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Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Queue: Netflix picks for sci-fi haters

Posted by on Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 12:17 PM

click to enlarge Strange Days is an underrated slice of sci-fi grunge. - PHOTO COURTESY OF 20TH CENTURY FOX
  • photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
  • Strange Days is an underrated slice of sci-fi grunge.
Perhaps you're familiar with this dilemma: There's a certain genre of movie that you adore and your significant other hates. Science fiction, say. When it comes to movie night at home, this becomes an issue. You explain to your partner—slowly, gently, as to a child—the many fine qualities of the genre, its rich history, and the subtle symbolic threads that can be teased out of the best films.

But your passionate advocacy fails to elicit an accord, and you end up watching yet another goddamn Woody Allen movie.

Friends, I am here to help. Below are five excellent science fiction films currently streaming on Netflix that might win over even the most hardheaded sci-fi hater. And remember, they are to be pitied. They're not evil—they just don't know any better.

Strange Days (1995)

Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett headline this underrated slice of sci-fi grunge from director Kathryn Bigelow, which comes as close as any movie since Blade Runner to capturing the sinister future-noir vibe of William Gibson's 1980s cyberpunk novels. Fiennes plays lapsed LAPD cop Lenny Nero, now a tweaked-out crook who deals a new kind of drug—bootleg neural prostheses. The story plays out like a classic hardboiled crime thriller, so unsuspecting sci-fi-phobes won't even notice what they're getting in to until it's too late.

Snowpiercer (2013)

Like the recent and spectacular Mad Max: Fury Road, the sci-fi fever dream Snowpiercer is the product of one artist's focused vision. In this case, it's the vision of a post-apocalyptic bullet train circumnavigating a frozen Earth in a nightmare allegory of simmering class rage. South Korean director Bong Joon-ho developed the film over several years and refused to make artistic concessions, resulting in a limited and delayed but finally successful U.S. theatrical release in 2013. It's visceral and weird, with some of the most hallucinogenic images ever conjured onscreen. Also, Tilda Swinton.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Surely the scariest PG-rated sci-fi movie ever made, the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a masterpiece of carefully calibrated tension and pacing. As in the original 1956 film, the story chronicles an admirably efficient alien invasion in which spores infect humans then replace them with emotionless duplicates. It's all about paranoia and—if you want to look for it—political allegory. But it's mostly just old-fashioned creepshow speculative fiction. The kind grandma used to love. Well, my grandma, anyway.

Monsters (2010)

When a NASA deep space probe returns to Earth and crash lands on the U.S.-Mexico border, a quarantine zone is established to confine our newest planetary house guests—skyscraper-sized aliens of Lovecraftian cosmic menace. British director Gareth Edwards (2014's Godzilla) made his bones in the industry with this micro-budget indie, which manages to deliver taut suspense with an impressive less-is-more special effects strategy. You also get some understated political allegory, and a pretty good love story, too. As it happens, a sequel, Monsters 2: Dark Continent, cycles to DVD and digital this week.

Galaxy Quest (1999)

Sci-fi spoofs are easy. Too easy, probably, which is why so many terrible ones get made. Galaxy Quest is one of the few to really nail it, with knowing and affectionate goofs on fanboy culture and sci-fi conventions. Tim Allen has never been funnier than he is as a Shatner-like television actor whose role as intergalactic space commander suddenly becomes for realsies. The ace ensemble cast also includes Sigourney Weaver, goofing on her own sci-fi career, along with Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell and a crazy-funny Tony Shalhoub. It's a perfect point of entry for sci-fi haters, as any cracks they're likely to make about the genre can't match the ones in the movie.

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