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…

 

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: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Features Yet More Apes

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Caesar leads his primate army in ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (Twentieth Century Fox)

dawnplanetapes-posterThe ever-expanding world of sci-fi reboots gets another entry with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which rejiggers themes and even a few climactic scenes from the raggedy 1970s series (Conquest of…Battle for…, etc.) only without much satirical intent. Like 2011’s admittedly lamer Rise of the Planet of the Apes, none of it manages to stand out except, again, for Andy Serkis’ regal, affecting, and soulful performance as the leader of the apes, Caesar.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is now playing pretty much everywhere. My review is at PopMatters:

[The film is] expected to deliver summer action set-pieces, including the battle featuring a rifle-wielding ape cavalry that was promised in its saturation ad campaign. As misunderstandings accumulate and warmongers on both sides get their way, the battle is joined on the crumbled, vine-covered streets of San Francisco. Many, many apes are shot down but curiously, we see just about no humans killed. This may be a nod to a specist ratings board in order to keep a PG-13, but it also points to a general lack of interest in the human characters. Even the heroic humans are pallid and unmemorable, unlike the carefully delineated apes. By the time the apes do gear up for battle, the audience is ready to charge right along with them…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Coherence’

Puzzling out the impossible from the improbable in ‘Coherence’ (Oscilloscope)

coherence-posterIn what could have been another apocalypse-is-nigh freakout, James Ward Byrkit’s highly cool Coherence drops a dinner-party full of yuppies into a hard-to-define sci-fi mystery after a comet passes over Earth and starts causing curious anomalies.

Coherence opens in limited release Friday. My review is at Film Journal International:

There are eight people in the dinner party, but the film is focused on Em (Emily Foxler) and her creeping dread. A dancer with a nervous streak, she’s first concerned by her phone’s screen spontaneously cracking as she drives to the dinner party. Once at her friends’ place, there’s a flurry of anxiety over the appearance of Em’s boyfriend drama-magnet ex-girlfriend. When dinner finally starts, Em starts talking about the comet, telling a story about a supposedly similar event in Finland during the 1920s after which people started acting … strange. It turns out somebody else at the table experienced a cracked phone screen too. Then the lights go out. And people start acting … strange …

Here’s the trailer; it actually manages to not give anything away:

Soundbooth: Dimension X

Ray Bradbury (NASA)

Ray Bradbury (NASA)

Once upon a time, before science fiction (in the form of monster movies and comic-book franchises) took over the cineplex, anthology shows on radio and television provided a steady diet of short tales of the fantastic.

Case in point was the short-lived NBC radio program Dimension X, which ran from 1950 to 1951 and advertised itself as “adventures in time and space, told in future tense.”

During the show’s tenure, they broadcast work by some of the genre’s greatest practitioners, from Isaac Asimov and Robert Bloch to Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlein. Now, thanks to the memory machine that is the Internet, you can listen to some of those programs at the Internet Archive. Make sure to check out Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” originally collected in The Martian Chronicles and one of the greatest, saddest testimonies ever penned on the folly of war.

(h/t to Jacket Copy)

New in Theaters: ‘The Rover’

Robert Pattinson in 'The Rover' (A24)

Robert Pattinson in ‘The Rover’ (A24)

therover-posterThe latest movie about what happens after society falls apart is The Rover, a bloody and spare Australian revenge Western set in a burnt-up stretch of the outback where a gun is the law.

The Rover opens in limited release Friday and then goes wider on June 20. My review is at Film Racket:

Most post-apocalyptic vengeance stories like The Rover at least flirt with nihilism. But this is normally just window-dressing there to throw a little grit under the wheels of something all too familiar. What makes David Michod’s hot, percussive, jolting film stand out from the after-the-fall pack is its realization of just how far its protagonists have fallen, even compared to the tattered remnants of civilization around them…

Here’s the trailer:

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: