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- Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Sci-Fi & Fantasy
The harrowing, intergalactic satire that is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is more than a cult classic. The hugely influential film pushed the boundaries, in terms of both special effects and narrative, chronicling the two astronauts who wage ware against their ship’s intelligence system while investigating the appearance of a mysterious monolith in deep space. Dialogue is limited and interspersed with classical music, which gives the film differing shades of nuance, while the film’s accurate depiction of space flight and ambiguous imagery only further the existential questions it brings up regarding what humankind is truly capable of. You could say it delivers on a cosmic scale, even if Matt Damon is nowhere to be found.
Ignore the fact that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is starring in a remake of John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China. The original film, starring trucker extraordinaire Kurt Russell and then-heartthrob Kim Cattrall, remains the kind of cult classic you can only dream up. It appeased Carpenter’s long-standing desire to make a martial arts film when it was made in ’86, telling the story of Jack Burton (Russell) and his heroic encounter with the ancient sorcerer residing beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown. The movie’s premise is over-the-top, especially when you factor in the complicated special effects and the melange of canny references to other iconic films, but its the two-fisted Russell that truly gives it a timeless appeal.
Snowpiercer is based directly on the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige. It’s follows the aftermath of an experiment to counteract the threat of global warming, one that leaves the remaining citizens of Earth confined to a single, class-divided train circling the globe. It’s an ambitious spectacle, anchored by director Bong Joon-ho’s claustrophobic action scenes, Hong Kyung-pyo’s progressive cinematography, and reveling in a refreshing vision of post-apocalyptic society. No one is as fed up with traveling coach than protagonist Chris Evans.
Big Fish doesn’t quite showcase the hallmarks of a typical Tim Burton film. Nonetheless, the father-son fantasy is a charming tale of one reporter’s attempts to learn the truth behind his dying father’s bevy of tall tales. Many people still liken it to Forrest Gump without political facade, but it’s a smart celebration of the art of storytelling even if you don’t see the numerous parallels. Protagonist Edward Bloom is also one of Ewan McGregor’s better roles, a steadfast rendition of the man Daniel Wallace first forged in his 1998 novel of the same name.
Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey, director Robert Wise’s black-and-white vision of the short story Farewell to the Master is both epic in scope and vision. It remains one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time, revolving around an alien visitor (Michael Rennie) who comes to Earth with a mechanical companion and a message that will ultimately affect the future of the entire human race. Rennie and his cool, collected demeanor present a universal call for peace to those living during the Atomic Era, though, many of the films sentiments still echo today. Now, if only the 2008 remake starring Keanu Reeves wasn’t such a catastrophe.
“This movie is exceptional fare,” begins one Netflix review, “tears may be forthcoming, but it’s just a good and beautiful fairy tale!” Said review encapsulates the heart of Julian Fellowes’ From Time to Time, a century-spanning tale centered on young boy (Alex Etel) who travels through time to unlock the secrets of his grandmother’s estate after his father is reported missing in action. The ghostly film jumps between 1944 and 1811 on the drop of a dime, and even though it’s directed more toward bookish pre-teens than older audiences, Maggie Smith delivers an excellent performance alongside a cast of familiar faces. It’s touching, too, without being overly twee.
What Underworld lacks in thoughtful character development, it makes up for with sublime Gothic visuals and an extensive backstory that chronicles the troubled relationship between vampires and werewolves (aka Lycans). It stars Kate Beckinsale as Selene, a vampire who’s ultimately forced to go against her own clan when she falls in love with a mortal that she believes is being targeted by the Lycans. The film is certainly not for everyone — in fact, it seemingly shares more in common with a cologne commercial than your standard horror epic — but the trademark style and over-the-top acting of the entire series are utterly entertaining.
The Brothers Grimm is not an amazing film, but it is one of the few fantasy films currently streaming on Netflix that’s worth watching. It tells the tale of Jake (Heath Ledger) and Will Grimm (Matt Damon), two con artists in 19th-century Germany who spend their time performing bogus exorcisms as a way to extort money from various townsfolk. Things change when they encounter genuine black magic, though, culminating in a Gothic fantasy teaming with bouts of dark humor. The writing and acting is drab, but at least the visual design is top-notch (for 2005).
The legacy of Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon cannot be understated, whether you prefer to watch the original silent film or opt for the remastered, hand-painted version that was first shown at the Telluride film festival. The pioneering work is often considered to be the first science fiction film and was widely considered a technical marvel upon release, one that dazzled exhibition goers in 1902 and told the tale of a band of astronomers on an expedition to the moon. It’s overtly theatrical and incredibly short, but remains one of the most influential — and memorable — works in all of cinema to this day. The fact French electronic duo Air soundtracked the remastered version doesn’t hurt, either.
Sharknado is one of those films that’s so bad it’s good. The movie quickly became a cult film following its TV debut on the SyFy channel in 2013, revolving around a group of residents who attempt to fend of a slew shark-filled tornadoes that descend upon Los Angeles. It’s littered with B-level acting for the most part, with the film’s only “claim to fame” being Tara Reid. Fortunately, the horrendous acting, brainless action, and terrible CGI are what makes it. Oh, and that chainsaw scene.
Stardust probably isn’t the Oscar-worthy, fantasy film you hope it will. Nonetheless, it’s surprisingly more entertaining than most matinees your kids would drag you to. It’s the whimsical tale of love-struck Tristan Thorn, one following as he travels to a forbidden realm in an effort to capture a fallen star that has taken human form. It’s rather lighthearted and campy, and moreover, it’s always somewhat refreshing to see the renowned Robert De Niro out of his usual element.