In the vein of Field of Dreams Astronaut Farmer is about building the seemingly impossible. Thankfully in this case it’s simply a rocket in the barn not a ballpark in a cornfield where ghosts of baseball heroes past can play the game. That is a bit far-fetched. Instead we meet Charles Farmer (Thornton) a man who was once on track to be an astronaut but was forced to leave NASA to save his family farm. He still wants to go into space however and so sets out to build a rocket inside his barn. By the time the movie starts the rocket is pretty much put together so we aren’t burdened with how he gets his supplies. All Charles needs now is 10 000 pounds of fuel which shoots up a big red flag with the government--a government that now considers Charles a threat--while the media look at him as a big story. But no matter the odds nothing can deter Charles from his dream to break through the atmosphere and orbit the earth. It’s refreshing to see Thornton as a loving father who wants to inspire his kids rather than make them go get him another beer. Of course Charles Farmer isn’t all sweetness and light—he’s an obvious eccentric whose obsession to launch into space effects the entire family—and it’s definitely a role right up Thornton’s alley. Virginia Madsen does an admirable job as the loving and supportive wife who nonetheless puts her foot down when things get out of hand while Bruce Dern plays the grizzled but equally supportive father-in-law. There’s also a supportive lawyer played by Tim Blake Nelson. In fact besides the big evil NASA chief (J.K. Simmons) and two bungling FBI agents (Mark Polish and Jon Gries) everyone supports Charles in his crazy dream. How could he fail? From the writing-directing team of Michael and Mark Polish (Northfork) Astronaut Farmer is pure old-school—an unassuming throwback to those feel-good movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s. In fact Thornton told Hollywood.com he considers this his “Jimmy Stewart” movie. While the Polish brothers based Charles Farmer on their own eccentric father and obviously harbor their own boyhood dreams of being an astronaut the guys still follow a nice and simple formula finding some good actors to carry it out and adding cool visual effects when they can. Yes the more cynical moviegoer may look at Astronaut Farmer as completely improbable and trite. But those willing to be taken back to a simpler time--when movies were about walking out triumphant--should find watching Astronaut Farmer a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
As a legendary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) was all heart and no regret. But it all comes undone in the span of one night when he goes out to the menacing seas with his crew to make a rescue and he is the sole survivor. Following that fateful night he’s ordered to teach at “A” School--a demotion for a man of his stature and seniority--an elite training program that helps turn the best recruits into the best Rescue Swimmers. Randall teaches the cocky students the only way he knows how and his tough tough love is initially met with skepticism by his fellow trainers who think of him as a has-been. But one student in particular Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) catches his eye and draws his ire. Fischer is cocky hotheaded and highly skilled--just the right pedigree to make a great Rescue Swimmer and a lot like Randall was at his age. Randall rides him extra-hard while Fischer only hopes to one day be in the same boat as his mentor. Be careful what you wish for Jake! Costner's always been an acquired taste--sometimes a downright noxious one on first bite--but there's no denying he slides right in here. Roles that feature him as the aging provider of wisdom are now his true calling and the sooner he accepts it the better. And even still Costner gets to flex his action muscle a bit. As for Kutcher the only thing he shares in common with Costner is the last two letters of his last name--as actors these guys are each other’s antitheses! And in a weird way they strike a nice chemistry because of it one that is borderline exciting to watch. As a standalone actor in The Guardian Kutcher is a bit misplaced and seems to know it. He nails the physicality of the role but while the character's attitude and brashness befit Kutcher the peak dramatic scenes with Costner leave something to be desired. A pleasantly surprising turn from relative unknown Melissa Sagemiller (The Clearing) as Kutcher's girl toy and reliable supporting performances from Sela Ward and Neal McDonough round out the cast. Director Andrew Davis' proximity to his career peak The Fugitive cannot be measured in time: He's a lot further away from the mega-hit than a mere 13 years. But in Hollywood if you have a Fugitive under your belt you'll never run out of chances to replicate it. That's the current juncture for Davis--one last shot at Fugitive glory...till his next last shot. It's hard to say what The Guardian will do at the box office but Davis' stodgy direction doesn't necessarily help its chances. The movie can be boiled down to awful pacing: the first and last 15 minutes are high-octane action and everything in between is low-octane Top Gun (the non-action scenes!). That blame belongs to Davis and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff. But only Davis can shoulder the other flaws such as a single scene of dubious camerawork--filmed to look like handheld-montage style completely deviating from the movie's context--and the special effects during the somewhat cheesy action sequences which may remind you of a theme-park tour during which you learn how they filmed a boat scene...in the '80s!
Based on a series of six Marvel Comics created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in 1962 The Hulk revolves around a scientist named Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) who following a laboratory snafu absorbs a normally deadly dose of gamma radiation. Bruce thinks he has escaped unscathed--until he gets mad ... real mad which causes him to turn into a huge rampaging green monster known as the Hulk. In order to make this 40-year-old gamma theory somewhat more believable for today's science-savvy moviegoers screenwriter James Schamus and his team decided to arm the script with a somewhat more convincing scientific rationale. The story follows Bruce's father David Banner (Nick Nolte) who as a young scientist conducted prohibited genetic experiments on himself thus changing his son's life before he was even out of the womb. While modernizing the scientific reasoning behind Bruce's transformation makes sense it's a pity it had to be done in such a heavy-handed way. By adding such an elaborate layer to the story The Hulk becomes more about Bruce and David's tormented past and any semblance of a plot is buried in melodramatic dialogue between the characters. The result is a comic book adaptation that is much too serious for its own genre.
Despite the theatrical discourse don't expect complex characters to emerge from The Hulk. Although Bana (Black Hawk Down) is a good choice for the lead of the nerdy scientist and reluctant hero his character is so busy pretending he doesn't have any problems that the audience never gets to see his emotional side. Bana's character grimaces convincingly as he represses his anger for example but he fails ever to open up on a personal level to his love interest in the film his co-worker Betty played by Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). Betty is Bruce's old flame but the two are obviously still in love: she is obsessed with fixing whatever is broken about him. As the Hulk Bruce need only look at Betty once for his anger to subside and allow him to morph back into human form. They have weighty discussions about the significance of their dreams and Bruce's past yet they never seem to connect on any level. One of the film's best performances comes from Nolte (The Good Thief) in the role of Bruce's mad scientist father David. Almost Shakespearean at times Nolte--scraggly hair and all-- completely immerses himself in the role. The cast's performances however are muted by the general heaviness of this would-be actioner. Look for quick cameo appearances by Lou Ferrigno (from the 1970s TV series The Incredible Hulk) and Marvel legend Stan Lee.
For his follow-up to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Ang Lee has turned to bigger greener matters. The Hulk the director's visual effects-intense picture (with a little help from Industrial Light & Magic) is stunning and startlingly well done. The green beast's computer generated movements from his heaving chest to the single leaps that spring him well into a different zip code are convincingly real. Not only does the ground shake when this goliath lands but his momentum even throws him off balance at times sending his lumbering arms flailing. But while the CGI Hulk has been meticulously honed Lee's homage to the world of print comic books--using multiple screens to present concurrent storylines and alternate angles of the same scene--is off-putting: Rival researcher Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) suspiciously walks out of the lab Betty reacts in one panel Bruce sits back in another. The simultaneous screens don't necessarily show anything pertinent going on making the far and wide close and medium shots of the character's reactions a distraction rather than a helpful storytelling technique. But the most disconcerting thing about the film is that in its leap from the four-color paneled pages to the big screen it lost its wit.
Jodie Foster's played an English schoolteacher, an FBI agent and a rocket scientist. Now she'll stretch further as a one-legged nun in "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys."
Reports today say the two-time Oscar winner has agreed to play a supporting role in the $15-20 million film for Initial Entertainment Group. She'll also produce.
Shooting's scheduled to begin May 1. Commercial director Peter Care will helm the script by Jeff Stockwell and Michael Petroni. Based on Chris Fuhrman's novel, the story's about a group of Catholic youths who get caught drawing an obscene comic book. Next, they outdo themselves by planning a heist that will make them legends.
NOW, STOP ASKING! The speculation is over. (Really.) Steven Spielberg has officially said thanks but no thanks to Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" -- the planned big-screen adaptation of the insanely popular "Harry Potter" kids' books. Although Spielberg never actually was on board, a London Times report (and lots of subsequent media coverage) indicated that the movie was high on his to-do list. With Spielberg out of the picture, new names being tossed around include Robert Zemeckis, Chris Columbus and Brad Siberling.
IN THE RING: And the winner is ... "The Insider's" Michael Man, who will coach Will Smith to boxing glory as Muhammad Ali in the Columbia biopic "Ali." The project, which has been in development for eight years, could start shooting in July for a summer 2001 release, Hollywood trade papers say. The script by "Nixon's" Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen Rivele covers the boxer's early days as Cassius Clay, his rise in sports and politics, his refusal to fight in Vietnam and his comeback bouts against Joe Frazier and George Foreman.
BACK IN 'BLACK': While he waits to become Ali, Will Smith will don the suit and ray gun again to star in the Universal Studios Florida attraction "Men in Black Alien Attack." Complete with monitors, ride cars, 30-foot bugs (but minus crusty ol' Tommy Lee Jones), the interactive adventure allows Agent Jay (with a little help from Rip Torn) to save the day -- and start prepping for the next episode. The ride debuts in April.
'TROUBLE' AHEAD: Attempting to put "Wild Wild West" behind him, director Barry Sonnenfeld has signed up for Disney's "Big Trouble." The ensemble comedy's set to begin shooting this summer in Miami, which means Sonnenfeld's out of the loop for Warner Bros.' "The Ugly Truth," a starring vehicle for ex-sweethearts Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow.
OUT FOR BLOOD: Look a little closer at "American Beauty's" Wes Bentley, and check out his molars. The hot supporting player might get the call of the wild as lead vampire Lestat in Warner Bros.' "Queen of the Damned," based on Anne Rice's novel. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bentley would take over the role played by Tom Cruise in 1994's "Interview with the Vampire." This time, Lestat's a rocker whose tunes turn on the Queen of all vampires. He's also chased by a vampire hunter who's smitten by his bloodcurdling ways.
DECK THE HALLS WITH LAUREN HOLLY: Lauren Holly's set to complete the threesome in Paramount Pictures' "What Women Want." According to The Hollywood Reporter, she'll star opposite Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt in the romantic comedy that begins shooting this week. Directed by Nancy Meyers, it's the tale of a male chauvinist (Gibson) who suffers a freak accident that gives him the power to read women's thoughts.
NOT WILD FOR 'JUMANJI 2': Ken Ralston, the special-effects wizard responsible for the F/X in the first "Jumanji," has decided not to play with the animals as director on "Jumanji 2." Unlike the action-packed kids' pic, The Hollywood Reporter says the long-awaited sequel wasn't moving fast enough for Ralston, who parted on good terms with Columbia Pictures.