The Space Between Us

For F*** Magazine

THE SPACE BETWEEN US 

Director : Peter Chelsom
Cast : Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Gary Oldman, B.D. Wong, Carla Gugino, Janet Montgomery
Genre : Sci-Fi/Romance
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 16 February 2017
Rating : PG (Some Sexual References)

the-space-between-us-posterEnder’s Game might not have been successful enough to warrant a sequel, but Asa Butterfield is back in a spacesuit anyway in this sci-fi romance. Butterfield plays Gardner Elliott, who has spent all of his 16 years living in the East Texas habitat on Mars, raised by the scientist Kendra (Gugino). Gardner’s mother Sarah (Montgomery) was an astronaut on the pioneering manned mission to Mars, who died giving birth to Gardner. Nathaniel Shepherd (Oldman), the owner of Genesis Space Technologies, and mission director Chen (Wong) disagree over whether to go public with Gardner’s existence. Gardner befriends Tulsa (Robertson), a disaffected teenage girl, online. When Gardner arrives on earth, he convinces Tulsa to help him search for the father he’s never known. When Kendra, Nathaniel and Chen conclude that Gardner will be unable to withstand earth’s gravity and atmosphere, they must save him before it’s too late.

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The premise of a kid who’s spent his whole life on a different planet and becomes a fish out of water on earth has tremendous potential for drama and comedy, unfolding within a sci-fi context. Director Peter Chelsom, whose credits include Serendipity, The Hannah Montana Movie and Hector and the Search for Happiness, approaches this as a teen romance. There are several scenes set on Mars and there’s some vaguely credible techno-babble tossed about, but the bulk of the film ends up being a largely ordinary road trip love story. While it’s admirable that this is a character drama at heart, the film’s tone lands somewhere between awkward-cute and melodramatic rather than genuinely stirring or thought-provoking.

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We learn from Sarah’s memorial plaque on the Martian surface that she died in 2018. Gardner is 16 years old, so the bulk of the film takes place in 2034. It turns out that the United States of 2034 is barely distinguishable from that of 2017, and it seems due more to budget constraints than anything else. There’s a transparent laptop or two, but other than that, there’s nothing in the scenes taking place on earth to indicate that this is set in the future. It’s a bit of a shame, given that there’s attention to detail paid in other aspects: for example, Mars is accurately depicted as having a weaker gravity than earth, something which The Martian dispensed with because it would be too labour-intensive to portray consistently.the-space-between-us-asa-butterfield-1

 

Butterfield can play endearingly awkward in his sleep, and is fun to watch here. While there are too many twee fish out of water moments in which Gardner is awestruck by the most mundane things, there’s a real sweetness and sincerity that Butterfield brings to the part. The relationship between Gardner and Tulsa is central to the film, and while attempts at character development are made, the romance progresses too quickly and too Hollywood-y to be believable.

the-space-between-us-britt-robertson-1Robertson is a lively performer – her facial expressions in Tomorrowland reminded this reviewer of a Pixar character come to life. Both Tulsa and Gardner haven’t had much meaningful human connection in their lives, and find solace in each other. However, the journey from rom-com bickering to heartfelt professions of love takes a remarkably short time. This means that the relationship drama is not entirely successful at grounding the more fantastical elements of the story.

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Oldman is never a boring actor to watch, but his performance here is broader than required, with too much flailing and bluster for us to take him seriously as the boss of a spaceflight technology firm. Gugino’s Kendra is warm and intelligent, but unsure of how to connect to Gardner as his maternal figure. Wong doesn’t get to do much beyond arguing with Oldman, but it did let us imagine that Commissioner Gordon was having a heated disagreement with Hugo Strange.the-space-between-us-asa-butterfield-2

The Space Between Us isn’t an adaptation of a Young Adult novel, but it sure feels like one – perhaps it should be called The Fault in Our Mars. As a quirky teen-aimed romance, The Space Between Us has its charms and its leads are appealing enough to make up for the cheesiness and soap opera melodrama, especially in the concluding big reveal. It’s too bad that the film fails to meaningfully examine the themes of belonging and the role of scientific advancements in how we connect to other people. A science-fiction film that focuses on relationships rather than wham-bam spectacle or mind-bending metaphysics is a novel prospect, but The Space Between Us misses the opportunity to be sublime and profound.

Summary: The Space Between Us tries and barely succeeds at blending coming-of-age teen romance with science fiction, but it attains lift-off thanks to its endearing young leads.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

San Andreas

For F*** Magazine

SAN ANDREAS

Director : Brad Peyton
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd, Colton Haynes, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Todd Williams, Art Parkinson, Kylie Minogue, Will Yun Lee
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 28 May 2015
“We all have our little faults,” Lex Luthor told Superman in the 1978 film. “Mine’s in California.” In this disaster thriller, that “little fault” leads to big problems as the entire US west coast is crippled by a devastating earthquake of unprecedented magnitude. Los Angeles Fire Department rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Johnson) has to save his estranged wife Emma (Gugino) and the couple have to put aside their differences in order to reach their daughter Blake (Daddario). Blake is trapped in San Francisco alongside Ben (Johnstone-Burt) and his kid brother Ollie (Parkinson), Ben interviewing for a position at the office of superstar architect Daniel Riddick (Gruffudd), Emma’s new boyfriend. Meanwhile, CalTech seismology professor Lawrence Hayes (Giamatti) has been working on a system to predict earthquakes and is determined to get the word out so as many lives can be saved before the destruction escalates.

            Let’s address the elephant in the room: Nepal has recently been hit by two major quakes, the death toll now exceeding 8500. The marketing for San Andreas has been tweaked with an emphasis on earthquake preparedness and donating to the relief effort, with a portion of the movie’s takings set to be donated to Nepal. Still, it’s understandable that very few audiences, if any, will find harrowing devastation in this specific context very entertaining. It’s a little like when the kids-on-a-space-shuttle adventure Space Camp was released two months after the Challengerdisaster. In fact, it leads one to wonder if a movie like San Andreas was ever a good idea, even before the Nepal tremblor, given the tragic frequency with which such calamities occur these days.


Big summer blockbusters are meant to provide escapism rather than continually remind viewers of the problems that plague the world in real life. Post-9/11, many action flicks have deliberately invoked the imagery of collapsing buildings and citizens scrambling away from falling debris in the hopes of eliciting an emotional response through mere association with actual tragedies, which seems to be the case here too. The Catch-22 faced by director Brad Peyton is that if the events depicted in the film are too fanciful and ridiculous, it will pull audiences out of it, but if they are too realistic, it will hit too close to home.

            The phrase “destruction porn” has been tossed about derisively in reference to blockbusters like Man of Steel and just about everything in Roland Emmerich’s filmography. Let’s call a spade a spade – San Andreas is destruction porn. We don’t mean this sanctimoniously; wanton carnage has always been one of the main ingredients in creating large-scale spectacle. It’s worth acknowledging the effort made to craft inventive, thrilling sequences and the amount of work involved in creating the digital deluge must have been mind-boggling. All credit to the armies of artists at visual effects houses Scanline, hy*drau”lx, Method Studios, Cinesite and other vendors for their work here. The scale is suitably epic but one can’t help but have the niggling sense of hollow artificiality throughout. Moviegoers have become harder to impress and even with rippling seismic waves tearing through the L.A. city centre and cargo ships lodged in skyscrapers, San Andreas is rarely truly impressive. The 3D conversion is also something of a let-down.

            When it comes to the plot, San Andreas is predictable to, well, a fault. The involvement of at least six screenwriters performing multiple studio-mandated rewrites ensures that the script is safe, homogenised and dull. Paul Giamatti, playing a seismology professor as if the character were a scientist from a ‘50s creature feature, warns “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.” We also counted at least nine utterances of the line “oh my god!” (mostly from Carla Gugino). Every disaster movie cliché in the book is flung into San Andreas, as well as clichés from other genres for good measure. You’ve got the strong, hardworking protagonist, his estranged wife, the wealthy douchebag who is his wife’s new boyfriend, the daughter who needs to be rescued but who is largely plucky and capable when required, the daughter’s earnest, handsome love interest and the tagalong kid for comic relief. Oh, and the protagonist has already lost one child in an earlier rafting accident. This doesn’t feel like it needed six writers, it feels like all it took was an algorithm fed into some kind of automated writing software.

            Dwayne Johnson reunites with Peyton, who directed him in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The wrestler-turned-action-hero can do the noble, heroic thing in his sleep by now. Carla Gugino spends most of the movie yelling. Alexandra Daddario is the “damsel in a degree of distress”, competent but still in need of dad coming to the rescue. It’s all just tired and cheesy. Hollywood, it’s time to rewrite the disaster movie formula, and no amount of tsunamis smacking shipping crates into the Golden Gate Bridge can distract us from that dire need.

Summary: San Andreas manages to out-‘90s most ‘90s disaster flicks, unintentionally funny in how dated and corny despite several well-crafted set pieces.

RATING: 2out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong