this as some sort of “could-happen” tale that, if someone puts their heart, mind, body and soul into an idea long enough, that it and the rest of their wildest dreams can all come true.

Yawn again.

Consensus: Though its heart may be in the right place, the Astronaut Farmer is too implausible and one-dimensional to really inspire the people that it wants to, but instead, make them feel happy that there aren’t more Charles Farmer’s trying to release DIY spaceships into the sky.

4 / 10

"Kids, don't be so scared, because Gravity was fiction. That can't possibly happen to anyone."

“Kids, don’t be so scared, because Gravity was fiction. That can’t possibly happen to anyone.”

Photos Courtesy of: Superior Pics

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Fargo (1996)

Can’t ever get enough of hearing the term, “You betcha!”

A car salesman (William H. Macy) is in a tight pinch for money and needs it as quick as humanly possible. His solution? Hire two criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife for ransom, so that he can get the money from his very wealthy father-in-law and split it with the two criminals. Everything seems to be fine for the three and going according to plan, until people show up dead due to some tragic consequences. That brings pregnant police officer, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), to the scene where she ends up figuring out just what is shaking all around her sweet, little town of Fargo.

Before I go on any further and lose more and more friends, family, fans, and confidantes than I already know I will, I just want to state this right away: I liked this movie. I can’t argue against the Coens’ artistry as writers, or as directors; the film is always entertaining, no matter how many times I actually do view it (fourth or fifth by now). That being said: It is a tad overrated.

Yup, I know. Bring on the boos.

It’s okay though. It’s exactly what I expect by now, seeing as I’ve had this opinion for as long as I can remember. And it isn’t because I enjoy going against the societal-norm because it makes me look strong, hip, and cool; it’s more just that this movie has never really charmed me as much as it has done so to everyone else.

Hey woMAN, nice shot.

Hey woMAN, nice shot.

That said, there are some little pleasures to be found in this nearly hour-and-a-half movie that still surprise me to this day. First of all, it’s the relaxed-tone of this movie that really does it some justice, as the Coens seem to throw us little, itty, bitty details every once and awhile. Just by the way in which a character looks, or does, or says something, gives you the slightest hint about what we’re supposed to think about that character, and this small town of Fargo, with its sometimes quirky, residents.

In fact, this is probably where the Coens win the most brownie-points from me, as it shows that these guys clearly love these characters they’ve created, and rarely ever pass judgement on them. Sure, they’re a bit ditsy and sheltered from the rest of the world, but they’re still happy with that. It doesn’t make them bad or good people – it just makes them people, who also just so happen to live in a place that’s very far from what some consider the “idealistic landscape to live in”. However, that’s just some people and their opinions, man.

Even two despicable human beings like the characters played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare would easily be the most evil, unlikable fellows in the whole movie, and yet, there’s something about them that still keeps us away from hating them. Maybe moreso in the case of Buscemi’s character, as he seems like a guy who just gets his job done, does what he has to do, acquire his money and live a simple, carefree life like he’d done before, but even with Stormare’s character, there is still something about his quiet-demeanor that draws us to him. That’s probably what also drew the Coens to him so much in the first place, but it works more for us, as we are the ones who have to make up our own minds about these characters, and whether or not we choose to sympathize with any of them.

William H. Macy’s character is clearly the one who we find the hardest time caring for, but even his little quirks make us like him, if only for the faintest of reasons. As for Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson, well, we love her for being just about the opposite of these previously mentioned guys: She’s a simple, lovely and delightful lady that expects the best out of humanity, and only wants to bring happiness to the world. That set-in-stone idea that she has about the world around her gets tarnished a whole lot once she realizes that there’s some actual ugliness out there, and yes, it’s found its way into her own, safe little world that she’s made for herself. It’s hard not to feel sorry for her when she sees everything wrong and terrible about what this world can offer, but that’s what also makes it her so damn human in the first place, despite her small quirks here and there. It’s easy to see why McDormand won an Oscar for this role, as she steals the show just about every time, which was not an easy-feet, considering the talent she had stacked-up against her.

And of course, I could even say that the whole mystery itself still surprises me every once and awhile, all because certain plot-points make a bit more sense now, than they ever did before. That may be less of an attribute to this movie, and more to the caffeine I drank before watching this, but it’s something to still note regardless. The Coens love their characters and what makes them who they are, but they also still love themselves a little twists, a little turns, and better yet, a little bit of blood to be shed, all in the name of some cold, hard crime. These are the guys I’m comfortable with seeing make movies for the rest of my natural-born life, but more importantly, I would love to see them continue with the thriller-genre, and seeing how many times they can put their own creative-spin on it.

But now, here comes the time in my review where I lose all of your love and adoration, and get down to the simple fact, which is: Yes, I think Fargo is a bit overrated.

First and foremost, my problem with this movie isn’t that I’ve seen it so many times that I know everything that happened right from the get-go; in fact, that’s terribly false. There’s plenty of movies I’ve seen many more times than I can probably count, that still remain my “favorites”, even if I know every twist and turn that’s coming around the bend, all because I’ve seen said movie more than a couple of handful of times. But that’s not the point – the point is that with Fargo, I feel like every twist and turn is suitable into what gets a rush out of the viewer so much when watching it, and it just doesn’t hold-up on repeat-viewings, like so many movies I re-watch do.

Doesn't know if the wife he wanted kidnapped is dead or alive. Oh, the everyday  man's crisis.

Doesn’t know if the wife he wanted kidnapped is dead or alive. Oh, the everyday man’s crisis.

There’s small, little tidbits that are worth noting that made me smile because I didn’t notice them once before, but after awhile, I started to realize that there was maybe something a bit too odd when it came to the plot’s-structure. I love me some Steve Park, but his role/subplot Mike Yanagita, an old-friend of Marge’s, could have easily been written-out and the movie would have not suffered one bit. Sure, it’s another instance of the Coen’s making weird characters that they love, but it doesn’t do much for the movie except take us away from the actual crime on our hands; the same crime that Marge herself is investigating.

And I get it, I really do – the Coens like to do this sort of thing where they all sorts of different strands of plot that they are able to weave together somehow, through someway, but I just didn’t feel like it worked so well here. At the end of the day, when the people who deserved to be gone, were gone; the crime has been solved; justice has been served; and some life-lessons have been thrown around, I wondered: What was the point? Maybe this is just a personal problem I have with this movie, but once that anti-climactic ending came around, I had a hard time feeling wholly satisfied. Instead, I just ended my fourth or fifth-viewing of Fargo as I’ve done with any other viewing done before: It’s good, but that’s pretty much it.

Sorry, friends, family and whomever else may actually care. I truly am. Please take me back. Please!

 Consensus: Though the Coen’s clearly have a love for their characters, their story and all of the twists they throw into the plot, Fargo still doesn’t do much for me as a movie that has me thinking for days-on-end.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Smart idea, except for the fact that ALL OF THE SNOW LOOKS THE SAME.

Smart idea, except for the fact that ALL OF THE SNOW LOOKS THE SAME.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net