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The Astronaut Farmer
The Astronaut Farmer
Actors: Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Bruce Dern, Max Thieriot, Jasper Polish
Director: Michael Polish
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama
PG     2007     1hr 44min

All systems are "Go" for Charles Farmer. He's faced bank foreclosure, neighborhood naysayers and a government alarmed by his huge purchase of high-grade fuel, but now he's ready to blast into space inside the homemade rock...  more »
     
     

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Movie Details

Actors: Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Bruce Dern, Max Thieriot, Jasper Polish
Director: Michael Polish
Creators: Mark Polish, Michael Polish, Geyer Kosinski, Jonathan Sheldon, Len Amato
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama
Sub-Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama
Studio: Warner Home Video
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen,Widescreen - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 07/10/2007
Original Release Date: 02/23/2007
Theatrical Release Date: 02/23/2007
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 1hr 44min
Screens: Color,Full Screen,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 19
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English, Spanish, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

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Member Movie Reviews

Dana M. (DanaM71) from FORT MOHAVE, AZ
Reviewed on 5/1/2010...
I enjoyed it a great deal.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Andrea W. (pummpie) from KELSO, WA
Reviewed on 12/7/2009...
Good Film
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Heather F. (8izenuff) from PHOENIX, AZ
Reviewed on 11/20/2009...
I loved this movie, it is well done and very believable for the most part. The message is moving, all the characters are enduring, even the towns folk. You may want to keep this one and not pass it on.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Susan D. from STATESBORO, GA
Reviewed on 1/28/2009...
Lovely family story. Well acted. Good solid entertainment. Recommend to all.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.

Movie Reviews

This "Farmer" Has A Dream
thornhillatthemovies.com | Venice, CA United States | 03/07/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Let's take a quick look at a couple of key elements of the new film "The Astronaut Farmer", starring Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Bruce Dern and Tim Blake Nelson.

Charles Farmer (Thornton) and his family live on a farm in a small town called Story, Texas. Farmer has dreamed of traveling into space and now uses the family's large barn to build a spaceship called The Dreamer. He has managed to convince his wife, Audie (Madsen) that he can do this. His son, Shepherd (Max Thierot) helps him build the spaceship and will presumably run mission control. Their two younger daughters are basically the cheering section and provide Farmer with a reason to live the dream.

Okay, so right away, "The Astronaut Farmer" has various telltale signs of a fantasy film or a tall tale. Charles Farmer, a farmer, lives in Story, Texas and builds a spaceship called The Dreamer. Clearly, "The Astronaut Farmer" is not a true story, a story based in reality. It is a fable, a story of dreamers, of hope. And a darned good example of this, a very good film for every one of all ages. Please go and see this film. It needs your support.

Written and directed by the Polish Brothers, Mark and Michael ("Twin Falls, Idaho", "Northfork"), you can see influences from each of their previous films in this new title. "Twin Falls" told the story of conjoined twins, played by the Polish Brothers, who fall in love with the same woman. A strange, but interesting film telling a unique story. "Farmer" has strange, but interesting elements combined into a very personal, almost beautiful story about a family pulling together to fulfill their dreams.

This strange film is surprisingly moving and effective. As soon as we meet Farmer, we realize he is a man with a dream, a dream he has spent years trying to achieve. The rocket is both a metaphor and a tangible result of this dream. He wouldn't have been able to do this without the support of his family; his wife, Audie works a day job at the local diner to earn money trying to keep the family afloat, his teenage son, Shep, clearly idolizes his father and is just as committed to the dream, and their two daughters run around, the younger girl mimicking everything her older sister says. This is a tightly knit family working towards a crazy, maybe unbelievable goal. But Farmer's enthusiasm makes it real, and the filmmakers allow us to join the story near the completion of the space ship. We see that he is almost done with the craft, making it a tangible thing. Because we see it, we are more apt to believe it. And Farmer is such a forceful personality; he makes us believe he can build a spaceship after years of studying. He is so forceful in his enthusiasm we don't even question where or how he got all of the equipment or the money he needed to construct the vehicle. At one point, he tries to buy some fuel and finds out it will cost $50,000. He goes to the bank to get a loan on the farm, but they won't loan him any more money.

The filmmakers smartly include a bit of reality into the story. Farmer receives a notice from the bank and meets with the bank president. The town is so small, there is one bank and Farmer and the president know each other. We learn Farmer inherited a lot of debt from his dad and struggles to make the payments. It doesn't help the future astronaut spends most of his time and money on the craft, bringing in little (if any) revenue from the farm. They are seriously behind and may lose the family home. This sets up a `ticking clock' for Farmer. He soon realizes he has to launch the spaceship before the bank has a chance to foreclose. As soon as he launches, everything will be all right. He has no doubt. Once he achieves his dream, everything will be all better. And, if Farmer has a dream, his feelings are so infectious we share the dream.

"Farmer" also stays true to the landscape, rural Texas, and shows the flat, dusty, sun beaten landscape in a beautiful, unique way, much like "Northfork", about a rural town preparing for an inevitable flood, to provide a new municipal water source. Story is a small town and all of the inhabitants have lived there forever, everyone knows one another and the businesses and buildings have seen better days. When Charlie is ordered to get a psychiatric review, he is sent to the school nurse (Julie White), a former girlfriend who holds a grudge. When the U.S. Government holds an inquiry, it takes over the school auditorium.

As soon as Farmer's dreams start to penetrate, and the date of the launch draws near, everyone posts banners and signs proclaiming Charlie Farmer is an inhabitant of the town, they are proud of their native son, Charlie eats here. When the news media arrives, they camp out at the Farmer farm, a beautiful homestead on a lake, with a large barn. At one point, Farmer stands on a small rise and surveys the rest of the farm, at dusk, watching his cows roam the prairie. In this way, the film uses the landscape as a character; helping to invoke both the small town feel of the surroundings and adding to their characters.

"Farmer" isn't perfect. A third act plot point strains credibility and threatens to derail the story. It is clearly included to ratchet up the suspense and create more drama, but it makes Farmer seem a completely different person; a man who has followed his dream for this long would never take such a chance. Thankfully, this is a relatively brief moment and the film soon returns to the story we were once promised.

The acting is universally good and adds a nice, folksy element to the story. Thornton is quiet and reserved, but infectious when discussing his dreams. Farmer is a Texas native and it would seem out of place if he went around hugging people and introducing himself to strangers. In a small town like Story, there are no strangers. That would also seem strange. Madsen is very good as his supporting, loving wife. She doesn't mind working to help make ends meet but only becomes alarmed when she learns of the family's true financial status. She seems to be more hurt because her husband didn't confide in her. Max Thierot is very good as their teenaged son. He doesn't have time for the normal teenaged influences; he has to help his dad build a spaceship. Bruce Dern plays Audie's dad, who lives with them and dotes on the grandkids. He adds a nice folksy feel to the story. Tim Blake Nelson plays Charlie's friend and lawyer, who helps defend him when the government comes to make an inquiry.

"The Astronaut Farmer" is a really good film about a family who lives a mutual dream, bringing them together, making them closer and more loving. Charlie Farmer has such an infectious, moving dream, it is all but impossible to become involved in and share the same dreams.

This is a film that needs your support. It tells a moving story and is very well-made. Yet the film had a terrible opening weekend and it already being pulled from some theaters. Show Hollywood that you have an appetite for films like this. Give it your support. Before it's too late and the multiplexes are filled with yet another sequel to "The Hills Have Eyes" or "Norbit"."
Barn Burner
Interplanetary Funksmanship | Vanilla Suburbs, USA | 05/21/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"A man wearing a spacesuit rides horseback across the sand dunes of a barren desert. He moves right-to-left, which spells trouble in movies' silent language. There, he finds a calf that has strayed from its mother, lying in the sand. With a firm but gentle hand, he returns the lost beast to the herd.

It's a scene whose incongruous visual elements reminded me of the 1968 sci-fi thriller Planet of the Apes. But this isn't some spaceman marooned in a strange place; it's the movie's earthbound hero, a Texan named Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton). A graduate of the University of Texas aerospace engineering program and one-time member of NASA's astronaut program, Charlie left the space agency decades ago to run the family ranch after his father's untimely death. Yet, through all the years of operating the ranch and raising his own family, he hasn't let go of his dream of defying gravity.

In his barn, Charlie works obsessively, day and night, to build a rocket that may help him realize his dream. He models it after 1950s-era Atlas missiles, using salvage parts he buys on the cheap from rocket graveyards. His supportive wife, Audie (Virginia Madsen, enjoying a rewarding second wind onscreen), and their three kids get caught up in the daily up-and-down drama of his quest; indeed, his first-born, son Shepard (Max Thieriot), was named in honor of the first American in space, Alan Shepard.

However, their neighbors in the farm community regard Charlie as the town oddball, a frustrated man going through a bizarre mid-life crisis. There's even an ongoing bet among the locals as to whether he "will ever go up, or blow up." When he attends show-and-tell at his daughter's elementary school in his spacesuit, her teacher humors him: to spur the kids' imaginations, "we need more parents willing to dress up." Foremost among Charlie's woes: to finance his idea, he's gone into hock for over a half-million dollars to the local bank, and they're about to foreclose on his ranch for delinquent payments.

What I like about Thornton's portrayal is that it actually justifies the townsfolk in pigeonholing him as a square peg. A quixotic figure with a bit of a mean streak (when he receives a foreclosure letter, he throws a brick through the banker's plate-glass window), he reminds me a little of Anthony Hopkins's quirky Burt Munro in The World's Fastest Indian. But, when push comes to shove, Thornton recalls Burt Lancaster in so many of his tough-guy Western roles.

When Charlie forwards his flight plan to the FAA in anticipation of his expected launch, government officials dismiss him as a crank. But when he attempts to purchase high-grade liquid rocket fuel, he opens a can of alphabet soup: the FBI, CIA, FAA, NASA, and a host of other agencies descend upon his ranch to stop him. Even the local Child Protective Services closes in when Charlie decides to home-school his kids and draft them into his "space program." In typical bureaucratic fashion, the CPS agent diagnoses the children, long-distance, as "brainwashed and violated," and threatens his wife: "It's about time you take charge of your family before someone else does it for you."

A visit to his lawyer makes Charlie more aware of the pressure the government intends to apply. "With the Patriot Act," the attorney tells him, "they can do whatever they want if they think it's a threat to homeland security." He advises Charlie to "embrace the media, invite them in for your protection." Next, an astronaut from the old days (Bruce Willis, in an uncredited role) shows up to try to talk his eccentric friend out of his scheme. "They don't let civilians into outer space, they let astronauts into outer space," he says. We then learn that he's been sent at NASA's behest, because if successful, Charlie's shoestring-budget launch could embarrass the space agency, which needs to defend its multi-billion-dollar budgets.

Eventually, Charlie defends himself before a meeting of federal officials in words that express the aspirations of the lone creator against the regulatory state and the pessimistic mindset:

It's not your right to tell me whether or not I can launch into space.... I know we have laws; we've got all kind of laws. We've got more laws that tell us what we can't do than anything else.... You see, when I was a kid they used to tell me that I could be anything I wanted to be. No matter what. And, maybe I am insane, I don't know, but I still believe that. I believe with all my heart. Somewhere along the line, we stopped believing that we could do anything, and if we don't have our dreams, we have nothing.


Soon after, in a fit of desperation, he launches his rocket, using an unstable kerosene-based fuel mix. It leads to disastrous consequences, but...

Well, I don't want to give away the ending. Let's just say that The Astronaut Farmer isn't just a "feel-good movie"; it's a preposterously "feel-good movie." Its plot has to be taken with a grain of salt, but then, so does movie popcorn. I don't go to the movies to bask in the mundane or to nitpick at continuity errors; I go to be entertained, perhaps even enlightened. And the Polish brothers tell a highly entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking tall tale.

In a way, I found The Astronaut Farmer almost as predictable as Pan's Labyrinth, also reviewed in this issue. However, it's one of those unbelievable flicks that you can truly believe in, because its creators take the preposterous seriously. That, and an expertly suspenseful buildup, makes all the difference. Somehow, they were able to take the plot of the forgotten Andy Griffith 1979 TV movie Salvage One, seize the theme of Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream, mix in cinematic references to John Ford Westerns and Apollo 13,and yet make it all jell. The movie's only real drawback is an undistinguished soundtrack.

Credible acting enhances the story's credibility. Billy Bob Thornton brings to the role of Charlie his quiet, idiosyncratic, yet steadfast demeanor. For her part, Virginia Madsen exudes a natural warmth and unflagging conviction. The supporting actors are well-cast, too, including sisters Jasper and Logan Polish as Charlie and Audie's daughters; Bruce Dern as Audie's cantankerous, aging father; and J.K. Simmons as the gruff FAA official who keeps setting up bureaucratic roadblocks in Charlie's path.

What I most enjoyed, however, is that The Astronaut Farmer is a great family movie, as entertaining for the kids as it is for their parents. One of my earliest childhood memories is from late one night in July 1969, when I was four years old. My father woke me up and took me to the living room television set to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Lately, I've been thinking that perhaps I'll never get to share a moment like that with my own son, who will soon turn two--that in his lifetime, man may never again set foot on the moon, let alone walk on Mars.

After watching Billy Bob Thornton's unwavering, "can-do" performance for almost two hours, however, those dim prospects somehow seem to grow a little brighter."
GOOD UPLIFTING FILM BUT, NOT TOTALLY ABSORBING!
! MR. KNOW IT ALL ;-b | TRI STATE AREA | 02/12/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I watched this movie this weekend and I expected it to be a little better than it turned out. It's a good movie with fine performances all around. It just didn't pull me in like I wanted it to and it seemed a bit long even though it's only a little over a hour and a half. It's certainly worth watching and it does have an uplifting ending so you may want to rent instead of buying it."