Saturday, 31 July 2010

10 Under-Appreciated Sci-Fi Movies

Sci-fi is a genre that you either love or hate, and since it’s a niche market movie studios often release sci-fi films with less fanfare than they deserve. Even if you’re a sci-fi fan, it can be easy to miss some solid films in the category. To right this wrong, here’s a list of great sci-fi flicks that you might have missed. Of course, if we missed any, please let us know in the comments!

10. Equilibrium


Christian Bale stars in this sci-fi action flick about a future where all forms of emotion have been outlawed. There are a couple points where some of the supporting cast seems to forget that they’re not supposed to feel, but even so Equilibrium has some great ideas and cool scenes. It’s best known for its “gun-kata,” a martial art based entirely on the science of gunfights.

9. eXistenZ


A creepy, gloppy film from David Cronenberg about the testing of a new virtual reality game, eXistenZ is certainly not a film for everyone. It’s twisty and filled with lots of shifts between different planes of reality and has several moments of Cronenberg’s trademark “body horror,” including a pretty disturbing biological gun. But there’s an even bigger reason many people haven’t seen it. It was released less than one month after another virtual reality movie you may have heard of: The Matrix.

8. Sunshine


Sunshine isn’t a perfect film, but it’s got some great ideas and an interesting visual style that make it worth checking out. On a voyage into space to reignite the dying Sun, a team of scientists encounter disaster that could spell death for them and, in turn, the rest of humanity. You’ll never think about sunlight the same way again.

7. Pitch Black


Forget the junky sequel The Chronicles of Riddick. Pitch Black transcends its Aliens­ rip-off roots, thanks to great characters, especially the magnetic murderer Riddick, played by Vin Diesel. He’s a bad guy who’s called up to protect a group of stranded space travelers from killer aliens, if only because they increase his own chances for survival. The spin-off video game is also great, but seriously, the sequel is crap.

6. The Hidden


There’s an FBI agent on the trail of a brutal criminal, and each one has a secret: they’re both aliens in human bodies. The Hidden is a little dated by today’s standards, but it’s still got some great ideas and great performances, especially professional weirdo Kyle Maclachlan as the FBI agent/intergalactic hunter.

5. A Boy and his Dog


Based on a novella by sci-fi master Harlan Ellison, A Boy and his Dog stars Don Johnson as a kid in a post-apocalyptic world who has a telepathic link with his dog. Together they stumble into an underground society that has sexy and sinister ideas in mind for the Boy. Why aren’t you watching it right now?

4. Primer


Created by a small team of filmmakers with a budget of around $7000, Primer is one of the most intelligent, mind-bending sci-fi movies in decades and one of the most complex time-travel films ever. Writer/director/producer Shane Carruth is a former mathematician and engineer, so to say that Primer is a thinking man’s sci-fi film is probably underselling it. It’s a tough film to follow, but you can’t have a list of vital sci-fi movies without Primer.

3. Moon


A sad, smart film from David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones, Moon is a film that works entirely because of the performance of Sam Rockwell. As someone about to end a three-year stint working on the moon, the main character Sam discovers a secret that changes everything about his job and his life, but to say more would be to do a disservice to the movie.

2. Silent Running


In the future, all of Earth’s plant life has died. The only remaining flora is stored in a fleet of greenhouse ships in space. But when protagonist Freeman Lowell is ordered to destroy the forests he’s so passionate about protecting, his disobedience puts him in direct conflict with the rest of his crew. Check it out and discover why it’s considered one of the all-time gems of the sci-fi genre.

1. Gattaca


One of the most respected sci-fi films of the last couple decades, Gattaca paints an all-too believable portrait of a permanent underclass of humans based on their “inferior” genetic material. Faking genetic tests with borrowed DNA, protagonist Vincent is days away from his dream of traveling to space. But can he maintain his charade long enough to make it to the launch? Watch it and find out.

16 Of The Worst Television Spin Offs

It’s a pretty standard ploy from television execs: once a show is even vaguely popular, take some of the characters, and give them their own series. Hopefully, the money train keeps arriving at the station, and you can keep up your habits of snorting ground mummies off transvestite midget’s asses, or whatever it is that television execs actually do. Unfortunately, for every good spin off (Frasier) there are dozens of horrible ones, ranging from the boring to the downright unwatchable. Here are some of the worst.

16. Highlander: The Raven

Calling the original Highlander TV show ‘good’ is a bit of a stretch. It had a certain charm to it, and anything with a theme by Queen instantly wins a few cool points. But messy timelines, stilted acting, and weird accents made the original series into something only a fanboy could love. So, why the hell would they do a spin off? And why remove most of the violence and action at the same time? Instead, replacing it with two leads who obviously have no chemistry, and trying to turn the whole serious into a moralistic romance. This is Highlander! We want decapitations!

15. AfterMASH

When MASH ended, it was on a brutally nihilistic and depressing note, and remains one of the strongest series endings of all time. Three of the actors from the show didn’t want it to end (correctly guessing they’d have no career afterwards) and so they elected to make a spin off. After the incredibly downbeat ending of the original, what better spin off than a hilarious sitcom set in a veteran’s hospital after the war, starring Klinger, Colonel Potter, and Father Mulcahy! Lasting a season and a half, it had none of the charm nor wit of the original, and it’s a bit harder to make social commentary about the horrors of war, when you’re half a world away, working at a hospital in Missouri.

14. Joey

Friends was insanely popular, right? And it was funny! So how do you capture the wit and charm of an ensemble show like that? I know, let’s take its least funny actor, change the setting, surround him with other useless actors, and hope it takes. Yeah, we get it, Joey’s dumb, good looking, and trying to make it as an actor. The whole “good looking” schtick starts to fade when you realise in the decade since Friends started, Leblanc was now 40 years old, and more than a bit pudgy. Even with the insanely rabid fanbase that Friends somehow managed to acquire, this stillborn show only lasted two seasons. Most likely due to it completely lacking in the funny, from having different writers and producers.

13. The Golden Palace

No, not the crappy online casino, which will pay exorbitant sums for Virgin Mary toast. The Golden Palace was a spin off of Golden Girls, and by all accounts, it should have been hilarious. It had Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty, Don Cheadle, and Cheech Marin in it! Cheech! And they tried to run a hotel! Sure, it was missing Bea Arthur, and was shown on the Friday evening death slot, but come on! That cast is amazing. It lasted but a single season, due to revamped characters, the aforementioned bad time slot, and the fact that it was playing against the immensely popular Family Matters. Personally, I blame the writers. This could have been absolutely hilarious, given the talent they were working with. Just imagine a hotel run by the Golden Girls, War Machine and Cheech & Chong. Yeah, you know that would be fantastic.

12. Baywatch Nights

I hate to break it to you, Hasselhoff, but there’s only one reason people watched Baywatch, and it wasn’t your acting. So, instead of having a show at a beach, where lots of ladies wandered around in skimpy outfits, the spin off was about a detective agency. See how it’s called “Baywatch Nights”? Not many people wear bikinis at night. The first season attempting to do a standard detective drama show, but that bombed, and so the producers radically shifted the series. Into a paranormal investigation show. That’s right, they made it into an absolutely terrible riff on the X-Files. Look at the video above. If that’s the shitty budget that was put into the opening credits, can you imagine how little they had to use on the episodes? I’ve seen more convincing werewolves from community theater productions of Twilight.

11. The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

Oh awesome! A TV show about a hot mod spy, kicking ass in a miniskirt. She travels the world, under-cover, using sexy accents, and being generally awesome. Like Cate Archer meets Alias, right? Unfortunately, not quite. Unlike its predecessor — The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — the girly version wasn’t actually allowed to fight. She didn’t have kung-fu skills, or carry a gun. She had a couple of vaguely explosive gadgets, but otherwise had to rely on her feminine wiles. In other words, every episode was her getting kidnapped, being a damsel in distress, and getting rescued by her partner with the large penis, er, I mean, gun. Not quite the women’s lib sexpot spy that everyone was hoping for.

10. Enos

You know what I wish Dukes of Hazzard had less of? Thrilling car chases, and scantily clad young ladies. Oh, and maybe more of that bumbling deputy, Enos. I know, we’ll send him to join the LAPD, where he’ll be partnered with a sassy black cop, who’s “jive” and whatnot! It’s brilliant! There’s no way that stripping all the good features from the show and completely changing the location will make it worse. Way to take all the charm and joy of the original, and instead turn it into a bumbling buddycop show that lasted only a single crappy season. Needs more girls in tiny shorts.

9. The Bradys/Brady Cartoon/Brady Brides

The Brady Bunch had a ton of spin offs, all of which were universally deplored. They were just awful. There was the cartoon, which focused on the kids having adventures with speaking animals (Scooby Doo much?). Then the Brady Bunch Variety hour, which only lasted nine episodes. In the 80s there were a bunch of reunions, culminating in the really, really weird “The Bradys”. It had almost all of the original actors, barring Marcia and Carol, but they were all adults. It was an attempt to shift the show into a serious vein, and dealt with death, alcoholism, and romance. Given how the Bradys were originally the epitome of white-bread fun, you can understand why it only went for a half-dozen episodes.

8. The Tortellis

The Tortellis was the first attempt at a spin off from Cheers, and it’s not that surprising it didn’t take. Unlike the later, and much more successful, Frasier, The Tortellis started with a much less interesting and smaller character: Carla’s ex-husband. The sitcom was standard fare about Nick Tortelli and his impossibly attractive wife. Not only did the show tank in its ratings, but it also drew heavy fire due to the extremely stereotypical depiction of Italian-Americans. It was like a bad Family Guy skit, but prime time, and not self-mocking. It was cancelled after a lucky 13 episodes, due to consistently low viewership, 50th out of 79 shows.

7. Models Inc

Models Inc. was the second descendant of Beverly Hills, 90210. First came 90210, then Melrose Place, then Models Inc. The show was pure 90s distilled. Look at the hair! The makeup! The intro that looks like it should be shown on Cinemax at 2AM (do they even do that anymore, or has internet porn killed it?). Seriously, watch the clip, and tell me that it doesn’t scream soft porn. This failed drama show was about a modeling agency in LA, because, well, models are catty bitches, so drama should flow freely. Chock full of hair pulling, drugs, scandal, and sex, it still performed so utterly terribly that it got canned after the first season, even though it ended on a cliffhanger. Check it out for a pre-Matrix Carrie-Anne Moss

6. Team Knight Rider

Every attempt to capture the cheesy magic of the original Knight Rider has failed miserably, mostly due to the fact that the first one wasn’t actually that good. Sure, Hasselhoff had some charm, and KITT was a cool concept, but it was campy and cheesy, even by the standards of the time. Of all the attempts to resurrect it, the worst was the late 90’s Team Knight Rider. Instead of “one man making a difference”, it was five people, and five vehicles. An SUV, a convertible, a truck, and two motorcycles. It was one of those utterly horrible medium-budget, action drama shows that polluted the airwaves during that time, usually with some minor bit of futuristic technology to make it seem interesting. One season of this large casted behemoth was enough for it to be forgotten for good.

5. Saved By The Bell: The New Class & The College Years

Oh, Saved by the Bell. Growing up, I was sure High School would be just like that, with Hammer pants, protests, preppies, and insanely hot girls — I was so disappointed by real life. The clip art opening is so firmly entrenched in my mind, that I can probably recite from memory each object that flies by. After the incredibly successful original run, the producers tried to extend the story in two years, first by following the kids to college (which flopped after a single season), and then by having a new cast of kids at Bayside. This new series underwent constant casting changes, and generally lost 2 or 3 students every season. Somehow, this utterly bland and boring show lasted an astonishing seven seasons, and propped up the careers of Principal Belding and Screech far, far longer than they should have.

4. Doctor Phil

Oprah deserves a special place in hell for unleashing Doctor Phil and his brand of quackery onto the general public. His advice is often so bad, it makes anyone even vaguely sensible wince. You know he’s a PhD, not an MD, right? His PhD thesis was called “Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Psychological Intervention” and he got it at the University of North Texas, where he had major issues with the faculty. He’s been brought before the Board for inappropriately hiring a patient as an employee, as well as accused of “inappropriate contact”. He made false statements about his weight loss products. He cares far more about self-promotion than he does about anyone he claims to try and help. Why anyone would look to him for advice bewilders me intensely, and I blame his fame entirely on Oprah.

3. Ally

When Fox decided to create a spin off of Ally McBeal, they couldn’t even be bothered to create new characters, or film new footage. Instead, they just took the cutting floor scrapings of the original show, and repackaged them for additional broadcast. So, it was still the original, with the same stories, just edited with some different footage. They cut out most of the courtroom stuff, and instead focused almost solely on relationships. Unsurprisingly, even though people were willing to watch a skeleton lawyer once a week, they weren’t willing to watch exactly the same thing shot from a slightly different angle. Only 10 of the 13 episodes were ever shown.

2. Galactica 1980

Long before Battlestar Galactica was brought back from the dead into its most recent — and really fucking cool — incarnation, there was an attempt at a spin off from the original series. Almost none of the original cast remained, instead a new crop of even worse actors were brought in. Adama now has one of the worst fake beards in existence, and the plot focuses mostly around two officers of the fleet dressing up as CHiPs, and attempting to protect some of the fleet’s children on modern day Earth. The budget was severely reduced for the ten episode show, so it manages to look significantly more dated than its predecessor. And the plot? Oh man, it makes almost no sense. The producers were saddled with weird restrictions about content, due to it being shown in a timeslot that had to be “child friendly”, so almost no violence, lots of educational material, and all the characters had to be paragons of virtue. There’s also the whole Dr. Zee thing. Turns out he’s the magic spirit baby of Starbuck and an angel, who was conceived when Starbuck was stranded on a planet with a Cylon. Wat?

1. Joanie Loves Chachi

There’s only one show that could top this list, and it’s this mewling stillborn abomination, that starred two people who obviously hated each other. Chachi was a bad character, even on Happy Days. C’mon, putting in The Fonz’s cousin? Yeah, we’re not digging it. And then having him fall in love with Joanie, and the two go off and try to start a band. The horrible, horrible show was interspersed with musical numbers, which just served to emphasize that Scott Baio cannot sing. It had two seasons, the first of which was incredibly short, before both characters were absorbed back into Happy Days, and the show only gets remembered as a colossal blunder.