Ad Astra Per Aspera

24-Oct-07 7:30 PM by
Filed under Reviews; leave a comment.

A movie I was hoping to catch in theaters earlier this year but have now seen on DVD is The Astronaut Farmer. I knew the movie starred Billy Bob Thornton, who I'd ever only seen in bit parts in Armageddon and The Apostle. Once the title rolled, though, I was surprised to see the film also contained an all-star supporting cast: Virginia Madsen (Firewall, Voyager), J. K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man movies), and — in a surprising and uncredited appearance — Bruce Willis as an old military buddy. By the movie's end, I'd not only enjoyed these bit parts but also come to respect Mr. Thornton as a leading actor.

The movie starts with Charlie Farmer (get it?) already deep in the throes of his obsession to obtain that which eluded him in his Air Force days: space flight. We don't know how long he's been building a spaceworthy rocket in his backyard barn, but it's only when he tries to purchase enough fuel for liftoff that the government becomes aware and suspicious of this potentially terroristic activity and intent on shutting it down. Just as discouraging are the numerous community members who see Charlie as a whacko — perhaps even a threat. Only his family supports his endeavor… but even they have their limits.

Astronaut Farmer is a fun movie about the underdog with some wonderful scenes underscoring the protagonist's uniqueness. When he's a guest speaker in a grade school classroom, the teacher compliments him on his "costume" — it having never occurred to her that Charlie is being authentic in both dress and intent. Later, when he is suspected of mental instability, the small-town sheriff sends him to the only psychologist available: the school nurse. Charlie's intolerance for this folderol is to his company's consternation and audience's amusement. A pair of sympathetic FBI agents support this light mood. (When they get a call from their superiors, be sure to listen to the ringtone!)

However, the film may sometimes strain plausibility with its bright-eyed optimism. Or maybe that's just the pessimist in me; I honestly couldn't decide whether to root for or decry our hero when he tells an FAA hearing board, "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." With all the tragedy and disappointment Farmer's had in his life, can he really still be that naive? And why can't more of us be that way? It's the same struggle played out more comically in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Perhaps all that mounting frustration is what motivates a sudden and dramatic plot twist at the one-hour mark. Or maybe it was the otherwise calm pacing of the story that the directors decided midstream needed a tweak. Either way, though disruptive at first, this thread too plays itself out by the movie's end. Farmer captures the hearts and imaginations of a nation in this tale that's by-the-book, but is sweet nonetheless and an inspirational counterpoint to my cubicle's décor — maybe I should consider replacing it:


Despair.com Potential

Security Goes to the Movies

04-Jul-07 8:59 AM by
Filed under Reviews; 6 comments.

Happy Fourth of July! Celebrate America's independence with my review of Live Free or Die Hard, currently playing at Computerworld.com.

When I gave my final draft to my editor, Angela Gunn, I expected her to contribute her extensive knowledge of computer security into an article that blended our respective opinions into a cohesive, individual voice. The end result was, in fact, two distinct voices — and is far more entertaining than anything I envisioned. Unfortunately, Computerworld.com was swamped with iPhone coverage last week, shoving peripheral articles such as this one to the wayside. It finally got published in time for the holiday movie-going crowd to appreciate.

Read the review at Computerworld.com »

Die Harderer

09-May-07 1:47 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Films, Humor; 1 comment.

Die Hard 4 — officially known as Live Free or Die Hard — comes out June 27th, heralding John McClane's escape from retirement for the special occasion of fighting Internet terrorists. His sidekick — who, for the first time in the franchise's history, is not black — is Justin Long, the television commercial personification of Apple's Macintosh.

Is it just me, or do yesterday's actors not know when to call it quits? Not only is Harrison Ford a worrisome casting choice for an aging Indiana Jones, but Bruce Willis now seems better suited to the suspense of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable than he does the barefooted action hero of two decades ago.

With Bruce Willis in the spotlight, Die Hard might not be able to survive as in the action genre. Perhaps something tamer would be more up his alley — such as the following holiday special?

To Grandma's House We Go

04-Jan-07 3:16 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 2 comments.

I recently saw the CGI animated film Over the Hedge. I'd not read the comic strip upon which it is based, but like any good adaptation, it didn't seem necessary to enjoy the film.

And enjoy it I did! Like most good animated films, it had plenty of content aimed at kids and adults alike. It was fun to pick out the well-known actors' voices, especially those not typically associated with animation, such as Bruce Willis and Avril Lavigne. Of course, one of the dangers of such top-tier talent is the difficulty disassociating them from their images. They played to William Shatner's and Eugene Levy's nicely, but I had a hard time not seeing "The Verminator" character, played by Thomas Haden Church, as akin to Lowell from Wings (or perhaps even Spider-Man 3's Sandman?).

I was a bit disappointed the film didn't have a stronger moral, though. Wikipedia suggests that, unlike the 1994 animated Japanese film Pom Poko, Over the Hedge "does not… develop the themes of environmentalism or anti-urbanization." OTOH, perhaps that's my own political beliefs viewing a missed opportunity; such may've been misplaced in "just a cartoon" (as some felt it was in Happy Feet).

In November, when I expressed a conflict between seeing Casino Royale or Happy Feet, a group of "adults" mocked me for even considering the latter, especially since I have no grandchildren with whom to see it. I'm disappointed that people are willing to judge, and thus limit themselves, art based on the medium. Something being animated does not necessarily make it a "cartoon"; just watch Richard Adams' Watership Down or Plague Dogs — as a friend of mine recently did, commenting, "I can't believe anyone would let their kids watch this!" (which she thought they would, since it's "just a cartoon", right?) Comic books, video games, Dungeons & Dragons — they too have been criticized by outsiders. Until they learn, I'll happily continue enjoying these media, while the critics don't even know what they're missing…