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.
Set in 1986 Brooklyn the Berkman family is dealing with the harsh fact that parents Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) are getting a divorce. Both Bernard and Joan are writers and intellectuals but Bernard feels like he's failed when his wife is suddenly more successful as a writer with a looming book deal that challenges her ex-husband's masculinity and self-worth. The split-up is also affecting their sons 16-year-old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and 12-year-old Frank (Owen Kline) in very different ways. The older son Walt is dealing with it creatively by diving into his music. He has entered a talent contest falsely saying that he wrote a song called "Hey You"--the Pink Floyd song. Meanwhile the younger brother Frank drinks beer swears a lot and talks about his Mom's sex life. As the marriage collapses the couple deals with the painful process of splitting up households and working out where the boys are living at any given time and even how the cat gets transported from one house to another in order to be fair. The boys are a bit stressed about the two home addresses but they are more upset about the new relationships their parents are having soon after the split--Dad with his young student Lili (Anna Paquin) and Mom with their tennis instructor (William Baldwin). The boys hang onto the hope that their parents will someday unite again but things only seem to get worse. All of the performances are stellar including Oscar-caliber performances from Daniels and Linney. But just like Kramer vs. Kramer it's the little kid who steals the show. Owen Kline is the son of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates and the only acting he ever did previously was a family performance that they did in The Anniversary Party recreating a skit they often do at home for fun. Kline shows a lot of depth and humor in the role as he swears and tries to act like a big guy while rebelling against his parents and their divorce. He is obviously hurting inside and he shows a huge range of emotion as his character develops. Eisenberg an up-and-comer in the new generation of teen actors who made his mark in Roger Dodger does a find job as the older brother. Billy Baldwin makes a decent comeback of sorts as the appropriately wooden but sexy and sincere tennis instructor who never made it as a pro. The biggest disappointment is Oscar-winning actress Paquin who seems a bit wasted in a role that any actress of her age could have done. She has more of an emotional arc as the comic book character Rogue in the X-Men series than here. Even if you don't know what the squid and the whale is at the Museum of Natural History you'll know how a kid could be fascinated by the giant plaster figures of them in a constant battle as they hang from the ceiling of the museum. Noah Baumbach took this personal material which is loosely based on his own family and turned it into a psychological exploration of family dynamics. It's not as overly dramatic as a Danny Bonaduce story nor does it pander to the reality show trend but it does offer a window into the pains of a supposedly idyllic family as the parents slowly figure out they can't stand living under the same roof anymore. The writing is restrained and realistic as the couple and their kids talk around the issues that are the most pressing. There's a tender heart-tugging and combative scene between Linney and Daniels on the stoop of their brownstone which shows how they probably still love each other but in that moment know that they can never give it another go. It's impossible to know whether that's the writing the actors the direction or the fact that the director lived that real moment and knew exactly what he wanted.
Christie Brinkley is taking ex-husband Billy Joel to task over the safety of their 17-year-old daughter, Alexa Ray, after Joel wrapped his car around a tree in Sag Harbor, Long Island, last weekend. In a statement released to the press by her publicist, Brinkley said, "The seat Alexa was sitting in only hours before this latest crash was completely decimated. I'm worried about Billy, but like any mother would be, I am alarmed and concerned about my child's safety by this frightening pattern of accidents." Joel was also involved in a similar car crash last June in East Hampton, whereupon he checked himself into a substance abuse and psychiatric center for treatment of depression. Sag Harbor officers insist Joel was not DWI, although he was not tested.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might want to give him an honorary Oscar, but Peter O'Toole doesn't want to take it--at least, not just yet. Variety reports after AMPAS announced Monday the intent to salute him, the 70-year-old veteran actor wrote an open letter to the organization saying that while he was "enchanted" by the gesture, he is "still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright," and asked the Academy if it would "please defer the honor until I am 80." Academy president Frank Pierson intends to award the actor anyway, saying in his own letter to O'Toole, "As to being 'in the game,' nobody ever thought you were out of it. The award is for achievement and contribution to the art of the motion picture, not for retirement."
In more Oscar news, the deadline for submitting Academy Award nomination ballots ends at 5:00 p.m. Wednesday. The nominations will be announced Feb. 11.
Variety reports Matt Damon will join his Ocean's Eleven director Steven Soderbergh once again to star in The Informant, based on a book by New York Times investigative reporter Kurt Eichenwald. The real-life story focuses on Mark Whitacre, a high-level mole who wore a FBI wire for two years to uncover corrupt dealings and prize-fixing scams at the corporation Archer Daniels Midland, the self-declared "supermarket to the world." ADM pleaded guilty in 1996 and paid a $100 million fine.
Product placement is the name of the game. According to Variety, Heineken beer bottles featured in Miramax Films' upcoming View From the Top, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, had to be digitally replaced with the Coors label, due to the seven-year agreement Miramax has with the beer company.
Three's Company star and television veteran John Ritter will host the first-ever TV Land Awards: A Celebration of Classic TV on March 2 and will air on the cable networks TV Land and Nick at Nite March 9. The kudos-cast will recognize TV shows that have withstood the test of time, Variety reports.
For now, the bar has been closed on Jimmy Kimmel's new late-night talk show. After a raucous premiere show early Monday, when guest George Clooney passed around a bottle of vodka and an audience member threw up, ABC execs decided to shut down a bar which served drinks to audience members, AP reports. Daniel Kellison, the show's executive producer, told AP, "They just said, 'Let's chill out on it and take it away for now' and we said fine."
Grammy nominees Bruce Springsteen and Norah Jones are among some of the artists who will perform live at the 45th annual Grammy broadcast Feb. 23 at Madison Square Garden. Others joining them include nominees Faith Hill and rapper Nelly (featuring Kelly Rowland).
OK, let's get the burning question out of the way first: No, we still don't know who the last "Survivor" is. There were five of the blockbuster show's castoffs at CBS' fall press tour, interrogated under a hot spotlight by a roomful of overly air-conditioned journalists. But a happily reunited Sonja, B.B., Ramona, Joel and Gretchen (as well as the show's executive producer, Mark Burnett) didn't budge, although Gretchen did joke, "Everybody already knows who the winner is. It would be Mr. Burnett and CBS."
We reporters tried. We crept up from all sides, seeking clues and asking about those recent reports saying that a glitch in the CBS Web site had unwittingly revealed that the winner of "Survivor" is Gervase, the quarrelsome youth counselor.
In response, CBS Television President Les Moonves announced that the network will now post the show synopses only after each episode has aired, rather than prepare it ahead of time with system blockage (rather ineffective, since a computer hacker revealed the results prematurely).
Moonves also pledged that unused "Survivor" footage won't make its way into Blockbuster stores, a la "The Jerry Springer Show." In other words, "There will not be any more naked pictures of Richard than we already have out there," Moonves says.
By contrast, the press conference for CBS' other (and less successful) reality series, "Big Brother," was one of the most heated -- and torturous. William "Mega" Collins, the first houseguest to be voted off the show, was paraded before the press, and he was less-than-charming and confrontational as usual.
But that doesn't necessarily make him interesting. After the umpteenth roundabout spiritual oration in response to questions regarding his former association with the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense, a reporter scribbled his potential headline on a notepad and passed it to another to see: "Big Bore-ther."
The rest of the press tour (aka the unreality section) was mostly humdrum, as the Eye Network trotted out the stars and producers of three new sitcoms and four new dramas. Four, that is, if you count "The Fugitive," the remake of the popular 1960s David Janssen series that inspired the 1993 Harrison Ford film. This one stars Tim Daly in the title role and Mykelti Williamson ("Forrest Gump") as the chaser.
Most of the new shows read like a TV-vet reunion party: Craig T. Nelson ("Coach") as an underdog police chief in the crime drama "The District"; Christine Baranski ("Cybill") in the weatherman sitcom "Welcome to New York"; Marg Helgenberger ("China Beach") in "C.S.I.," a drama about forensic investigators.
The others are made up of short-lived sitcom refugees: The cast of "That's Life," a drama about a 30-something college student, stars Heather Paige Kent ("Jenny," "Stark Raving Mad"); and Anthony Clark, Mike O'Malley and Jean Louisa Kelly team up for the couple-y comedy "Yes, Dear." Anyone remember "Boston Common," "The Mike O'Malley Show" and "Cold Feet," respectively? We didn't think so.
The weary press were also treated to appearances by Tyne Daly and Blair Underwood for returning dramas "Judging Amy" and "City of Angels," respectively. Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames and Bruno Kirby discussed their still-filming miniseries "An American Tragedy," about the O.J. Simpson defense trial team. And let's not forget Bette Midler, who appeared via satellite to promote "Bette," a sitcom about a diva/wife/mother.
In between, the good people at CBS scheduled screenings, served fruit smoothies and root beer floats, and threw a star-filled party, without, as they said, "the island cuisine afforded the 16 castaways."
Translation? Not a fried rat in sight.