Reviews

'The Space Between Us' Almost Works

Asa Butterfield in The Space Between Us (2017)

Ultimately, Peter Chelsom’s sci-fi romance is just a bad movie about a Martian and his girlfriend playing hide-and-seek from some space cops.


The Space Between Us

Director: Peter Chelsom
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Gary Oldman, Carla Gugino, BD Wong, Janet Montgomery
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: STX Entertainment
Year: 2017
UK Release Date: 2017-02-10
US Release Date: 2017-02-03
Website
Trailer

There's almost enough kind-hearted sweetness to elevate the fluffy science-fictioner The Space Between Us above the usual Young Adult dreck. ‘Almost’ being the operative word to describe director Peter Chelsom’s love affair between a naïve Martian boy and a plucky Earth girl. It almost has interesting characters. It almost digs to deeper thematic levels. It almost provides the emotional catharsis it craves. Sadly, ‘almost’ is just enough to make this endurance test feel mildly tolerable between its tantalizing moments of inspiration.

“What’s your favorite thing about Earth?”

It’s a question that Earthlings don’t often contemplate. We take for granted the cleansing power of a rainstorm or the kaleidoscopic beauty of a sunset. These neglected details consume the imagination of Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), a boy whose first 16 years have been spent living inside of a bubble on Mars. And you thought your adolescence was isolated!

Gardner is the ultimate ‘latchkey kid’. His mother Sarah (Janet Montgomery) was an astronaut in the Genesis Program that first colonized Mars. She died while giving birth to Gardner, a fact he has internalized with soul crushing precision. “I killed my mother,” he sincerely confesses to Tulsa (Britt Robertson), his social media buddy back on Earth.

Tulsa is also an orphan, abandoned by her parents and left to the auspices of one foster family after another. Her current father is a drunken crop duster who probably hangs out with Randy Quaid’s character from Independence Day on the weekends. Tulsa and Gardner dream of meeting one day, perhaps to have a cross-country adventure that involves lots of heartfelt talks and stolen vehicles. But more on that later

Several poorly developed supporting characters further complicate matters. There's Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), who founded the Genesis Program and made the fateful decision to hide Gardner’s existence for public relations purposes (? because we know how much Earthlings hate children ?). Kendra (Carla Gugino) is a foxy scientist lady who acts as Gardner’s surrogate mother on Mars, and BD Wong is the NASA bureaucrat who conveniently appears whenever Nathaniel needs to get angry about something.

The Space Between Us is one of those infuriating films in which all the turmoil could be avoided if people simply talked to one another. In this case, if someone would tell Gardner the identity of his biological father, we could avoid the entire movie. Unless you're routinely baffled by Scooby Doo cartoon mysteries, the true identity of Gardner’s father will be painfully obvious, but we’re forced to endure Gardner’s two hour trudge to figure it out.

Chelsom (Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014), Shall We Dance (2004)) provides solid, unspectacular direction here. The action scenes are capably helmed, including a daring escape by Gardner and Tulsa via a propeller plane. The space launch sequences are seamless, and the Mars vista feels appropriately derivative of The Martian.


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The cast, too, is very good. Oldman contains his quacking rage for most of the affair, and is thoroughly convincing as a disheveled scientist who never recovered from his disastrous decision. The real star of the show, however, is Butterfield, who seems poised to make the transition from child actor to mainstream cinema. Butterfield is uncanny as the frail Gardner. His impossibly skinny frame is a blur of elbows and knees as he stomps across the screen. It’s unclear whether he’s walking, or if the Earth is rising suddenly to meet his feet. His comic timing is evident as he watches the approach of a galloping horse with the perfect mixture of childlike wonder and mind-freezing terror. Better days and much better films clearly lay ahead for Butterfield.

The real issues with The Space Between Us reside in Allan Loeb’s script, which fails to capitalize on a moderately interesting premise. Loeb creates an ever-curious force of positivity in Gardner, and then surrounds him with cynics and burnouts who have forgotten how to trust. It’s a wonderful strategy that fails in the execution. None of these secondary characters are rich enough to show any genuine change. Their moments of self-realization and catharsis, as a result, feel unconvincing. All of the emotional highlights -- campfires in the desert and soulful conversations -- exist in the appropriate places, but the lead-up is totally unsatisfying.

Gardner’s primary motivation of finding his father is to blame. Instead of a film that watches Gardner break down his father’s defenses as they get to know one another, we get pointless chase scenes interspersed with hilariously bad dialogue. “How can I be indispensable if no one knows I exist?” is a particular lowlight.

The chemistry between Gardner and Tulsa is believable, but you’re more concerned with the number of cars they are stealing than the progression of their love affair. Seriously, Nicolas Cage stole fewer cars in 2000's Gone in Sixty Seconds than Tulsa lifts here.

The obviousness of the themes and metaphors also becomes tiresome. We establish the scientific truism, for instance, that Gardner’s bones and organs can’t tolerate Earth’s intense gravity. A special operation can reinforce his brittle bones, but his enlarged heart will never be suited for the rigors of this planet. Just in case the symbolism of a boy whose heart is too big for Earth eludes you, we get several heavy-handed reminders, including Tulsa explaining, “Your heart is too big for this world!”

That The Space Between Us doesn’t take itself quite as seriously as its Young Adult brethren is a testament to Butterfield’s uplifting presence. Like the others, however, it does little to justify its sweeping emotional crescendos. Ultimately, this is just a bad movie about a Martian and his girlfriend playing hide-and-seek from some space cops.

4

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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