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The Astronaut Farmer


Darrel Manson
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I am too, Darrel. It has the potential of being their A Straight Story. I wonder if this is in part inspired by the old Rocket Man story. I distinctly remember a short story about a guy who builds a rocket in his backyard, if anyone can cough up the reference I would be much obliged.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I don't know about a short story, but I do remember a TV series from the late 70's called Salvage 1, starring Andy Griffith as a man who builds a rocket of his own and salvages Apollo spacecraft parts left on the moon.

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
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Oh my gosh! Somone else on the planet who remembers Salvage One. I thought I was the only second grader on the planet that was in love with it.

I saw the trailer for The Astronaut Farmer and didn't realize it was a Polish brothers film until I came here. I thought it looked super-duper-cheesy, and after Northfork I am mega-bummed to see the direction they've headed.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Oh my gosh! Somone else on the planet who remembers Salvage One. I thought I was the only second grader on the planet that was in love with it.

I saw the trailer for The Astronaut Farmer and didn't realize it was a Polish brothers film until I came here. I thought it looked super-duper-cheesy, and after Northfork I am mega-bummed to see the direction they've headed.

-s.

Wow, I love when Stef and I agree on things (am I to take it you didn't like their last film?). I have a pretty high tolerance for abstract and weird, but Northfork just annoyed the heck out of me.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Having seen Northfork and The Astronaut Farmer, I am exploring the idea that the Polish brothers may be joking.

Or, if that's too crude a way to put it, I can't escape the idea that Northfork plays less an actual art film than a film about the idea of an art film, and in a similar way perhaps The Astronaut Farmer plays for me as a film about the idea of the kind of down-home inspirational drama that you would expect to win the People's Choice award at the Heartland Film Festival (if there is such an award).

I could be totally on the wrong track.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Wow, I love when Stef and I agree on things...

I disagree. :)

(...am I to take it you didn't like their last film?). I have a pretty high tolerance for abstract and weird, but Northfork just annoyed the heck out of me.

I wanted to like it. I still want to like it, in fact I want to love it. But I need to see it again in order to really evaulate both the film and my reaction to it. I do wish it had given more effort to opening itself to a greater exploring of the spiritual dimension, but I can't think of why I remember thinking this. I also remember that I thought I loved it at first but I saw it with a bunch of snotty fkaCANSAF-whatever-it-was-called critics, and around 2 am I finally caved into their prevailing points of view.

Having seen Northfork and The Astronaut Farmer, I am exploring the idea that the Polish brothers may be joking.

Or, if that's too crude a way to put it, I can't escape the idea that Northfork plays less an actual art film than a film about the idea of an art film, and in a similar way perhaps The Astronaut Farmer plays for me as a film about the idea of the kind of down-home inspirational drama that you would expect to win the People's Choice award at the Heartland Film Festival (if there is such an award).

I could be totally on the wrong track.

Maybe they've gotten too big for their britches, and with the whole brother-schtick-concept, perhaps they think that they're as cool as the Coens.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Maybe they've gotten too big for their britches, and with the whole brother-schtick-concept, perhaps they think that they're as cool as the Coens.
Yes, that is the other possibility that occurred to me, more or less.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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So is this a good film or not? I'm attracted to it in an "October Sky" kind of way. I'm hoping it's a less-schmaltzy "October Sky," or a less-professional "Apollo 13."

In case you were wondering, my name is spelled "Denes House," but it's pronounced "Throatwobbler Mangrove."
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It has the potential of being their A Straight Story.
That is definitely the idea. It even uses the name sort of eponymous titular pun on the protagonist: Alvin Straight, Charlie Farmer. (Of course the Polishes used that same trick in Twin Falls Idaho, which came out the same year as The Straight Story, so they aren't simply borrowing from Lynch. Still, as another critic pointed out, Farmer's rocket is even called an overgrown "John Deer lawn mower," clearly a Straight Story reference.)

But Lynch pulled it off and the Polishes don't, I think.

Partly because in The Straight Story Alvin Straight is a lonely old man who is as free as anyone to go on an ill-advised and foolhardy road trip on a rider mower, and God bless him, whereas Farmer's domestic responsibilities and commitments make it harder to get on board with his obsessive and irresponsible pursuit of a dream that one may reasonably feel he should have given up a long time ago.

Also partly because Straight's road trip is ultimately not for his own sake, but for someone else's, and the low-key final scene powerfully seals the deal. The Polish brothers try to sell us on the idea that Farmer's dream is ultimately good for his whole family, but ultimately it's his dream, his trip to the stars, not theirs -- if he had a different dream, hhe could just as easily have his family all dreaming together for something more attainable and less irresponsible.

Which is not to say the film isn't not enjoyable at all, in a schmltzy, unconvincing kind of way. The Farmers are happy and pleasant company for a couple of hours, and because this is the movies everything works out fine. Charlie's selfish fantasy isn't troubling in the same way as Albert Finney's egocentric tall tales in Big Fish, say, because in that story the father's dreams drove a wedge between himself and his son for most of the film, whereas Charlie's dreams bring his family together for the most part. That they're all a bit wack doesn't entirely negate this, because they're happy wack, and they love each other.

So is this a good film or not? I'm attracted to it in an "October Sky" kind of way. I'm hoping it's a less-schmaltzy "October Sky," or a less-professional "Apollo 13."
Um, no, sorry. Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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  • 2 weeks later...
So is this a good film or not? I'm attracted to it in an "October Sky" kind of way. I'm hoping it's a less-schmaltzy "October Sky," or a less-professional "Apollo 13."

I saw it today. It was pretty schmaltzy. The music was annoyingly trite. They even did those sappy flutes from time to time. The sunshine-y wholesomeness of his family was over-done. But Billy Bob is always very good. And the actress who played his wife was perhaps the most interesting character with some excellent lines.

I'm not sure how they should have played this film. It seemed to be an odd attempt at "undersatted schmaltz." But we all know that's an oxy-moron. They failed (I believe) to remain understated. The screen just dripped with sappy sentimentalism. (BTW, I never saw "October Sky." So I can't make a comparison.

I saw an actor who looked exactly like Bruce Wilis playing a NASA astronaught colonel, and I thought "But I don't recall Bruce Wilis in the credits." I stuck around at the end and didn't catch the credit for whoever it was that played that character. So I just checked IMDB.com a moment ago and it says there that he IS in this film but as "uncredited." Why that is, I can't imagine. His role was significant enough with enough screen time and enough dialogue to warrent a full credit. Anyone have any ideas why?

Also, I have seen "Salvage 1" myself and I was actively thinking of that TV show during the movie today.

My last parting remark: I am not familar with the Polish Brothers. Who are they? Are they Christians? What's their thing?

INT. HOLY TRINITY CHURCH - SANCTUARY - NIGHT

FATHER LORENZO

So now that you've told me all of this: why do you hold such a deep aversion to discussing angels?

PASTOR DAVID

Because I don't wanna get it WRONG! To stand up in front of my congregation--AND in front of God-- and screw it up! Do you hold much stock in that passage from James that says "We who teach will be judged more strictly"??

FATHER LORENZO

Yes... in fact .... I consider that one scripture to be an occupational hazard.

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Plot Device wrote:

: Anyone have any ideas why?

Maybe it was an inside joke to those who remember Willis's and Thornton's first collaboration, Armageddon, which was also an astronaut movie of sorts, and they didn't want to spoil the joke. (They also co-starred in Bandits in the interim.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Plot Device wrote:

: Anyone have any ideas why?

Maybe it was an inside joke to those who remember Willis's and Thornton's first collaboration, Armageddon, which was also an astronaut movie of sorts, and they didn't want to spoil the joke. (They also co-starred in Bandits in the interim.)

Okay. I guess that makes sense. They were trying to keep the marketing from being misconstrued then???? Didn't want to plug it as a "Bruce Wilis Flick" and wanted to keep it as a Billy Bob film instead????

INT. HOLY TRINITY CHURCH - SANCTUARY - NIGHT

FATHER LORENZO

So now that you've told me all of this: why do you hold such a deep aversion to discussing angels?

PASTOR DAVID

Because I don't wanna get it WRONG! To stand up in front of my congregation--AND in front of God-- and screw it up! Do you hold much stock in that passage from James that says "We who teach will be judged more strictly"??

FATHER LORENZO

Yes... in fact .... I consider that one scripture to be an occupational hazard.

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Plot Device wrote:

: Anyone have any ideas why?

Maybe it was an inside joke to those who remember Willis's and Thornton's first collaboration, Armageddon, which was also an astronaut movie of sorts, and they didn't want to spoil the joke. (They also co-starred in Bandits in the interim.)

Okay. I guess that makes sense. They were trying to keep the marketing from being misconstrued then???? Didn't want to plug it as a "Bruce Wilis Flick" and wanted to keep it as a Billy Bob film instead????

I'm sure that's part of it. And I believe Thornton & Willis are friends, as well. Here's Thornton's explanation from an interview:

CS: In "Armageddon," Bruce Willis is in the sky and you're on the ground. Did you get him to do this because you wanted to flip those roles, and how did you convince him to do it?

Thornton: No, it had nothing to do with "Armageddon". And I know this sounds like I'm making it up, but the truth is we didn't even think about the "Armageddon" and "Astronaut Farmer" connection until he was down there and we were actually shooting. The first scene we shot with him was the hearing with the FAA and all that. And we'd been up late. We had a great time. He came walking in wearing the blue suit, you know? And it was just like Keith David in "Armageddon," the General. Bruce was wearing the same uniform that Keith David was, and it was like "Wait a minute." And that's how we started talking about that, but the way the whole thing with Bruce happened is that they wanted a movie star for the cameo and they had a few guys on their list. It was a studio thing, not the boys, it was the studio. They knew that I knew Bruce and I said "Well you know, I can call Bruce and see about him. What do you think?" They said "Yeah call him up." I did. He loved the script and said he'd love to come down and do it.

My father and I liked the movie, though he felt the plot was a bit of a stretch. I particularly enjoyed Tim Blake Nelson's performance as the family lawyer.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Plot Device wrote:

: Anyone have any ideas why?

Maybe it was an inside joke to those who remember Willis's and Thornton's first collaboration, Armageddon, which was also an astronaut movie of sorts, and they didn't want to spoil the joke. (They also co-starred in Bandits in the interim.)

Okay. I guess that makes sense. They were trying to keep the marketing from being misconstrued then???? Didn't want to plug it as a "Bruce Wilis Flick" and wanted to keep it as a Billy Bob film instead????

I'm sure that's part of it. And I believe Thornton & Willis are friends, as well. Here's Thornton's explanation from an interview:

CS: In "Armageddon," Bruce Willis is in the sky and you're on the ground. Did you get him to do this because you wanted to flip those roles, and how did you convince him to do it?

Thornton: No, it had nothing to do with "Armageddon". And I know this sounds like I'm making it up, but the truth is we didn't even think about the "Armageddon" and "Astronaut Farmer" connection until he was down there and we were actually shooting. The first scene we shot with him was the hearing with the FAA and all that. And we'd been up late. We had a great time. He came walking in wearing the blue suit, you know? And it was just like Keith David in "Armageddon," the General. Bruce was wearing the same uniform that Keith David was, and it was like "Wait a minute." And that's how we started talking about that, but the way the whole thing with Bruce happened is that they wanted a movie star for the cameo and they had a few guys on their list. It was a studio thing, not the boys, it was the studio. They knew that I knew Bruce and I said "Well you know, I can call Bruce and see about him. What do you think?" They said "Yeah call him up." I did. He loved the script and said he'd love to come down and do it.

My father and I liked the movie, though he felt the plot was a bit of a stretch. I particularly enjoyed Tim Blake Nelson's performance as the family lawyer.

Thanks for that quote.

And yeah, that alwyer was pretty good.

For now I'm still trying to re-digest the idea of this film being meant as a farce.

INT. HOLY TRINITY CHURCH - SANCTUARY - NIGHT

FATHER LORENZO

So now that you've told me all of this: why do you hold such a deep aversion to discussing angels?

PASTOR DAVID

Because I don't wanna get it WRONG! To stand up in front of my congregation--AND in front of God-- and screw it up! Do you hold much stock in that passage from James that says "We who teach will be judged more strictly"??

FATHER LORENZO

Yes... in fact .... I consider that one scripture to be an occupational hazard.

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  • 5 months later...

Just finished watching this movie. I like some of these "down on the farm homestead movies."

On the one hand while I agree with Steven's assessment that "...Farmer's domestic responsibilities and commitments make it harder to get on board with his obsessive and irresponsible pursuit of a dream that one may reasonably feel he should have given up a long time ago." His family doesn't seem to have quite the same problem as they are the one's who do in fact jump on board (not without any doubts or reservations) with his dream. For example, why does his wife put up with the almost near loss of everything from family to the homestead to reputation? It seems that the dream (and surrounding rituals i.e. at dinner time they would play a, "I'm taking to the moon..." game" that reinforces this family dream and connectivity) is what unifies this family. As a matter of fact, in one scene Bruce Dern says, ""I'll tell you one thing. You are one fabulous father. And you know why Farmer? This man (pointing to himself) couldn't even get his family to eat dinner together. But you!--have got your family dreeeeeaaaming together."

Brandon

"God is so great and merciful that he does not require that we name him precisely. God is even willing to be anonymous for a time. Remember how God led the Three Wise Men from the East to Christ? The Wise Men did not know the God of Israel or Jesus. They worshipped the stars. So God used a star to lure them."--The Twelve Steps for Christians

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On the one hand while I agree with Steven's assessment that "...Farmer's domestic responsibilities and commitments make it harder to get on board with his obsessive and irresponsible pursuit of a dream that one may reasonably feel he should have given up a long time ago." His family doesn't seem to have quite the same problem as they are the one's who do in fact jump on board (not without any doubts or reservations) with his dream. For example, why does his wife put up with the almost near loss of everything from family to the homestead to reputation? It seems that the dream (and surrounding rituals i.e. at dinner time they would play a, "I'm taking to the moon..." game" that reinforces this family dream and connectivity) is what unifies this family. As a matter of fact, in one scene Bruce Dern says, ""I'll tell you one thing. You are one fabulous father. And you know why Farmer? This man (pointing to himself) couldn't even get his family to eat dinner together. But you!--have got your family dreeeeeaaaming together."

Yes. The only trouble is, as I noted above, "The Polish brothers try to sell us on the idea that Farmer's dream is ultimately good for his whole family, but ultimately it's his dream, his trip to the stars, not theirs -- if he had a different dream, hhe could just as easily have his family all dreaming together for something more attainable and less irresponsible."

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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My wife agreed with SDG, Farmer's dream was irresponsible and put his family at risk both monetarily and the chance of losing their father.

I won't argue this, but I will say that I think his family supported his dream voluntarily. There was obviously some debates as to how far they would go to support him, but ultimately he doesn't succeed until they decide to back him 100%. Sure, they are sacrificing to some extent their own dreams and taking a large risk, but what is more satisfying than doing exactly that for a loved one?

I was listening to John Edward's wife being interviewed today on NPR driving into work on how she supports her husband running for office in spite of her diagnosis of Breast Cancer. Surely their family, like many other political families sacrifice a great deal and take great risks for the sake of one member.

I imagine many families of artists do the same, which I assume many involved in the making of this film could relate to.

Does an individual's dream need to be put aside once they develop a family?

I don't know that the film showed enough of the gratitude Farmer should have had for his family, and while it's no masterpiece, I think it's a solid film that begins to explore the issue of familial sacrifice for the sake of one member's dream.

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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I've come to believe and trust that most individuals have the common sense on when to lay aside some pursuits (ultimately and to some large extent they are the decision makers of their own destinies and personal histories). But not only this, it is the idea that there is something bigger than the family that the family possibly fits into.

Brandon

"God is so great and merciful that he does not require that we name him precisely. God is even willing to be anonymous for a time. Remember how God led the Three Wise Men from the East to Christ? The Wise Men did not know the God of Israel or Jesus. They worshipped the stars. So God used a star to lure them."--The Twelve Steps for Christians

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  • 2 months later...

Finally seeing this, I wouold say it was better than I expected after reading reviews, but nowhere near as good as my original hope. have to call it Polish Lite. The positive is that we do get a chance to consider our choices and whetherdreams need to be mediated in the face of reality (as is also in play in Northfork), but here the face of reality just is a bit shy of comic.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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