This Is a Movie Review: The Space Between Us

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This review was originally published on News Cult in 2017.

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Gary Oldman, Carla Gugino, B.D. Wong

Director: Peter Chesolm

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Intense Re-Entry

Release Date: February 3, 2017

If an astronaut on her way to Mars turned out to have gotten pregnant just before departure, would your first thought be how mortified she must be of her irresponsibility? If you said yes, you might just be Gary Oldman in The Space Between Us. In the moment, that sentiment is a little disturbing and quite backwards. Eventually it becomes clear why Oldman – the man behind this Martian colonization effort – reacts this way, and it is somewhat reasonable but also still a little patronizing.

That lack of progressiveness also plagues Space’s vision of the future. Beyond the fact that travel to Mars is reasonably accessible, there is not much to distinguish this vision of Earth from the 2017 version. The only new technology appears to be the latest generation of tablets. To paraphrase Tom Servo: so… 30 years from now it’ll be 3 years from now? I guess that’s what you get when you hire the director of Hannah Montana: The Movie to try his hand at sci-fi. The Space Between Us is decidedly NOT the best of both worlds.

The dearth of futuristic imagination can partially be justified by the fact that Space mostly chooses to be a road trip film through the southwestern U.S. The deal here is that Asa Butterfield (Ender in Ender’s Game) is the Martian-born son of that pregnant astronaut, and he is visiting Earth for the first time after growing up for his first 16 years on the red planet. He is supposed to be held at NASA for observation to determine if his bones can handle the new atmosphere, but he is too in love to be contained by The Man.

So Butterfield and Britt Robertson (Hollywood’s current go-to for all-American gals) go on the run from Oldman and his team to discover the truth behind Butterfield’s origins and just to be free. There is actually a great germ of a story here about how love knows no bounds (and Butterfield plays the slightly alien fish-out-of-water quite naturally) but the implementation is rather plainly prosaic. Also, everyone is genuinely looking out for the best of our Martian child, and a major revelation that resolves every misunderstanding is held off unnaturally for the sake of driving conflict. But at least we know now how passionately Gary Oldman feels about going to Mars.

The Space Between Us is Recommended If You Like: Gary Oldman getting all worked up, Britt Robertson playing the girl next door, the Asa Butterfield Space Genre

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Space Colonies

This Is a Movie Review: A Dog’s Purpose

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A DOG'S PURPOSE

This review was originally published on News Cult in January 2017.

Starring: Josh Gad, K.J. Apa, Britt Robertson, John Ortiz, Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton

Director: Lasse Hallström

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: PG for a Few Moments That Make a Dog Whimper

Release Date: January 27, 2017

A Dog’s Purpose asks, “What is a dog’s purpose?” Before answering this question, it is important to note that A Dog’s Purpose presupposes that reincarnation (or at least canine reincarnation) is a fact of existence. If you have been a dog parent multiple times and ever believed that one of your more recent pups was somehow the same as one of your older ones, then this film has your back. This is the third in director Lasse Hallström’s dog trilogy (following 1985’s My Life as a Dog and 2009’s Hachi: A Dog’s Tale), so I feel confident in determining that he imbued that belief into every single frame.

The film seeks its meaning by tracking the lives of the dog (voiced by Josh Gad in each iteration) over approximately 50 years. The lifetimes that are traversed include an all-American football-slinging, farming sixties family; a seventies detective buddy story; a Jheri curled-style romance in the eighties and nineties; and a reunion narrative in the 2000’s, along with a few danger-filled detours along the way. The canine perspective remains endearing, with much humor mined from the dog growing into its new bodies, often switching genders (the breeds range from Red Retriever to German Shepherd, down to Corgi, concluding as a St. Bernard-Australian Shepherd mix).

But the quality of the film is only as strong as the quality of each of the human stories. The most prominent is also the most cliché-ridden. Ethan (K.J. Apa) is a wholesome high school quarterback with everything going his way until an accident derails his guarantee of an athletic scholarship. Rectify’s Luke Kirby does what he can in the mandatory drunk dad role, and Britt Robertson is a minor delight as Ethan’s best gal, but this whole segment is a slog due to painfully unimaginative writing.

Much more fun, and offbeat, are the two middle segments. John Ortiz is a natural as a ’70s detective in the K-9 unit. His pursuit of a divorced dad who has kidnapped his daughter is a weirdly engrossing mix of family friendly and urban grit. That is followed by a portion that is a bit like The Cosby Show, except with a lot more perms and a-ha.

A Dog’s Purpose is never so cloying that it ought to be resented. Yet its storytelling is all too often so surface-level that it does not matter how lovable dogs are. But it concludes nicely when it returns back to the farm, redeeming a story that had little going for it in the first place. Let’s put it this way: Dennis Quaid has a face and physique that were made for carrying bales of hay, and Peggy Lipton makes the case that all cinematic love stories should henceforth star 70-year-olds.

A Dog’s Purpose is Recommended If You Like: Dogs More Than You Like Good Storytelling, Pretending That Your Dog’s Internal Voice is That of Olaf from Frozen

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Games of Fetch