Welcome to the Guide to Love and Movies Valentine's Day Spectacular! "Dinner and a movie" is a phrase that for too long has raised the specter of hum-drum date night mediocrities. No longer! Movies, like fine wine, must be carefully paired with a meal. This year we've prepared three romantic itineraries to bring cinematic sizzle to your date, our little gift to all the lovers out there. Bon appetit!

 
 Brooklyn (2016)



An option for serious cinema lovers, an internationally-inspired dinner is paired with a moving Best Picture nominee about a homesick girl who finds love in a brand new country. This date night is unlikely to appeal to anyone with a deep-seated hatred of the Irish.

The Meal: Get into a New York state of mind by stopping into your favorite pizza shop. To put an Irish spin on your pie, consider toppings like cabbage, potato, or sausage. If you're an adventurous couple, pretend to have accents! Exclaim "Fugget about it!" or "What a load of bollocks!" anytime you think someone is listening, then giggle to yourselves. Engage in a pretend argument about the merits of black pudding or complain loudly about "the damned protestants."

After Dinner: Enjoy the movie! "Brooklyn" is rated PG-13 and runs for 1h 52m. After the film, solemnly contemplate the experience of immigrants in the United States. Invite your most racist relatives over for dessert and coffee. Sit in silent, abject misery when they launch into a series of vitriolic diatribes against refugees. Donate $10 to the charity of your choice. Go to bed, but stare at the ceiling for hours.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)


Celebrate Valentine's Day with this unconventional choice featuring the romantic passions of legendary star-crossed criminals.

The Meal: This date starts by looking your best. Head to the mall with your sweetheart. Select stunning outfits for each other. Steal them. Head to your favorite restaurant with four or more dollar signs on Yelp. Order the most expensive things on the menu, then leave without paying. Notice a wine rack as you race out. Select a wine. Steal it. At your local entertainment retailer, ask for help finding "Bonnie and Clyde" on Blu-ray or DVD. Steal it. When driving, speed at all times.

After Dinner: Pop the cork on your wine selection, kick your feet up, and enjoy the movie! "Bonnie and Clyde" is rated R and runs 1h 52m. Sirens approach. When the cops finally break the door down, the end credits are playing, but the room is empty. Somewhere, tires squeal and tail lights fade into a dark, distant mist. A new legend begins.


Twilight (2008)
 

Celebrate a love that will never die with this affordable date night inspired by the the timeless story of a girl and the 100 year old corpse who loved her!

The Meal: Surprise your sweetie to a delicious four-course dinner spread across four mouth-watering stops in this culinary celebration of the best-selling four-part series! Kick things off with a toast over a pair of Bloody Marys hastily concocted in the parking lot of your favorite grocery store, then dash with the speed of a glitzy glampire to Burger King for an appetizing round of garlic-free onion rings. For your main course, enjoy a burger from Wendy's, made to order as under-cooked as possible. Finally, head to the only place with arches as golden as Edward's eyes and enjoy an ice cold McFlurry. Close your eyes and imagine the frosty sensation of open-mouth kissing a Cullen.

After Dinner: After returning home, retreat to the sofa and snuggle up for the movie! "Twilight" is rated PG-13 and runs for 2h 2m. When it concludes, discover you have died. Spend eternity haunting your apartment/house with your boo.

And that wraps it up. Thanks for taking the time to read this year's V-Day spectacular. If a blog could have a valentine, you'd be ours. Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

"The Space Between Us" is sweet and sentimental in a superficial sort of way, the kind of theatrical candy that critics hate but casual moviegoers eat up. Indeed, many professional reviews have slammed the film as schmaltzy. I'm not so cynical as to be immune from a little well-meaning cheese and if excessive sap was its only problem, this might be a very different review. But "The Space Between Us" is undercut at nearly every turn by scrambled, almost directionless film editing and a script badly in need of revision. Yet even as I'm writing this I find myself wanting to like it more than I did because, gosh darnit, the movie means well! What a pickle.

The story puts an interplanetary spin on otherwise standard YA romantic dramedy. Elliot Gardner is a sixteen year old whose very existence is classified, secretly raised by scientists on Mars after the sudden death of his astronaut mother. It's a lonely life (his best friend is a robotic babysitter) made tolerable by Skype sessions with an Earth girl named Tulsa. After finding a video of his father, Gardner feels more and more trapped by circumstance until the powers-that-be offer him the chance to visit the homeworld he never knew. Gardner seizes the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and immediately goes on the run, determined to find his dad - with Tulsa's help, of course - unaware that Earth's heavier gravity is slowly bringing heart to a stop.

Broadly, the story is fine if unsurprising, buoyed by a pair of perfectly likable performances from its leads, Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson. Butterfield plays awkward but earnest well and the interactions between his Gardner and Robertson's fiercely independent Tulsa produce some genuinely chuckle-worthy moments. But each scene advancing their blooming relationship is interrupted with real clunkers. "The beautiful music you make gives you away," said no sixteen-year-old (or anyone) ever. Veteran Carla Gugino turns in a solid supporting role, bringing some dramatic weight to the story alongside an overacting Gary Oldman as they race to save Gardner from himself.

It isn't just the dialogue; generally, the script seems several rewrites short of a final draft. The action is frequently propelled by absurd coincidence. When Gardner finds himself in momentary danger after recklessly driving a rover far from the Mars station, help immediately materializes out of nowhere. In another scene, Gardner needs to bypass security systems and it turns out a magnetic implant in his chest shuts them down (apparently its only function as the device is never mentioned again). As Gardner makes his escape from NASA, the base is put on lockdown - "No one in or out!" - except, it seems, for a caravan of unsearched cargo trucks. Each break is dumber than the last. When Tulsa steals an iPad for directions and declares "We're so lucky, it's unlocked," you'll swear she winks at the camera.

These may seem like nitpicks, but they add up to a film unable to engage its audience any more than if they'd simply read the script, its own weaknesses exacerbated by editing that honestly feels unfinished. Some scenes end mid-argument, then resolved off-screen by the very next shot. Others linger too long after ending, such as concluding a dramatic revelation with two characters awkwardly running away from the camera. Others slam competing emotional tones together with no transition at all, like abruptly ending a high energy shopping trip and it's accompanying pop music soundtrack with quiet contemplative piano playing in the same scene. It's funny, but you aren't meant to be laughing. Whatever experience the filmmakers intended is lost among the missteps as the film struggles to establish emotional identity or tone.

And yet, despite all of that, I still want to like "The Space Between Us" more than I do. It is not a hatable film. Even though I groaned and snickered, I liked Gardner and Tulsa enough to want to see it through to its silly conclusion. It's not a good movie, but it did make me smile. And really, that isn't the worst way to spend a Saturday.

Score: 2.5 / 5

Whew, what a whirlwind the last two months have been! Somehow between the usual holiday crunch jumping around the state for one hundred and one family gatherings and jetting around the country for work, we bought and moved into our first home. It's great and amazing, the only drawback being a two month detour on my road to "Watch Every Movie"™. Well, we're settled in now and I'm ready to get back on track.

Like Puxsutawney Phil I've popped my head out and seen my shadow, which means six more weeks of winter and another four weeks of winter dump month movies. As always, we run down the trailers for each new release and try to guess their quality with wild, baseless speculation. Dress warmly, take a blanket and sneak some cocoa into the theater - here are the eleven nationwide February releases.


In Theaters February 3

Rings

At Glance: In "Rings," the secrets of "The Ring" are found to go deeper than just death after seven days when a woman discovers a second message hidden inside the original cursed tape.


Why I'm Not Excited: I started to write that this was the sequel to 2002's "The Ring," forgetting completely that there has already been a sequel in the form of 2005's "The Ring Two." I didn't see it, but a cursory Google search suggests it was terrible. "Rings" of course shouldn't be judged against any of its predecessors sins and has indeed changed hands to both a new director and a new writing team. Unfortunately, director F. Javier GutiƩrrez's work has not been well received in the past and one of the screenwriters is responsible for the abominable "Batman & Robin." Yikes.


The Space Between Us

At a Glance: Born unexpectedly to an astronaut, Elliot Gardner has lived his whole life on Mars, far from Earth and anyone his age. After striking up a digital friendship with an Earthbound girl, he gets the chance to travel to the planet for the first time. But the trip may come at too high a cost: as the young Martian's organs begin to fail in the terrestrial environment he embarks on a race to experience a world he never knew.


Why I'm Ambivalent: By now reviews for this are starting to trickle in and boy howdy are they not positive. But I firmly believe that critics be damned, you should see always experience film for yourself. Even the worst movies have fans. But aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes are helpful in terms of expectation management. They just shouldn't determine your opinion. Low expectations can be pleasantly met a lot easier than sky high ones. Anyway, I like space and Asa is pretty okay. And really, what else am I going to see this weekend?


In Theaters February 10

Fifty Shades Darker

At a Glance: This follow-up to 2015's "Fifty Shades of Grey" threatens to leave suburban moms everywhere flush, hot and bothered. In the aftermath of the first film's events, an independent Anastasia Steele is passionately pursued by Christian Grey and comes face to face with demons from his past.


Why I'm Not Excited: I have a penis.


John Wick: Chapter 2

At a Glance: Sequel week continues with a follow-up to 2014's action-packed surprise hit about a former hitman seeking revenge on those who stole his car and killed his dog. "Chapter 2" sees Wick travel to Rome with a bounty on his head and shadowy enemies seeking power.


Why I'm Excited: I haven't seen the first, but word of mouth from folks I respect is that it's great and the same team is responsible for "Chapter 2." Action flicks tend to be very samey and formulaic; anything that breaks the mold is worth checking out. Besides, Neo and Morpheus together again? Sign me up!


The LEGO Batman Movie

At a Glance: This spin-off set in the LEGO universe pits LEGO Batman against his nemesis The Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime's nefarious machinations may prove too much for the tiny plastic Caped Crusader alone, forcing him to turn to the unlikely heroes around him for help.


Why I'm Excited: I'm ready for a DC movie that isn't bound by the rules of the DC Cinematic Universe that resulted in a boring, incoherent "Batman v Superman" and a brainless, forgettable "Suicide Squad." This looks like the complete opposite of those movies. Get lost, drab grays and browns, this movie has color. So long, overplayed grim seriousness, this movie jokes about Robin's tights. Get fired into the sun, Jared Leto's Joker, this movie forgets you exist! This is a celebratory send up of one of the notoriously serious superhero franchises. After those bombs, that's just what I want.


In Theaters February 17

 A Cure for Wellness

At a Glance: A young executive goes to retrieve his CEO from a remote spa in the Alps, but begins to suspect something sinister behind their miracle treatments.


Why I'm Excited: Everything about this trailer is very much my jam. Hidden mystery tucked behind the apparently perfect? Check. Weird medical setting? Check. Creepy cult-like imagery? Check. But remember: trailers lie, and it's February. Still, the premise has me intrigued and the creative minds behind the film produced some good work (despite an overall uneven record). An aside presented without interpretation: Today 20th Century Fox retweeted a ton of positive publicity from people selected to attend an early screening.


Fist Fight

At a Glance: A teacher accidentally gets another, more feared teacher fired on the last day of school, resulting in his challenge to an after-school teacher throw down he is sure to lose.


Why I'm Not Excited: How do you stretch this premise into a satisfying ninety minutes? I'm sure I don't know. Trailers lie, but there's enough repetition in the three minutes above that I'm not sure these guys do either.


The Great Wall

At a Glance: Mercenaries seeking gunpowder in Song dynasty China are set upon by a monster and, fleeing, are taken prisoner by the Chinese armies at the Great Wall. When the Wall is itself besieged by an army of the creatures, they join in its defense.


Why I'm Excited: Okay, hear me out. I'm almost certain this movie will be ridiculous. That said, there's an interesting element to "The Great Wall" in that it is an inverse of the common Hollywood trend of shoehorning Chinese elements into films to appeal to the Chinese market. This film has already been released in China, was produced in-part by a Chinese production company, was directed by a renounced Chinese director, and has a majority Chinese cast. Matt Damon, arguably, was shoehorned in to appeal to Western audiences, concern over white-washing not withstanding. It's an interesting layer in a complex issue the industry is rightfully grappling with.


In Theaters February 24

Collide

At a Glance: A man returns to a life of drug smuggling to raise the money for the kidney transplant his girlfriend desperately needs, only to end up on the run from his dangerous employers.



Why I'm Not Excited: I like Hoult, Jones, Kingsley and Hopkins, but I'm not sure anyone is exactly screaming for an English "Taken."


Get Out

At a Glance: Writer-director Jordan Peele takes a break from comedy to turn in this surprise race-based horror film about a man visiting his white girlfriend's family for the first time. At first relieved to see another person of color, bizarre behavior leads him to suspect something is very wrong at the picture-perfect estate. His only goal: to get out.



Why I'm Excited: I love seeing talent try new things. Satire has been the heart of Peele's work since the comedy sketch show that helped propel him to fame and while this may be his first horror film, it's clear that the premise comes from a nugget of personal truth. I've always enjoyed his work and can't wait to see what he's come up with.


Rock Dog

At a Glance: A guard-dog training to be the protector of his village discovers a passion for music after a radio falls from the sky and sets off to pursue his musical dreams, inadvertently becoming the key for the hungry wolves threatening his peaceful home.


Why I'm Ambivalent: This seems harmless, and is this month's only option for younger kids who may not be ready for "LEGO Batman." It's probably no "Norm of the North," but (despite the trailer's hinting) it's unlikely to be "Toy Story 2" either.


And that's the month! Remember, all commentary is wild, baseless speculation and in no way indicates a movie's actual quality. See what you want! So, what are you excited you see this month? Sound off in the comments below to share what you're seeing and why!
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