Screening Room: The Top 5 Sci-Fi Movies That Never Were

Production art from Alejandro Jodorowsky's never-produced 'Dune' (Sony Pictures Classics)

Production art from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s never-produced ‘Dune’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Sometimes it can be better to think about the possibilities of those great unrealized what-if film projects of legend than to actually see them made. Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, Ridley Scott’s I Am Legend, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs spinoff; there’s a lot of possibilities there for genius, but also insane overreach.

In the interest of indulging the what if side of things, I posted a highly subjective list at Short Ends & Leader of the “Top 5 Sci-Fi Movies That Never Were“:

Even were it not for the mental anguish brought about by the revival of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it would be obvious we live in strange times, cinematically speaking. To wit: Every other movie playing in theaters features alien invasions, bionic bodysuit weaponry, time travel, or a half-dozen other elements that make a geeky kid’s heart beat just that much faster. You would think, then, that studios would be dusting off every science-fiction script their D-girls passed on over the past couple decades and working out how to put Matthew McConaughey in it…

 

Now Playing: Romantic Comedy Sci-Fi in ‘The One I Love’

Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass get a surreal bit of marriage counseling in 'The One I Love' (RADiUS-TWC)

Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass get a surreal bit of marriage counseling in ‘The One I Love’ (RADiUS-TWC)

The One I Love is playing now in highly limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

How well can we ever know each other? That’s one of the less interesting questions posed by Charlie McDowell’s willowy and romantic science-fiction two-hander with a Twilight Zone twist about a couple with marriage problems whose sojourn at a therapeutic retreat takes a quirky turn. When the story is fully locked in, it wrestles with some more gripping issues of identity and a Machiavellian spin on relationship dynamics. But all too often, it falls back on easygoing relationship drama that saps the underlying premise of its more meaningful promise….

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ Takes Aim at the One Percent

In 'The Purge: Anarchy' all crime is legal for one annual twelve-hour free-for-all (Universal Pictures)

In ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ all crime is legal for one annual twelve-hour free-for-all (Universal Pictures)

purge-poster1Just last year, a little sci-fi/horror film called The Purge lit up theaters with its canny blend of exploitation thriller jolts and subversive agitprop. Now comes the inevitable sequel, which ramps up the class-conscious revolutionary rhetoric in an expanded story about a near-future America where one night a year all crime is legal for 12 hours.

The Purge: Anarchy opens this Friday everywhere. My review is at PopMatters:

 In the first film, the ridiculous rationale left open the suggestion that the Purge’s real purpose was even uglier. What if the big night isn’t a means to purge unwanted impulses, but rather, a way to get rid of unwanted people? In Anarchy, the politics read loud and clear. Sergeant and his carload of charges face down everyone from flamethrower-wielding ATV rednecks to storm troopers cruising around in armored big rigs and nihilist skateboard punks with ghostface makeup and machetes…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘I Origins’

Michael Pitt and Astrid Berges-Frisbey in 'I Origins' (Fox Searchlight)

Michael Pitt and Astrid Berges-Frisbey in ‘I Origins’ (Fox Searchlight)

I Origins-posterA few years back, Mike Cahill made one of the more ghostly sci-fi movies of recent years with Another Earth. Now he’s back with that film’s enigmatic Brit Marling and Boardwalk Empire‘s Michael Pitt for a globe-spanning story about, well, eyes.

I Origins opens this Friday in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

A haunted-looking Michael Pitt is the main attraction in Mike Cahill’s curious fandango of a science-fantasy story about fate, destiny, genetics and love, and that’s unfortunate. Pitt can usually excel when playing dreamers or tortured types befitting his sensuously languorous mien. But for I Origins, Pitt has to put on a sweater, adjust his glasses, and play a molecular biologist. For the many scenes that call for a sense of true obsession, he can’t quite summon the proper focus, deploying a Johnny Depp-like dourness. Without that, an already disjointed film drifts further apart…

You can see the trailer here:

Now Playing: ‘Chef’

Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo in 'Chef' (Open Road Media)

Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo in ‘Chef’ (Open Road Media)

Chef-posterAfter making a mint with the first two Iron Man movies, Jon Favreau went smaller. In Chef, he plays a chef who loses his job and redeems himself by driving around with his son and best buddy serving up cubanos and beignets. Not a bad life.

Chef is playing around the country now and should be hanging around for a few more weeks before the summer season really gets started. My review is at Film Racket:

Chef is one of those jobs that many people dream of but not that many would actually want to do. A few hours on the prep line in August would burn away most foodie fantasies quite nicely. Carl Casper, the chef played by Jon Favreau in his post-Iron Man palate cleanser, however, doesn’t have many of those grotty concerns mucking up his pretty perfect life. Surrounded by gorgeous women, delectable food, rowdy friends, and a keen-eyed little moppet of a son just dying for his attention, his only real problems are those notes of discontent twanging in his head….

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’

Emily Blunt, Tom Cruise in 'Edge of Tomorrow' (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Emily Blunt, Tom Cruise in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (Warner Bros. Pictures)

In Tom Cruise’s latest man-vs-world thriller, he plays a futuristic soldier who dies and dies again in the line of service. Emily Blunt is there to … well, it gets confusing.

Edge of Tomorrow opens wide on Friday. My review is at Film Journal International:

The spirits of World War II thrum mightily through Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, visually in everything from the sight of aerial troopships soaring over the Dover cliffs to the rakish tilt of Tom Cruise’s officer’s cap. It self-consciously evokes the grand, terrifying spectacle and unifying purpose of the Normandy invasion. This even though the enemy forces occupying most of Europe are not Nazis but multi-tentacled, wolverine-nasty aliens called Mimics who are about this close to cleaning humanity’s clock. It’s up to an initially cowardly Cruise and a fearsomely muscled Emily Blunt to take them out, which they can accomplish by Cruise reliving the same gruesome day of battle until he figures out how to achieve victory…

You can see the trailer here:

Reader’s Corner: 50 Essential Science Fiction Novels

neuromancer-gibsonEvery now and again the good people over at the online used-book emporium AbeBooks put up collections of grand book covers. Those who like this sort of thing enjoy just trolling through all the glorious old designs, with their funky and outmoded typefaces and abstract illustrations. But every now and again they do more of a curated thematic listing. That’s the case with their recent “50 Essential Science Fiction Novels.” As Richard Davies notes, it’s a fairly impossible task:

I wanted to show the unbelievable breadth of this galactic-sized genre and, of course, I failed because this is just the tip of the spaceberg – there are probably 500 essential science fiction books, not 50.

hitchhikersThe list covers everything from William Gibson (pictured) to Jules Verne and J.G. Ballard. It’s not just a piece of literary eye-candy, but a welcome reminder that there’s plenty out there still to be read. (Note to self: need to add more Theodore Sturgeon to the must-buy list.)

Davies notes that selecting these books “was a virtually impossible task.” Still, there are worse tasks out there in the universe…