What if your mother was part of a mission to inhabit Mars who discover she’s pregnant and gives birth to you there? The young adult romdram The Space Between Us attempts to answer via Ethan, her child. He grows up in the high tech US space station on the vast inhospitable landscape of Mars, the only child, knowing just a handful of adults. He’s educated, a skilled computer scientist and fan of Earth that he’s researched on his computer linkup to Earth’s internet. Tulsa’s an earthbound rebel, his constant online companion in the US. He decides to kill two birds with one stone, see Earth and find his girl, both of which are forbidden. She has no idea he’s on Mars or that he is about to escape and come to her. Ethan makes it and is overwhelmed by the sensual fullness of Earth. He finds her and they’re a perfect fit but time is against them. Earth’s atmosphere is hostile to his body. What to do? The adventure begins! It’s a sweet, accessible film with appealing young stars, Asa Butterfield, of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Britt Robertson, fresh off A Dog’s Purpose. It’s a solid family film that asks some big questions.
The provocative courtroom drama Shepherds and Butchers stars Steve Coogan as a South African lawyer who takes a case no one wants, the defense of a teenaged prison guard accused of the murder of eight men. The young man began working in the local prison’s execution chamber at age 17 and attended at least 150 hangings. He was assigned inmates and took them through to their deaths at his hands; he did the dirty work. One night in his truck he snapped and shot a team of football players to death. The lawyer argues that he acted unconsciously as a result of PTSD suffered while doing his job and fights to save him from those same gallows. The young father of two won’t help his own case, and withdraws and refuses to speak. The saddest part is that this actually happened. Coogan, known as a comic actor, does solid dramatic work and Garion Dowds’ accused is living in a palpable living hell. He knows no one can be a shepherd and a butcher and stay sane.
Sounds so great! Taylor Hackford directs Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Leslie Mann, Cloris Leachman, Edie Falco, Charles Grodin, Danny DeVito in The Comedian so it should be a good time. An ageing and bitter insult comic (De Niro) with a hot temper tries to redeem himself by reconnecting with his daughter and finding work – and respect – after serving a prison sentence. His reputation precedes him and he’s finding it an uphill battle. Problem is, to put it succinctly; this is not a good time. It is truly one of the worst films in recent memory. De Niro’s grating character, his vile routines, including a sing-along in a nursing home about pooping, is desperate and unworthy of the man’s talent. This “comedy” made me sad for these stars and angry for them too. The film will never achieve guilty pleasure status because it isn’t just repugnant, it’s boring and there is nothing to care about.
Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña star in the cop buddy film War on Everyone, a Lethal Weapon-esque comedy about rogue cops who take great glee in compromising criminals – and others – via blackmail and framing. They beat, spit on and bully everyone they meet, guilty or not, targets or not. These guys further the notion that cops are rotten. And then boom, they are the bullied, faced with something they haven’t experienced before, someone worse than they are. Suddenly they’re in Iceland – which has money in the film – for a millisecond on “business”. Peña’s character is prone to highbrow cultural references but this is just grasping at straws. The film doesn’t connect; its mentality is grammar school at best and will add nothing to your life.
Rings hangs on a demonic video that when watched will kill the viewer within seven days. Keanu Reeves and Vincent D’Onofrio star but frankly I didn’t even make it through the trailer let alone go to the screening, because it was too disturbing, although I’ll admit it’s beautifully shot.
Let’s clear our palate by talking about Disney’s Pinocchio, beautifully restored, remastered and available now on DVD and Blu-ray. The beloved story of Gepetto and his marionette who wished to be a boy dazzles with its vivid, hand painted colour, artistic detail you don’t see today, old-worlde charm set in a small unnamed town in Italy and the story. Pinocchio’s wish is granted by a fairy but rogues kidnap him and force him to do an act for their traveling circus. His adventures are rather hair-raising but Jiminy Cricket is out to save him. This is where we were given “When You Wish Upon a Star”. *sigh*
Amazon’s Z- The Beginning of Everything stars Christina Ricci as the young Zelda Fitzgerald, a high spirited southern girl who breaks all the rules. Her strict family has no influence over her excerpt to heighten her rebellion. She meets a handsome young writer Scott Fitzgerald just home from WWI and thus begins the long, tumultuous romance that spawned books, films and wagging tongues. Zelda suffered from acute mental illness which manifested later in life, exacerbated by alcohol and hard partying. Her writing is said to be as good as and sometimes borrowed by Fitzgerald.
TIFF Bell Lightbox’ Cinematheque presents Volcano: The Films of Anna Magnani, Jan 27 to March 11 celebrates the Italian actress known as “La Magnani” or “La Lupa” (“The She-Wolf”) for her “volatility and voraciousness. Senior curator James Quandt has put together the best of Magnani’s films to highlight her knockout onscreen presence. How many women have withstood Marlon Brando’s presence onscreen as she did in The Rose Tattoo? Magnani conquered all kinds of roles and worked with auteurs at the top of their games, playing “fruit vendors, prostitutes, molls, convicts, stage mothers, film extras and long-suffering proletarian wives”. www.tiff.net
Kiss and Cry opens on the 10th but there will be special screenings Feb 4 and 7th across Canada to mark World Cancer Day. It is the true story of Toronto’s Carley Allison, a promising 18-year-old figure skater and singer who finds love just as she is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. We’ll have a full review when it opens next week. Carley’s is a deeply inspiring story. You can learn more about Carley at http//www.teamcarley.ca .