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Weekend!Movies: Building a rocket, brushes with fame, Outback trek and rare cartoons
by: COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES, “The Astronaut Farmer”

Edited by Anne Marie DiStefano

'The Astronaut Farmer' (PG)

Retired from NASA to save his family farm, Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) aims to realize his dream of becoming an astronaut by building a rocket in the barn of that still-struggling Texas farm.

You could almost believe brothers Michael and Mark Polish (whose last film, 'Northfork,' featured an ark being built on the Montana plains) were former Disney employees who decided to make a Disney movie on their own oddball turf.

And darned if it doesn't work, using sincerity, charm and good old American gumption to harvest a bumper crop of corn.

Of course it doesn't hurt to have a perfectly cast Thornton, and a radiant Virginia Madsen as his supportive 0wife. And the New Mexico locations glow like dreams being realized.

All it needs to be a surprise hit is for all those folks who moan about the lack of good family films to actually go see one when it arrives. It's probably doomed.

- Pat Holmes

Cinetopia, Lloyd Mall, Hilltop, Division Street, Stark Street, Bridgeport

'Backstage' (NR)

A suburban teenager named Lucie (Isild Le Besco) comes home one day to find that her idiot mother (Edith Le Merdy) has won her a spot on 'Backstage,' an MTV-style reality show that brings a famous pop icon to the home of a fan for a visit.

Understandably, Lucie freaks out and locks herself in her bedroom until everyone leaves. But her brief moment of contact with her idol inspires her to go to Paris in search of the object of her obsession.

The resulting relationship between needy fan and equally needy star is melodramatic and not particularly enlightening.

The pop star, Lauren (Emmanuelle Seigner), has recently been dumped by her boyfriend, so she keeps Lucie around as a sort of ego-feeding pet, while Lucie only lives to worship.

Lauren's rock-and-roll lifestyle is a clichéd mélange of drugs and debauchery, but the film's confused, overwrought drama is never quite over-the-top enough to become a campy guilty pleasure.

- Dawn Taylor

Hollywood

'Walkabout' (PG)

Nicolas Roeg's first solo directorial effort in 1971 was the first of three great films in a row for the former cinematographer ('Don't Look Now' and 'The Man Who Fell to Earth' were next).

A teenaged girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Lucien John) are stranded in the Australian outback, until they cross the path of a young Aborigine (David Gumpilil) on the tribal rite of passage that provides the film's title.

But Roeg goes beyond the obvious contrast of the civilized and natural worlds to create a vision of lost innocence and a meditation on failed communication, thwarted potential and the hard business of living in the world.

Both nonjudgmental and unsentimental, Roeg creates - as he would in later films - a sense of vast possibility opening and closing in the blink of an eye.

Aided by John Barry's languid, longing score, this is a gorgeous and haunting example of pure visual storytelling. It's a big-screen experience to treasure, especially with this chance to view a new 35 mm print.

- PH

7 p.m. and 9:05 p.m. Monday-Thursday, Feb. 26-March 1, Cinema 21

Dennis Nyback's Cartoon Extravaganza

Brace yourself for 21 straight nights of rare animation in a video-free environment. Local film collector Dennis Nyback owns thousands of hours of film, some dating from the earliest days of motion pictures.

Now, to raise funds for a documentary about historic Oregon animators, Nyback has pledged to screen his entire collection of animated shorts.

Opening night is a rare chance for animation buffs to witness the birth of the genre, featuring characters such as Gertie the Dinosaur, Koko the Clown and Felix the Cat, and seminal works by Walt Disney and Max Fleischer.

Nyback also will screen the only known copy of 'Charlie at the Beach,' a cartoon starring Charlie Chaplin, made in 1918.

Each night for the next three weeks will feature a different program, with a progressive discount of $1 a night for each consecutive night you attend.

7:30 p.m. nightly through March 14, Disjecta, 230 E. Burnside St., $6

Also new this week

Rap music founding father Fab Five Freddy will appear live and in person, along with director Charlie Ahearn, for a not-to-be-missed screening of 'Wild Style' at the Clinton Street Theater. The event features Ahearn's own pristine 35 mm copy of the film, to be followed by a Q and A (7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, $8). The exploitation classic 'Switchblade Sisters' follows at 10 p.m. (separate admission, $6).