Movie Review ~ The Space Between Us

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The first human born on Mars travels to Earth for the first time, experiencing the wonders of the planet through fresh eyes. He embarks on an adventure with a street smart girl to discover how he came to be.

Stars: Gary Oldman, Asa Butterfield, Carla Gugino, Britt Robertson, BD Wong, Janet Montgomery

Director: Peter Chelsom

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: There’s going to be an easy litmus test as to how well you’ll enjoy The Space Between Us. If you can make it through the first five minutes without groaning and/or rolling your eyes than maybe, just maybe, this sci-fi adventure/teen romance will be worth your time. For everyone else, do yourself a solid and have a back-up movie prepared because as the film begins to lose all control of logic, tension, and interest the groans will just get louder and the eye rolls more strenuous.

In the vision of 2018 suggested by the movie, colonization of Mars is a reality and the first settlers are ready to blast off. Dubbed East Texas, the endeavor is the brainchild of Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and serves as a chance to not only explore life on another planet but a chance for Shepherd to live out a childhood fantasy. Unable to physically make the journey due to an illness never fully defined, Shepherd voyeuristically watches the crew blast off and tracks their movements while big wigs from NASA (including an authoritative, if bored looking, B.D. Wong, Jurassic Park) keep an eye on the progress.

Early into the trip, mission leader Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) discovers she’s pregnant but they’ve gone too far to turn back and she winds up having the baby shortly after arriving on the red planet, dying in childbirth. While the identity of the father isn’t immediately known, plenty of talking heads dub Sarah’s ‘behavior’ as inappropriate…making me wonder if the movie takes place in 2018 or 1968.

Flash forward 16 years and the baby has grown into angsty teen Gardner (Asa Butterfield, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children). Aside from a ramshackle robot (a stock character right down to his Brit accent and uppity demeanor), Gardner’s only real friend is Kendra (Carla Gugino, San Andreas) an astronaut that seems to have other responsibilities but is shown only as a well-educated babysitter. In between shifts in the colony greenhouse (leading me a first to be confused if Gardner was his name or his profession), Gardner chats up a lonely foster child (Britt Robertson, The Longest Ride) who doesn’t know her internet pen pal is literally from another planet.

Finding a clip from his mother’s personal items of a man that could be his father and driven in no small part by his developing libido, with Kendra’s help Gardner is eventually brought down to Earth. However, whatever freedom he thought he would have isn’t in the cards and he becomes a science experiment kept in quarantine. In short order, Gardner stages a daring escape and tracks down Tulsa who isn’t so happy her pal ditched her for 7 months while returning home through the stars. A cross-country chase ensues with Gardner and Tulsa hilariously pursued by Kendra and Nathaniel with all the conviction of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Along the way, secrets are revealed, love blooms, and every scene is written and performed like the cliffhanger final moments of a season finale.

On the performance spectrum, the range is anywhere from passively engaged to Gary Oldman. As a teen finding his Earth legs, Butterfield gets the gangly piece down…but unfortunately, Allan Loeb’s (Collateral Beauty) script sets him up first to be an introverted orphan in search of answers before switching it up to make him a romanticized dweeb that loses key brain cells in his new environment. On Mars, he’s marveling at the deeper context of Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire but on Earth he recoils in horror when he spots a horse trotting down the street. Gugino is typically dependable for a dose of grounded reality but paired with Oldman’s awkwardly earnest portrayal of a smarty-pants wunderkind, there’s no balance for either to find good footing. Also, Oldman can never decide if he’s from London or the Midwest. One moment his accent strains on the consonants and the next he’s practically demanding tea time. Robertson’s fairly one-note as a tough on the outside soft on the inside tomboy. It’s hinted she may have a talent for music but after plunking out a song on a keyboard at Sam’s Club, it’s never mentioned again.

Director Peter Chelsom doesn’t do much with the material either, moving actors and set pieces through a variety of hackneyed action sequences with little fanfare. He also isn’t able to inspire many sparks between Butterfield and Robertson, as both seem uncomfortably ill matched and kept together for the sake of the plot. Taking place in 2034, Chelsom’s spin on future living is delivered with little bells or whistles. Aside from some upgrades to personal computers and communication devices, teens still dress like hobos and no one is traveling around in flying cars.

Worth keeping your distance from, The Space Between Us was originally set for release in August and then pushed back again to December. Ostensibly, it was moved to the less busy pre-Valentine’s Day weekend with the hopes to attract some of the date night business for those unable to go for Fifty Shades Darker. Too light to stay Earthbound and too lackluster to be fueled by a mission to Mars, this misfire has no atmosphere to speak of.

Movie Review ~ Mother’s Day

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Three generations come together in the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Britt Robertson, Timothy Olyphant, Hector Elizondo, Jack Whitehall

Director: Garry Marshall

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: At one point not too far into the two very long hours of Mother’s Day I became convinced the movie was created by space aliens branching out into the film industry. No, really. I mean, how else to explain away this stinker which is an utter black hole of laughs, common sense, and good taste? The third of director Garry Marshall’s ensemble movies comes after the equally stinky Valentine’s Day and the dead on arrival New Year’s Eve; one shudders at the thought of Bastille Day getting the greenlight in a few years.

I’m a fan of ensemble movies that weave together multiple storylines to show the cross currents of life for a group of people. Robert Altman did that to perfection in Short Cuts and I’ve always had a fondness for Willard Carroll’s surprisingly wise Playing by Heart. Marshall, on the other hand, is no Altman and aside from snagging two solid leading ladies to roll around in this slop fest he’s compiled a cast of questionable talent ranking high on the nepotism meter. Stick around for the credits, not just for bloopers much funnier than anything that came before it but to count how many Marshalls show up in the cast roster.

If the acting is overall dreadful, the script from Anya Kochoff-Romano, Matt Walker, & Tom Hines is a poo-ey potpourri of archaic lameness, saddling Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Secret in Their Eyes) with meeting the daughter (Britt Robertson, Tomorrowland) she gave up for a career and somehow making her seem like a “less-than”, and having poor Jennifer Aniston (Cake) play yet another divorcee with an ex-husband that’s married a younger woman worried about losing the affection of her kids to her barely legal replacement. Jason Sudekis (on his fourth outing with Aniston after We’re the Millers) is a widowed dad of two girls that’s shocked when his eldest daughter asks him to buy tampons…nevermind that their mom (played in an embarrassing cameo by someone that’s already had a pretty tough year on the marriage front) has been dead for nearly a year.  Did she just have a box from Costco that lasted that long? Let’s not forget Kate Hudson (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) being surprised by her backwards-thinking parents who blaze into town in a Winnebago, only to find one daughter (Sarah Chalke) is a lesbian and their other daughter has married a, wait for it, “towelhead”.

There’s no reality or time to speak of in Marshall’s fantasy-land where people can not only select, finance, and purchase expensive cars overnight but have personalized license plates made (at the all-night license plate store?) and don’t even get me started on how a character living in Las Vegas can fly to Atlanta in under an hour. Then there are the extravagant parties planned in the time it takes to boil water, the curated wedding that happens mere moments after a proposal, the appearance of Kate Hudson’s gigantic ear, and that famously terrible wig Roberts is sporting.

No doubt about it, this is one surreally awful film and likely (hopefully?) the last time Marshall will sit in a director’s chair. From the annoyingly bouncy soundtrack, obviously produced by someone who last picked out the tunes for a JC Penney’s in Tucson, to the outright gaffes that show how rushed this film was, I’m constantly reminded what a hack director Marshall is…when he does get a film right (Beaches, Pretty Woman) it almost seems like a mistake. The only mistake you can make here is seeing this…and I’ll say this right now: if you take your mom to this you’re a terrible child.

Hasta La Vista…Summer (May)

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Hasta

We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.

I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.

May

Though the summer movie season has traditionally been thought of as Memorial Day through Labor Day, in the past several years studios have marked early May as the start of the summer movie wars and 2015 was no different.

Kicking things off on May 1 was Avengers: Age of Ultron and, as expected, it was a boffo blockbuster that gave fans more Marvel fantasy fun. While it wasn’t as inventive as its predecessor and relied too much on jokey bits, the movie was everything a chartbuster should be: big, loud, worth another look.

Acting as a bit of counter-programming, the next week saw the release of two very different comedies, neither of which made much of a dent in the box office take of The Avengers. Critics gnashed their teeth at the Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara crime comedy Hot Pursuit but I didn’t mind it nearly as much as I thought I would. True, it set smart girl power flicks back a few years but it played well to the strengths of its leads and overall was fairly harmless. I hadn’t heard of The D Train before a screening but was pleasantly surprised how good it turned out to be, considering I’m no fan of Jack Black. The movie has several interesting twists that I didn’t see coming, proving that Black and co-star James Marsden will travel out of their comfort zones for a laugh.

Blythe Danner proved she was more than Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom in the lovely, if slight, I’ll See You in My Dreams. It may be too small a picture to land Danner on the end of the year awards list she deserves but the drama was a welcome change of pace so early in the summer.

Another early May drama was a wonderful adaptation of a classic novel…and one I forgot to review when I had the chance…here’s my brief take on it now…

                                         Movie Review ~ Far From the Madding Crowd
far_from_the_madding_crowd_ver2The Facts
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Synopsis: In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Juno Temple, Tom Sturridge
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 119 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s celebrated novel was a moving drama brimming with quietly powerful performances and lush cinematography. It’s a story that has been duplicated quite a lot over the years so one could be forgiven for feeling like we’ve seen this all before. Still, in the hands of director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) and led by stars Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis), Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone), & Michael Sheen (Admission) it stirred deep emotions that felt fresh. Special mention must be made to Craig Armstrong (The Great Gatsby) for his gorgeous score and Charlotte Bruus Christensen for her aforementioned picturesque cinematography. You missed this in the theater, I know you did…it’s out to rent/buy now and you should check it out pronto.

Around mid-May the summer bar of greatness was set with the arrival of Mad Max: Fury Road. The long in development fourth outing (and semi-reboot) of director George Miller’s apocalyptic hero was a movie lovers dream…pushing the boundaries of cinema and filmmaking into new places. A vicious, visceral experience, I can still feel the vibration in my bones from the robust film…a real winner.

The same week that Mad Max came back into our lives, a so-so sequel found its way to the top of the box office. Pitch Perfect 2 was a lazy film that’s as close to a standard cash grab as you could get without outright playing the original film and calling it a sequel. Uninspired and lacking the authenticity that made the first film so fun, it nevertheless made a song in receipts and a third film will be released in the next few years.

Tomorrowland and Poltergeist were the next two films to see the light of day and neither inspired moviegoers enough to gain any traction. Tomorrowland was actually the first film of the summer I saw twice…admittedly because I was curious about a new movie theater with reclining seats that I wanted to try out. As for the movie, the first half was an exciting adventure while the final act was a real mess.

I thought I’d hate the Poltergeist remake way more than I did…but I ended up just feeling bad for everyone involved because the whole thing was so inconsequential that I wished all of that energy had been directed into something of lasting value. While Sam Worthington made for a surprisingly sympathetic lead, the entire tone of the film was off and not even a few neat 3D effects could save it from being a waste.

May went out with a boom thanks to two wildly different films. If you asked me what I thought the prospects were for San Andreas before the screening I would have replied that Sia’s cover of California Dreamin’ would be the only good thing to come out of the action picture starring everyone’s favorite muscle with eyes, Dwayne Johnson. I still feel like Sia came out on top but the movie itself was a more than decent disaster epic, a little too long but made up for it with grand sequences of mayhem and destruction. Can’t imagine it will play nearly as well on a small screen but I wasn’t hating the film when the credits rolled.

A film I wasn’t too thrilled with at all was Aloha, Cameron Crowe’s own personal disaster flick. I still don’t know quite what to say about the movie because it was so dreadful that I’ve attempted to clear it from my memory. What I do remember was that it wasted its strong cast and exotic locale, as well as our time. Truly terrible.

STAY TUNED FOR JUNE, JULY, and AUGUST!

Movie Review ~ Tomorrowland

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.

Stars: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Judy Greer, Tim McGraw, Hugh Laurie, Kathryn Hahn, Thomas Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: Brad Bird

Rated: PG

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Just last year I made my first trip to Walt Disney World in Florida in over a decade and the area I was most looking forward to visiting in the Magic Kingdom was Tomorrowland, home to Space Mountain, the PeopleMover, and most importantly to me…the Carousel of Progress. Now, all you Disney fans out there you probably read that and thought. “Carousel of Progess? Nerd alert!” but I’ve always found that the ride documenting the advances in technology stirred a nostalgia within that superseded any feelings that the ride is dated (which it surely is).

So it was pretty exciting to hear the theme song for the ride, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” pop up in Tomorrowland within the first twenty minutes.   While the song is just one of several references to the various attractions from the section of the park that the film takes its name from the movie is more than just a big screen version of a theme park attraction and, like the imagination of the man that created it, it’s filled with lots of big ideas and strong ideals.

Admittedly not the slam dunk picture I wanted it to be, the large majority of Tomorrowland works both as a sturdy give-them-what-they-want blockbuster and as a throwback to the Disney studio films of yesteryear which showcases an ordinary person finding themselves in the middle of an extraordinary adventure.

Establishing two stories in quick succession, the movie begins at the 1964 World’s Fair where young inventor Frank Walker hopes to win a prize for his jet pack invention. When his creation is rejected by a weary adjudicator (Hugh Laurie) the young boy catches the attention of a mysterious little girl (Raffey Cassidy, Dark Shadows) who gives Frank a gift that unlocks a whole new world to him.

Flash forward to the present where teenager Casey (Britt Robertson, much more at home here than she was in The Longest Ride) is doing everything she can to keep her NASA employed father (TimMcGraw wearing his newest toupee) on the job even though the space program has been cancelled. Sneaking in at night to the retired launch site in Cape Canaveral, Casey is being watched by a face from the past, a presence that needs her help to save the world from destruction.

It’s at this point, about forty-five minutes in, that the film hits its peak potential and all the elements are working in its favor. There’s an air of mystery that’s kept afloat by the breakneck direction from Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and the script from Bird and Damon Lindelof (Prometheus, World War Z) doesn’t give away all of its secrets in one breath. Then it gets messy.

There’s an oddly wacky scene featuring Kathryn Hahn (We’re the Millers) and Keegan-Michael Key (turning in a performance for the second week in a row that generates zero laughs…last week it was Pitch Perfect 2) that feels spliced in from another Disney film…just one of several sequences/loose ends that are never fully explained or resolved. Where’s Casey’s mother? Judy Greer (Carrie) has a literally blink and you missed it cameo as Casey’s mom but is never mentioned again. There’s a band of square-jawed robo assassins hot on Casey’s trail but we never fully understand who exactly they’re taking orders from.

When an older Frank (George Clooney, The Monuments Men) meets up with Casey is when the movie that felt like it was about to sputter out shows more potential. It’s best to leave the rest of the film for you to discover on your own because Bird and Lindelof have snuck in a pretty good message underneath a bunch of handsome special effects and unexpected turns that occupy the final 1/3 of the film.

Surprisingly rated PG even though it’s quite scary (have fun explaining nuclear war to your kids!), this seems like a film that doesn’t quite know where its audience is. Disney clearly wanted to target the family folk but Bird/Lindelof have a script that’s decidedly more mature and could bore little tykes as the film approaches the end of its 130 minute run time. Still, it’s brainier than your average summer blockbuster and considering the caliber of people involved, it’s a marginal win at the end of the day.

Movie Review ~ The Longest Ride

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The lives of a young couple intertwine with a much older man as he reflects back on a lost love while he’s trapped in an automobile crash.

Stars: Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Alan Alda, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin, Gloria Reuben, Lolita Davidovich

Director: George Tillman, Jr.

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 139 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: Looking over the bibliography of author Nicholas Sparks, the pickings are getting mighty slim for studios hunting for titles to bring a little romance to their paying audiences.  After the (deserved) critical drubbing and box office failure of 2014’s ghastly The Best of Me (insert obligatory “worst” joke here) I was leery about jumping into another Sparks suds-a-thon even though the preview had me more interested that I cared to admit.  Sadly, The Longest Ride is just another run-of-the-mill page to screen adaptation from the Sparks roster of tear-jerking tales.

As I mentioned in my review of 2012’s The Lucky One, there is a clear formula at play whenever you settle in for a Sparks saga and The Longest Ride is no different.  As in previous films, the women are lithe in limb and the men are smoldering hunks who work manly jobs and have macho hobbies.  There’s the requisite scene of the lovers running off a dock, leaping into a body of water in which they can embrace…and in The Longest Ride it actually happens more than once.  Throw in an old geezer with a life lesson to teach, the threat of injury that could put a halt to the love affair, and a soundtrack of easy listening radio friendly country tunes and the menu is complete.  It’s a pre-packaged TV dinner of a meal, ultimately overbaked.

I wish I could say that it’s strictly the fault of the source material on which screenwriter Craig Bolotin based his sappy adaptation but unfortunately the acting adds another uneven layer to the mix.  While I think Britt Robertson (Cake) will fare better sharing the screen with George Clooney in May’s highly anticipated Tomorrowland, here she struggles with a role she doesn’t feel right for.  Playing Sophia, a college senior, onscreen she reads like a high school junior making her romance with bull rider Luke (Scott Eastwood) hard to swallow.  Arguably saddled with the laziest developed character in the film, Robertson spends most of the film relying on her expressive face rather than her heart.

Robertson has some chemistry with Eastwood (Texas Chainsaw 3D) but with the aforementioned issue with age their passionate scenes wind up falling flat.  Showing more flesh than I thought possible for a PG-13 movie (Robertson’s breasts are seen several times and Eastwood bares his backside), their couplings aren’t worth the tortuous build-up.

The whole film I had trouble shaking how much Eastwood looks like his father but the similarities end there.  The elder Eastwood favors a less is more approach but the younger Eastwood never finds a balance of true subtlety in his portrayal of a one-time rodeo star battling personal demons while struggling to reclaim his career.  In fact, Eastwood may have more connection to a ferocious bull that haunts him than anyone else in the film.

The story of the bull rider and his gal probably would have been enough to satiate audiences eager to fall in love with another Sparks adaptation but there’s an entirely other story inserted as flashbacks and if there’s one thing to recommend about The Longest Ride, it’s this secondary tale.

After saving an elderly man (Alan Alda, Wanderlust) that veered off the road in a rainstorm, Luke and Sophia visit him often enough as he recuperates to hear him recount the time he spent with the love of his life.  Played by two descendants of true Hollywood royalty, Jack Huston (American Hustle, grandson of acclaimed director John Huston) and Oona Chaplin (What If, granddaughter of Charlie) make for an appealing pair and, like the recent Woman in Gold, I found myself much more engaged by what happened in the past than anything that was going on in the present.

Director George Tillman, Jr makes the flashbacks look sharp and lovely, a nice contrast to the almost dewy quality of the scenes involving Luke and Sophia.  As pleasant as it all looks, there’s no getting away from the fact that neither story is particularly engaging and at 139 minutes (this is the longest Sparks adaptation to date) it starts to feel protracted before it’s even half over.  I think Tillman could easily have lost several Luke/Sophia scenes and given the film a better pace without sacrificing any of the drama that clutters up the final 1/3 of the movie.  As is typical with Sparks films, there’s a series of unbelievable contrivances introduced less because they make sense but more because they get our characters where they need to be faster.

This is the tenth film adapted from a Sparks bestseller (I do find it odd that his other novels with more supernatural twists haven’t made it to the silver screen yet) and by this point you’re either a Sparks supporter or you aren’t.  The Longest Ride isn’t the worst effort nor can it (or should it) be included among the best.

The Silver Bullet ~ Tomorrowland

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Synopsis: Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.

Release Date:  May 22, 2015

Thoughts: Shrouded in secrecy for the duration of its filming, we’re a little over a month away from Disney opening the gates to Tomorrowland and after two trailers I’m still not quite sure what we’re in for.  Now, in this spoiler-ready climate we’re living in today I think that knowing less is better and I have faith that director Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and screenwriter Damon Lindelof (Prometheus, World War Z) have some magic up their talented sleeves.  With Hollywood heavyweight George Clooney (The Monuments Men) and rising star Britt Robertson (The Longest Ride, Cake) leading the pack, this stands a good chance at being the second boffo blockbuster of 2015 after the May 1st release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The Silver Bullet ~ Delivery Man

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Synopsis: An affable underachiever finds out he’s fathered 533 children through anonymous donations to a fertility clinic 20 years ago. Now he must decide whether or not to come forward when 142 of them file a lawsuit to reveal his identity.

Release Date:  November 22, 2013

Thoughts: If all goes as planned Vince Vaughn will have a nice little summer hit with the enjoyable The Internship, putting him in a good spot for audiences to welcome another comedy later in 2013 that’s a remake the well-received a 2011 Canadian film Starbuck.  Both movies were directed by the same guy (Ken Scott) that could pose a potential problem because history has shown that sometimes it’s easier to provide a shot-for-shot remake rather than truly remake the film from the bottom up.  From what I know of Starbuck, Vaughn may be the best man in Hollywood for the job and based on an appealing turn in The Internship I’m putting this one a little higher on my list.