Alliance Films' February '08 Releases
Martian Child (February 18/08)
Manipulative to an almost absurd degree, Martian Child is nevertheless an entertainingly sweet little movie that benefits from an expectedly stellar turn from star John Cusack. Director Menno Meyjes proves to be shameless in terms of tugging at the viewer's heartstrings, and although the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with all the style of a generic made-for-TV production, there does reach a point at which the movie's feel-good antics become virtually impossible to resist. The story revolves around the complicated relationship surrounding a successful science-fiction novelist David (John Cusack) and his troubled adopted son (Bobby Coleman's Dennis), with the bulk of the movie devoted to David's efforts at convincing Dennis that he's not actually from the planet Mars. While the bond that inevitably develops between David and Dennis is ultimately as touching (and compelling) as one might've anticipated, the degree to which Dennis is portrayed as an anti-social lunatic ensures that there's initially more entertainment value within David's associations with the movie's various adult characters (including Amanda Peet's Harlee and Joan Cusack's Liz). The authenticity that's been hard-wired into the central characters' father-son dynamic surely plays a significant role in Martian Child's slow but steady improvement, with Cusack's surprisingly warm work here certainly a far cry from the sarcastic persona he's come to be associated with over the years. And while it does become easy enough to overlook the less-than-subtle elements within Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins' screenplay, the inclusion of a clumsy and incredibly heavy-handed moment late in the picture threatens to extinguish whatever good will the film had previously engendered within the viewer (it's just a single line, yet one can't help but shake their head at its colossal simplicity). It's a major misstep for a movie that's otherwise fairly engaging, although - admittedly - the expectedly upbeat conclusion does ensure that the whole thing ends on an appropriately positive note.
Surviving My Mother (February 19/08)
Having been infused with a distinctly mainstream sensibility, Surviving My Mother possesses few of the offbeat attributes that one has come to associate with Canadian cinema - with the end result an uneven yet entertaining effort that'll probably have a more positive effect on viewers of the fairer sex (ie this is ultimately a chick flick through and though). Starring Ellen David and Caroline Dhavernas, the film follows middle-aged mom Clara (David) as she strives to get to know her sexually-promiscuous daughter (Dhavernas' Bianca) following the death of her own mother (Veronique Le Flaguais). It's a familiar premise that's elevated by several better-than-expected performances and Steve Galluccio's sporadically sharp screenplay, although - in terms of the latter - there's little doubt that the increasingly trashy storyline results in a comparatively less-than-enthralling third act. The emotional impact of the finale is consequently dulled by this emphasis on soap-opera level plot twists, with the re-appearance of Clara's dead mom certainly the most obvious (and needless) of the film's overwrought elements. Still, Surviving My Mother undeniably benefits from Dhavernas' bright and personable work and it is awfully difficult not to be drawn into the lives of these dysfunctional characters (ie stripped of any expectations, the film is ideal entertainment for a lazy Sunday afternoon).