The Incredible Hulk, and the Astronaut Farmer.  Two movies with absolutely zero in common.Except the fact that I recently watched them both.

Something strange has been occurring in my reviewing life recently:  I do a lot of movie reviews and they’re usually all mainstream movies – rarely do I review something that takes less than USD$100m, because those big money movies are what people are seeing.  And, with one notable exception (Iron Man, with an astonishingly capable performance by Robert Downey Jr), they all suck.  No, really….they’re all one big jumble of ridiculous special effects and poor acting.  It’s like every producer and director since Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park decided, “screw the actors and their acting ability.  We don’t need ’em.  Get me some monsters.  Stat!”and before you know it, you’ve got a movie that rakes in the big moolah.

And I don’t get it.  And I’m tired of it.  Stop insulting me with scripts that I could have exceeded in 7th grade;  stop blurring the line between movie and cartoon with your CGI;  and stop treating me like I don’t know what a good acting job entails.  I do.  Maybe the McDonald’s eating, mall-hanging-out-at, Bape-wearing tweens think a good film like, so needs car chases and explosions and blue-screen monsters, but personally I’m of the opinion that film studios are derelict in their one duty:  to entertain us.  It’s a misprision accomplit by men and women in power suits dictated to by bottom lines.

So;  where do The Incredible Hulk and The Astronaut Farmer come in?  Well…glad you asked.  Even though you didn’t.  Hulk, as it shall be named hereafter, is in the blue corner as the resident summer blockbuster, a continuation of the story which ended in 2003’s movie of (largely) the same name. Farmer is a small-budget effort from the makers of nothing you’ve ever heard of. These are movies similar only in their dissimilarity.

I sat down to watch Hulk not expecting too much. Directed by Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2) it was probable I wasn’t going to be subjected to the same insipid pop psychology which obliterated Ang Lee’s earlier effort. To be honest,  I expected little in the way of thrill, with much of the story being centred on the big green guy, and his escape from his own biological poison, with a pastily underdone love story as the completely overlookable sub-plot.

And, guess what? That’s what I got. A USD$140m budget gave us Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, William Hurt as General Ross and the always-vulnerable Liv Tyler as his daughter, Betty Ross. It gave us an upgrade of the CGI for the big green fella and…um…and…well, not much else.

But a funny thing happened while I was watching the movie. I began to realise, this rendition of Hulk is essentially the same movie as its 2003 cousin. I mean, it’s basically a shameless photocopy; even the continuation of the story does little to hide the fact that it’s the same story. And I really can’t speak to this enough. If you’re going to spend your hard-earned in these tight economic times, renting a DVD, you expect a little more than this. There is so little to recommend, the movie is such a whiffleball of nothingness, that I was able to go off into daydreamland and still follow the story.

Credit to Edward Norton for putting a game effort into playing Dr Banner, but the rest of the casting is shallow and uninformed. Hurt is a downgrade from Sam Elliott, and Liv Tyler lacks the depth of character portrayed by Jennifer Connelly. Only Norton really improves on his character.

Aside from that, you get Banner being chased through countries by the US Government/US military, with Betty Ross attempting to help him, while fighting her father, with whom she enjoys…shall we say a less-than-stellar relationship. The same plot, the same themes, executed with a modicum of talent and not much more. Norton gets two stars for this one. The rest of the movie gets nothing, for plagiarising the less-than-brilliant original.

I can’t even call it disappointing on every level, because I didn’t have any expectations on any level to begin with.  Just rubbish, really.

Mrs Critic rented another movie, along with Hulk;  I had one look at the cover and groaned. The Astronaut Farmer? Are you kidding me? From the cover it gives the impression of a movie so family-friendly, so lacking in edge that even the wholesome characters which occupyDisneyland would be given to dry-heaving.

Billy-Bob Thornton is on a horse, in an astronaut outfit.

Billy-Bob Thornton is Charles Farmer.

Charles Farmer is a rancher.

This rancher wants to go into space.

With a long-suffering wife and three children who adore him, Charles Farmer (Thornton) is building his dream – a rocket – in his barn.  I mean, most guys build model train sets, but not this guy, apparently. But Farmer has some problems.

In an age where space discovery is outshone in the media by Paris’ latest feud, the last thing the US government wants is a civilian putting his own personal Apollo 13 on the front page. What ensues is a battle between one man and everyone -including more government agencies with three-letter acronyms than you care to read – who stands opposed to his dream.

Now I know what this sounds like…it screams, seen me before! And in truth, you have. I used to watch third-rate Disney telemovies as a kid on Sunday afternoons, with storylines like this. But oh my word, there is something absolutely special about this movie. With a USD$13m budget, director Michael Polish has carved out a simple, evocative, heart-string-pulling gem, that had me yelling at the TV like I can’t remember doing before. When was the last time that happened to you?

It’s hard to tell what makes it so capable. Certainly the casting is inspired, with Thornton absolutely in his element as the good rural family man outrunning his past, and Madsen more than able as his better half. His three children and the endearingly uncomplicated townsfolk, together with Bruce Willis and other stereotypical bureaucrats trying to finish Farmer’s dream off, round out a deceptively competent line of performers.
The plot is kept simple and the sub-plots, short and sweet. The usual Disney-esque themes are in full force but do not drip down the sides of the movie as in similar fare. The acting and straightforward writing, the parodies of bureaucracy (the two FBI agents are f-u-n-n-y) and the gosh-darn sincerity just hold the whole thing together in a bundle of happy memories. And that’s really all it takes to keep me happy.

See, it isn’t about the CGI blue screen special effects nonsense. They look fine in music videos, but ninety minutes of them become boring. It’s not 1995 anymore and people aren’t stunned by flashbangwhizzpow computer graphics. And you don’t need forty million dollars of actors, or tanks and gunships to keep me happy. I don’t need scene after scene of one-liners, and actors who look like they’ll do anything to get back to their on-set trailer.

I just need a story that makes me feel. I don’t care what it makes me feel. I just need something sincere and honest, that doesn’t seem like it’s trying to take my ten bucks and run. And this is why I’m so cynical about movies these days – if you’ve been reading some of my movie reviews you’ll notice I rarely give movies a good rating, because they usually feel as though they’re trying to pull my money out of me, instead of pulling at my heart strings. it doesn’t take $100m to pull a person’s heart strings.

All it takes is a man in a barn, working on something he loves, looking at a blue sky outside, wondering what his future holds.

C’mon Hollywood…is that so hard?

– Das Critic writes for  and prefers to review good movies. 

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