Film Review: ASTRONAUT (USA 2019)

Astronaut Poster
Trailer

A lonely widower battles his family, ill health and time to win a competition for a golden ticket to space.

Director:

Shelagh McLeod

ASTRONAUT belongs to the genre of old-fart films where the protagonist is a senior and has to come to terms with age and usually makes good, be it in romance or achieving ones final goal in life.  Thankfully, it is the latter.

The protagonist is 75-year old widower Angus (Richard Dreyfuss) who lives with his daughter’s family.  His son-in-law, Jim (Lyriq Bent) convinces the daughter, Molly (Krista Bridges) to move Angus into a retirement home.   His life seems over; he feels worthless and alone.  But Angus’s long extinguished dream is reignited when an exciting national competition is announced.  The prize is one golden ticket for a trip to space!   Way past the age limit at 65, he doesn’t have a chance.  But spurred on by his grandson, Barney (Richie Lawrence) Angus fudges his birthdate, and enters the competition.  Against all odds, he must battle against prejudice, ill health, and win the contest.  Angus discovers too that the rocket is not safe, being a civil engineer.  A subplot requires him to tell the organizers of the problem but no one would believe an old man.

The film’s best parts is surprisingly nothing to do with his space trip.  It is his realization that he has to move and adapt into a retirement home.  From the looks of the home, it is quite attractive, spacious and grand and I doubt that anyone including myself (when I am old, of course) would mind staying there.  One feels for Angus.

The film features a mixed raced family, husband (African American) and wife (white), something much more common in films these days.

The film’s subplot concerns Angus Stewart’s family. The son-in-law has loses his job for standing up for his principles.

ASTRONAUT is in part another Richard Dreyfuss vehicle.  For those who remember, Dreyfuss won an Academy Award for his role in THE GOODBYE GIRL primarily for the scene where he made audiences cry when he played an actor realizing in his dressing room how bad his performance was as a crippled Hamlet.   Dreyfuss plays a senior inches in ASTRONAUT and it was not that long ago when audiences saw him as a teen in AMERICAN GRAFFITI and in the other space film, Steven Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.  

The other performance worthy of mention belongs to Native Canadian (born on the Six Nation Reserve in Ontario, Canada) Graham Greene (best remembered in THUNDERHEART) who plays  a fellow resident  of the retirement home.  He is to given much to say but still makes a screen presence.

ASTRONAUT is McLeod’s first feature and it shows.  The film meanders from being a family conflict drama and a space adventure while not satisfying either.  The one thing going for the film is Dreyfuss’ performance.  Dreyfuss had at one time turned into the most annoying actor on the planet, but his controlled acting here shows the actor this best when he was in films like JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE GOODBYE GIRL and THE BIG FIX.

The film has a odd tacked on sort-of happy ending that could have been better though of.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bE1Nw5pEqL8

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1977 Movie Review: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, 1977

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, 1977
Movie Reviews

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban, Lance Henriksen
Review by Steven Loeb

SYNOPSIS:

Cableman Roy Neary is one of several people who experience a close encounter of the first kind, witnessing UFOs flying through the night sky. He is subsequently haunted by a mountainlike image in his head and becomes obsessed with discovering what it represents, putting severe strain on his marriage. Meanwhile, government agents around the world have a close encounter of the second kind, discovering physical evidence of otherworldly visitors in the form of military vehicles that went missing decades ago suddenly appearing in the middle of nowhere. Roy and the agents both follow the clues they have been given to reach a site where they will have a close encounter of the third kind: contact.

REVIEW:

In the early days of science fiction movies, beings from other planets were often used as a symbol of fear and destruction. During the Red Scare of the 1950s, aliens were often used as a representation for the invasion of Communism. They came, they saw and they destroyed everything in their path. By the late 1970s, though the Cold War was still going strong, the Red Scare was long over, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) had improved relations between the United States and Russia, leading to a reduction in the number of missiles that each country would be allowed to keep in their arsenals. It seemed that the two super-powers might be coming toward some kind of resolution to their decades-long war; of course this would not actually happen until more than ten years later. Nevertheless, if there is one film that shows a prevailing optimism in the direction that the Cold War, and the world in general, was taking at the time, it was Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the third film directed by Steven Spielberg.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the story of a small town electrician named Roy, played by Richard Dreyfuss, who experiences a seemingly random encounter with a UFO. After the experience, Roy becomes obsessed with aliens and UFOs. His behavior becomes extremely strange and erratic, including drawing the same mountain over and over. When he is unable to explain his behavior to his wife, she leaves him, and only then does he realize that he is drawing Devils Tower in Wyoming, the site where the UFOs are about to make contact with humans. As he races to get there, the government, having made a list of people who will be allowed to visit the aliens, apprehends him. After being questioned, Roy is added to the list, the aliens return the numerous people who had been abducted over the years, Roy and the others on the list enter the spaceship and are taken away to make contact with the friendly aliens.

Close Encounters was a film that Steven Spielberg had been working on for almost a decade by the time it was finally released. After shopping the film around, Spielberg was finally able to sell the script, and get creative control of the project, following the massive success of Jaws (1975). Based on a story he had written as a teenager, it is one of the few scripts for which Spielberg gets full writing credit, even though the script went through numerous changes and numerous other writers worked on different drafts of the story. Despite the contributions of other writers, in many ways, this is the first real Spielberg film, as this is where he began to incorporate themes that he would use in many of his later films, some of which reflect his own life and would come to define him as a director. This is the first of Spielberg’s films to depict an unhappy marriage; Spielberg’s own parents had divorced when he was a child and he often incorporates broken families, or single parent homes, in his films. Roy and his wife have a tempestuous relationship to begin with, and they see their marriage become even more strained as a result of Roy’s obsessions, ultimately leading to the collapse of their relationship. Spielberg would use this theme most famously in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), a film about a lonely boy who finds friendship with a lost alien. Spielberg’s films also often incorporate the themes of wonder and child-like innocence, seen here as Roy enters the spaceship at the end of the film. Though he is unsure of what is going to happen, he is excited and awed instead of afraid. This motif was used again in the Indiana Jones movies and, perhaps most successfully, in Jurassic Park (1993).

Close Encounters was the second collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss, the first being Jaws two years earlier. Dreyfuss, who had first gained fame for his role in American Graffiti (1973), became a major movie star after Jaws. In 1978, he became the youngest actor ever to win the Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Goodbye Girl (1977), though this honor has since been surpassed by Adrian Brody.

Unfortunately for Dreyfuss, at the peak of his success, he developed a serious drug habit and, after crashing his car and being arrested for cocaine possession in 1982, he was forced to enter rehab. He was eventually able to resuscitate his career, going on to receive a nomination for Best Actor for Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995). After Close Encounters, Dreyfuss and Spielberg would work together one more time in Always (1989), a film that is widely considered to be one of Spielberg’s worst movies.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a huge success, both critically and at the box office. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including a Supporting Actress nomination for Melina Dillion, playing the mother of an abducted child, and Spielberg’s first for Best Director; the film would walk away with two Oscars, for cinematography and sound editing.

close encounters.jpg

Film Review: THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ (Canada 1974) ****

duddy_kravitz.jpgDirector: Ted Kotcheff

Writers: Mordecai Richler (screenplay), Mordecai Richler (novel)

Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Micheline Lanctôt, Jack Warden

Review by Gilbert Seah

 It has been a long spell (thanks to its recent restoration) since the Canadian classic THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ got a release again on the big screen. The film is the autobiography of the author, Mordecai Richler based on his best selling novel of the same name.

The film is the story of Duddy (pronounced doo-dee) Kravitz (Richard Dreyfuss), a brash, restless young Jewish man growing up poor in Montreal, Canada. His taxi driver father Max (Jack Warden) and his rich uncle Benjy (Joseph Wiseman) are very proud of Duddy’s older brother Lenny, whom Benjy is putting through medical school. Only his grandfather (Zvee shows the motherless Duddy any attention. But Duddy rises the ranks.

There is a scene in which an old Jewish bearded man says that a man without land is a nobody. (This scene is seen in both this film and the Woody Allen comedy LOVE AND DEATH). In this film, it is Duddy’s grandfather who tells his grandson the maxim.

Duddy starts a serious relationship with a hotel employee, French-Canadian Yvette (Micheline Lanctôt). One day, she takes him on a picnic beside a lake. Duddy is stunned by the beauty of the setting, and his ambition crystallizes: taking to heart his grandfather Zeyta’s maxim “a man without land is nobody” to heart. The film traces Duddy’s accomplishment, but not without dire consequences. It is a film of both coming-of-age and growing up – and a very effective one at that.

This is director Ted Kotcheff’s best film. His attention to detail, which is evident throughout the film is what makes the movie tick. The best example can be seen in the opening sequence where Duddy in military garb marches in a band while goofing around. The military tune “O When the Saints” bookmarks the ilm, while the lyrics also have some meaning in the story.

It is reported that Richard Dreyfuss hated his performance so much in this film that after seeing the film’s final cut, he decided to take the role in JAWS, that he initially turned down. But in my opinion, Dreyfuss delivers an almost flawless performance as Duddy in the film . He captures the juvenility and ambition of the growing Jewish boy. Dreyfuss has proven himself as an actor in the the later AMERICAN GRAFFITI and also in THE GOODBYE GIRL winning an Oscar for Best Actor in the process.

I have a few complaints of the film despite it being a classic. Being a film set in Montreal, I would prefer it being shot in France or at least have more French spoken in the film. The other is the list of Americans playing Canadians and an Englishman playing the American Hollywood director.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz screens as part of Canada on Screen on Sunday, February 5 at 6:30 p.m. Beginning in January and running throughout the year, this free programme will present moving-image installations, special events and guests, an extensive online catalogue, and screenings across the country, all based on a list of 150 essential moving-image works from Canada’s history, and compiled through a national poll of industry professionals. Canada on Screen is a co-production between TIFF and three core project partners — Library and Archives Canada, the Cinémathèque québécoise, and The Cinematheque in Vancouver — for Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017. The Government of Canada and RBC are Presenting Partners of Canada on Screen.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYkgUm-ImHw

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