The Space Between Us

By: Kevin Jordan

Leeeeeeaving on a jet plane.

space_between_us poster

My immediate impression of The Space Between Us was it was cute, I guess.  That might be the last nice thing I say about this film because I spent the last twenty-four hours realizing that it’s kind of bad.  Then I looked up the current Rotten Tomatoes score and…oh.  Oh no.  11%?  It wasn’t that bad.  Was it?

You should know that I had to choose between The Space Between Us and Rings and, even now, I think I picked the better movie.  That 11% seems a little harsh for a movie that is a fairly benign love story trying to appeal to teenagers.  I mean, so what if the science was shoddy and the plot was scattershot and the characters didn’t make much sense and nonsensical artistic decisions were made and Gary Oldman was overacting and…oh.  Oh no.

(SPOILER ALERT.  Let’s face it though – you aren’t going to go see a sappy, teenage, sci-fi, romance movie in early February, so read on, my friends.)

From the start, you know this movie isn’t really serious because of the way it handles the premise of “child born on Mars.”  Rather than just starting with a child being born on Mars, the film goes out of its way to introduce you to the first astronauts going to Mars and the CEO, Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), of the company sending them.  That word “first” is key because the team leader, Janet Montgomery (Sarah Elliot), gets pregnant right before they leave Earth.  It’s not the worst thing a movie has ever asked the audience to swallow, but do you really think the first astronaut to Mars is going to risk being scrubbed from the trip by having unprotected sex mere days (or even the previous night) before lift-off?  The odds are much better that she’d be wearing the chastity belts from Mad Max: Fury Road (yes, I meant for that to be plural).

Suffice it to say, they find out she’s pregnant about two months into the trip to Mars and somehow had the foresight to pack an ultrasound machine.  Huh, that’s weird.  Anyway, Nathaniel decides to keep the kid a secret for fear that revealing him will kill their funding.  This is patently absurd for so many reasons, not the least of which is they can’t turn the ship around.  Yes, a trip to Mars is exciting for Earth’s population, but imagine how much attention you would get by announcing a child would be born?  They had a ready-made Truman Show.  When they get to the planet, Janet dies during childbirth, but it’s okay because they send a surrogate mother, Kendra (Carla Gugino), to take care of the child, a boy named Gardner (Asa Butterfield), whose name I am not making up.

You aren't my real mom.

You aren’t my real mom.

Speaking of names, the base on Mars is called East Texas.  Are you kidding me?!!  What sad, unimaginative writer came up with that turd?

Fast forward sixteen years and, with the help of Mars’ low gravity, Gardner has grown into a tall, lanky teenager.  No, taller and lankier than usual teenagers.  He’s also super smart and ridiculously bored, so he does what all bored geniuses do…instant messages with a friend.  Seriously, he figures out how to bypass the communications security and starts Skyping with a high school girl, Tulsa (Brit Robertson), whose name I also did not make up.

Science note: for you science nerds, here’s an example of some of the terrible science exhibited in this film: there is no time delay in the conversations between Tulsa and Gardner, even though it takes between four and twenty-one minutes for light to travel between Earth and Mars, depending on their relative positions.  Neil deGrasse Tyson just did a spit take.

After some Martian teenager shenanigans, the company decides to bring Gardner to Earth, but still won’t tell anybody about him because that would ruin the second half of the plot.  After arriving on Earth and receiving a battery of medical tests, Gardner escapes from the compound using the old hide-in-the-back-of-a-truck maneuver, even though the compound had been put on lockdown.  I guess lockdown means barely checking the back of a shipping truck and allowing it to leave before finding your secret Martian kid.  Then, Gardner makes his way from Florida to Montrose, Colorado (don’t ask), finds Tulsa, and convinces her to help him find his father.  The rest of this film is a combination of the father quest, the budding romance between Tulsa and Gardner, and Kendra and Nathaniel trying to recover Gardner before Gardner dies.  Oh, didn’t I mention that?  Rather than stick with the idea of keeping Gardner a secret from the world and using that as the figurative countdown clock, they throw in that Gardner’s heart is way too big and that Earth’s gravity is going to cause his heart to fail.

16 years trapped on Mars = A.I. gets invented.

16 years trapped on Mars = A.I. gets invented.

Science note: I could not find any research pointing to whether or not a Martian human would have a larger heart than normal, but Earth’s gravity would cause heart issues in that the heart would have to pump much harder than it would have in Mars’ low gravity.  It’s more likely the heart would be the same size, just weaker.  Also, the movie takes the time to have its astronauts deal with his weak bones in specifics (they strengthen them artificially), but then has those same scientists not bother to check or even worry about his organs or heart?  Remember, these same guys brought an ultrasound machine on a space mission.

Where this movie really goes off the rails is in the decision to make Gardner’s quest about finding his father.  The fun parts of this movie are Gardner discovering and seeing things for the first time.  Oceans, trees, dogs, horses, caterpillars, warmth from the sun.  All are endearing moments that remind us of everything we take for granted, though in the most Disney of ways.  This movie should have been about Gardner just wanting to explore Earth while simultaneously falling in love with Tulsa (and vice versa).  Don’t get me wrong, the love story is a large part of the movie, but it’s always overshadowed by the quest.  Ditching the trite father angle doesn’t change the movie.  Gardner is still going to die (unbeknownst to Gardner), Kendra and Nathaniel are still trying to rescue him, and we still get the love story and exploring plot.  But, now it feels more natural.

You know I grew up on Mars and this is where you bring me?

You know I grew up on Mars and this is where you bring me?

The kicker of the movie is the big reveal that explains a bunch of things while simultaneously wrecking the movie.  I won’t give that away, but you’ll end up repeating the phrases “oh, that makes sense now” followed by “but then why didn’t…”  It also creates a MacGuffin that wouldn’t have existed in my version of the film.  And if that’s not enough, the movie commits one last trauma to the groin of science.  Recall that Gardner is dying because of the gravitational effect on his heart?  They solve this problem by strapping Gardner into Nathaniel’s personal rocket shuttle and blast out of Earth’s lower atmosphere.  I’m no physicist, but if 1G was slowly tearing apart his heart, wouldn’t 11G’s liquefy it?  You’re right – I’m thinking way too hard about this film.

Like I said, at first glance the movie is kind of cute, but it’s a movie you won’t want to watch more than once.  Outside of Gardner, the characters are 1.5-dimensional, the plot can’t get out of its own way, and the attention to detail is spotty at best.  But 11%?  I guess.

Rating: Ask for nine dollars back and always use birth control before going to space.

San Andreas

By: Kevin Jordan

Good.  Fuck ‘em.

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California has been living on borrowed time.  As San Andreas’s seismologist (Paul Giamatti) puts it – “the San Andreas Fault goes off every 150 years and we are 100 years overdue, so it’s only a matter of when.”  Californians have built up a staggering debt (north of $132 billion dollars as of 2013) and had the audacity to ask the rest of the country to give them another $50 billion (at least) to build a train from Los Angeles to San Francisco that you will most likely never use because the Wright Brothers invented airplanes more than 100 years ago.  They waste an amazing amount of water growing grapes in the desert so they can one-up each other on wine-tasting knowledge.  They are the birth place of the anti-vaccine movement, helping to bring back once eradicated diseases – including whooping cough (pertussis) and measles – insisting it is their right to endanger other people because Jenny McCarthy said so.  They’ve tried to ban Happy Meals, prevented a completed nuclear reactor from ever being turned on, and tried to break their state into six states because fuck poor people and farmers.  I mean, have you seen their “Come to California” commercials, in which a bunch of famous, rich people tell you how awesome it is to be them?  What they neglect to tell you is you should come if you don’t mind multiple annual wildfires, six of the top ten smoggiest cities in the country, the worst drought since the state starting keeping records, earthquakes, an unemployment rate consistently higher than the national average, and Raiders fans.  On the plus side, at least they’re not Texas.

Remember when we were kids and we believed that a big enough earthquake would cause California to break off and sink into the ocean?  San Andreas debunks that myth by showing us a bunch of shit that is even less likely to happen when the big one finally strikes.  Either way, we get to see those people mentioned above die in a movie that can only be described as pure disaster porn.  Yes – porn.  Think about it for a moment.  Traditional porn is watched purely for the visual pleasure with zero expectation of including anything that could be described as plot or worthwhile dialogue.  Trade sex for cities being destroyed and Bang Andrea becomes San Andreas.  Now, you might be asking why I would bother reviewing San Andreas when I have explicitly stated in the past that I would not review porn.  The answer is because this particular porn cost $100 million and is being released in thousands of theaters across the country.  If Bang Andrea were doing the same, I’d review it too.

(This movie was moronic, so of course I’m going to provide ample SPOILERS.)

Two minutes into the movie, I knew it was going to be worse than my expectations of SyFy flick, with better special effects.  The film starts with a girl trapped in her car while dangling from the side of a crack in the Earth after a rockslide pushed her there.  The special effects in this scene were so poorly rendered that I did the first of many forehead slaps throughout the film (the special effects in this film were inconsistent at best, with bad scenes like this contrasted with great scenes of buildings collapsing).  Imagine a car flipping down a mountainside and the mountain is a giant magnet, so the car never breaks contact with the mountain.  And that was one of the better portrayals of science/physics during the film (I’ll get to those in a moment).  The scene gets even more ridiculous when our hero, Ray (Dwayne Johnson), shows up in his helicopter to save her, says “I’m going to flip the hat” – whatever the fuck that means – then maneuvers the helicopter into the crack, endangering his crew and the reporter and cameraman also present in the chopper.  I realize that this is fairly standard fare for this type of movie, but can someone please explain to me why he doesn’t just lower one of his crew on a rope, since that’s what he ends up doing anyway?  That’s how this brain-damaged movie started.

Following that scene, we are introduced to the rest of the cast, as well as treated to the standard disaster movie faux-science scene.  You know what I’m talking about – these movies always start with some scientist saying something that only the scientifically-challenged would believe.  Armageddon gave us the firecracker-in-the-closed-hand idea, 2012 gave us the underground neutron detection well, and in San Andreas, Lawrence (Giamatti) and colleagues go to the Hoover Dam to test their earthquake predictor that measures magnetic pulses.  I actually don’t have a problem with these scenes, but they deserve to be ridiculed and called out because there are people out there that actually believe this shit (hell, some of them are in Congress).

The movie continues by establishing where people are going to be when the shit hits the fan.  Ray and his future ex-wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), are in Los Angeles and their daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), is in San Francisco with Emma’s boyfriend, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd).  The entire rest of the plot is Ray trying to rescue Emma and Blake so let’s talk about these characters.

Ray is easily the worst character in the movie, despite what we are supposed to believe.  That opening scene establishes him as the commander of the L.A. Fire Department’s rescue team and that he was responsible for saving hundreds of lives as a rescue soldier in Afghanistan.  So, when he is called in to help with rescue efforts after the quakes start, what does he do?  He ditches his job to rescue his wife, then abandons the city to rescue his daughter, even though his daughter will call him to tell him that a couple of British boys saved her already.  But, that doesn’t stop him from continuing on.  And, because the writers were incredibly lazy (or just really bad), the rest of his rescue team is inexplicably missing for the duration of the film because it would have been hard for him to convince them this was the right thing to do.

Next, we have Emma.  Her entire purpose is to instigate conversations that only ex-wives in disaster movies ever start.  Conversations like “why did our marriage break up” or “why won’t you open up with me?”  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a role reversal there and when Ray tries to talk about their marriage she tells him to shut up and focus because the world is literally cracking apart?

Then, we have Daniel, who is supposed to be a villain, but kind of pales in comparison to the Earthquakes that are killing everybody.  We’re supposed to hate this guy because he’s rich and dating Emma, but he seems like a genuinely nice guy that just wants to build buildings.  When the initial San Francisco quake occurs, he and Blake crash in a parking garage and Blake is stuck in the car.  He runs to get help and is almost crushed by chunks of falling concrete.  As he lies on the floor staring at his crushed shoe, it’s obvious that he goes into shock.  He gets up and leaves, forgetting all about Blake.  Again, we’re supposed to hate the guy simply because he goes into shock and leaves Blake, but we’re supposed to like Ray even though he abandoned his job and millions of potential rescue victims.  Um, no.  Of course, Daniel is going to die, but it’s really hard to cheer for that for two reasons – (1) because of what I just said and (2) he’s standing on the Golden Gate bridge surrounded by hundreds of people when a container ship crashes down on top of them.  Only a sadist would be happy he died and not worry about everyone around him.

Finally, we have Blake, the standard damsel in distress.  Her character is confusing, as one moment she needs rescuing, and the next moment she is doling out survival advice.  Of course, you’ll forget all that when the movie decides to act more like a porn by having her strip off her jacket and outer tank top, dump water on her, then have her swim around so you can see as much cleavage as possible.  And since Daddario is 29 years old, it’s not gross that I ended up staring at her spectacular breasts for the last ten minutes of the film (though it might be gross that I used the word spectacular).

Because disaster movies are always trying to one-up the last disaster movie, this movie had to destroy two cities instead of just one and include a tsunami in addition to the multiple earthquakes.  Much like a porn, at a certain point during the movie you start to get bored.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever watched a porn flick all the way through?  Unless you are the horniest male teenager on the planet, you’re good after two sex scenes at most.  That boredom led me to think the following things during the latter half of San Andreas:

  • How did a tsunami destroy San Francisco, or even form at all, if the quake’s epicenter was twenty miles east of L.A.?
  • I bet they aren’t concerned about the drought any more.
  • How long will it take Ray to travel the 300+ miles by helicopter from L.A. to S.F. in an old Huey?
    • (As it turns out, the answer is never. It’s 337 miles by air and the Huey he’s flying has a range of 285 miles.  Good job writers.)
  • Unless the Earth splits in half, there is no way that people on the East Coast are going to feel an earthquake on the West Coast, regardless of strength.
  • Why is nobody in this movie bleeding?
  • Man, those are some nice boobies.

After all of that, I was still mildly enjoying myself because I knew going in the movie was porn.  It has plenty of disaster and even manages to squeeze in a porny joke (it’s literally the only joke in the entire film) in which Ray parachutes Emma and himself into AT&T Park (the Giants ballpark – don’t ask) and says “It’s been awhile since I got you to second base.”  Again, that’s why I was there.  But the end of this movie did something so bad that the forehead slap nearly knocked me unconscious.  As Ray and family stood on a hill overlooking the carnage, Emma asked “what do we do now?”  Ray (and the entire audience) responded with “We rebuild” and a giant American flag unfurled from the remains of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Seriously, fuck ‘em.

(P.S. – Despite how it sounds, I don’t actually hate all Californians.  I know and love several of them.  Hi, Cheryl!)

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back unless you’ve ever returned a porno to the adult movie shop.  Again, you know what you are getting and you deserve it.