(Photo by Universal Pictures/ courtesy Everett Collection)
Director Denis Villeneuve has called Dune the “longstanding dream.” He’s not alone. Since 1965, the Frank Herbert epic has been a bewitching vision shared between the minds of adventurous readers, worming deep into the psyche of grand science-fiction devotees. Of course, Villeneuve stands out among Dune fans – he’s the first one in decades who gets to turn the novel into a movie. Like the book, it will follow the path of royal Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), his training in psychokinetic arts, and his family’s arrival to rule desert planet Arrakis, the galaxy’s sole source of a powerful mineral mixture called spice.
Dune will release December 2020, but if you need those inhospitable desert fumes in your life now, you can watch Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. Get to the Las Vegas sequence and pretend that’s Arrakis wind and sand whipping your face. (The surrounding movie’s pretty good, too.) Or just go straight to the well and watch the previous movie version of Dune, directed in 1984 by David Lynch. He’s essentially disowned the film, but it’s a well-meaning attempt, rendered mostly incomprehensible by the end if you’re not familiar with the book – exactly why Villeneuve’s Dune will be split into two movies. Dune has long stymied filmmakers (it was actually done decently on TV with the 2000 miniseries), and you’ll get the behind-the-scenes treatment of a noble but failed adaptation inside the wonderful documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.
Dune towers within the space opera: A genre of sci-fi adventure where pulpy action and plot twists rule the stars, with frequent space and military battles, and streaks of sweeping romance. More space operas from movie history include The Chronicles of Riddick, The Last Starfighter, Flash Gordon, The Fifth Element (there’s a literal opera in this), Serenity, and Battle Beyond the Stars, featuring special effects by James Cameron.
We all know about the impact of Flash Gordon and The Hidden Fortress on George Lucas when thinking up his own space opera, Star Wars. Dune‘s influence fills out the rest. The Force is akin to Dune‘s own all-encompassing mystic system, and Tatooine is essentially a stand-in for Arrakis. So we’re including A New Hope here, even though you’ve already seen it. We hope.
John Carter and Stargate are more in the realm of space fantasies, but the action and arid settings match. Ditto the Earthly, apocalyptic Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. While there are obviously better movies in the series, it’s inside Thunderdome where Max is sculpted as a messianic figure, the type of imagery central to the Dune arc.
If space military operations are more your thing, engage with the sleek Ender’s Game, or violent propaganda satire Starship Troopers. And if you like what Dune dishes on ecological and environmental notions (with a potential side of giant sand critters), eat up the hippie-dippie Silent Running along with Hayao Miyazaki’s early masterpiece Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
On animation: The medium has long opened eyes to whole new worlds, like Disney’s underseen Treasure Planet. Or the trippy French classic Fantastic Planet. And even the full-length Daft Punk cosmic fantasy Interstella 5555, produced by Leiji Matsumoto, godfather of the animated space opera. His epic movies like Arcadia of My Youth and the two Galaxy Express films don’t have Tomatometers so we didn’t include them, but they’re currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Luke Skywalker’s epic journey from moisture farmer to cave hermit continues this Friday with Star Wars: The Last Jedi!
Wait, a movie with ‘The Last‘ in its title? Turns out we’ve seen that one before, prompting this week’s gallery of 24 best and worst Last movies.
This week, get your Miley Cyrus fix with Hannah Montana’s feature-length trip to the big screen (Hannah Montana The Movie), or do a complete 180-degree turn with the latest Hollywood horror remake (Last House on the Left). Director James Toback goes the documentary route with boxing’s Iron Mike (Tyson), while David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer continues the family legacy for eccentric thrills (Surveillance, starring Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman). Actress Lori Petty makes her directorial debut with a personal indie drama (The Poker House) while Tilda Swinton turns in a powerhouse performance as an alcoholic kidnapper (Julia). An ’80s sci-fi gaming classic makes its way to Blu-ray (The Last Starfighter) and we take a look at a trio of Toho reissues and new TV on DVD inside!
The power of Hannah Montana cannot be denied. After a solid critical reaction to her ‘tween-fueled Best of Both Worlds Concert movie, Disney star Miley Cyrus brought her onscreen alter ego into theaters again, this time in a feature-length film. Cyrus stars as Miley Stewart, a Tennessee teenager who moonlights as the uber-popular pop singer, Hannah Montana; when her increasing celebrity threatens to take over Miley’s ego, her country music singing dad (played by Cyrus’s real-life country music singing dad, Billy “Achy Breaky Heart” Ray — stay with us here) takes her back to the homestead to get back to her roots. Teen sitcom clichés and plenty of Disney pop tunes ensue, making this a guaranteed hit among the young Hannah Montana faithful — if not among older audiences and critics. A generous menu of special features include bloopers, deleted scenes, director commentary, and more, and even the stodgiest of detractors can’t resist the disc’s piece de resistance, which you can watch exclusively here on Rotten Tomatoes: a how-to lesson on doing the Hoedown Throwdown Dance (“Pop it, lock it, polka dot it…”)!
Next: File under improbable –Ingmar Bergman gets the torture porn treatment?
While nobody was really clamoring for a remake of Wes Craven‘s marginally-celebrated 1972 exploitation horror pic — the original Last House on the Left only earned 65 percent on the Tomatometer — Hollywood served up the revenge story yet again, making good use of the recent boom in torture porn sensibilities for which modern audiences seem to have an appetite. (Interestingly, many argue that Craven’s first LHOTL is far more gruesome.) Garret Dillahunt stars as the ringleader of a vicious band of criminals; Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn are the parents of his victim who decide to turn the tables. Critics were in part repulsed by the remake’s brutality and lack of intelligence, resulting in a hard-to-watch attack-vengeance tale ultimately not worth the ordeal. For the same story done better, check out Ingmar Bergman‘s Oscar-winning 1960 film, The Virgin Spring (94%), the medieval rape-and-revenge pic that inspired the first Last House.
Next: Carradine’s posthumous sea dog period comedy comes to DVD
A “horrid piece of filmed dinner theater” — (Scott Foundas, LA Weekly). An “arthritic romantic comedy” — (Ronnie Scheib, Variety). The raves keep comin’ for this misbegotten adaptation of a 1904 novel by Joseph Lincoln, which posits three grumpy old men — David Carradine, Bruce Dern, and Rip Torn — as a trio of septuagenarian sea captains looking for a house wife in Cape Cod, circa 1905. An abundance of turn of the century mariner slang and Mariel Hemingway‘s performance as the object of the Boys’ domestic desires might help keep things interesting, but you’ll likely wonder why this adaptation was made at all.
Next: James Toback gets up close and personal with Iron Mike in Tyson
Director James Toback (Fingers, Bugsy) detours into documentary film with this well-received portrait of infamous boxer Mike Tyson. Iron Mike himself provides much of the film’s commentary in intimate interviews that reveal the complex psyche of the man who became the undisputed heavyweight champion at age 20, served time in jail for rape, had his own 8-bit video game, and mounted a career comeback before biting off part of his opponent’s ear in 1997 on live television. Premiere footage and a commentary by Toback highlight the special features.
Next: Is director Jennifer Lynch (Surveillance) as twisted as her father?
Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman star as Feds investigating a roadside killing in this Rashomon-esque thriller, directed by Jennifer Lynch. To preface, take a look at Lynch’s pedigree (her father is David) and her past work (she won a Razzie for her debut, Boxing Helena — a movie in which a woman has her limbs amputated by a lover). Critics say Surveillance is appropriately perverse, gory, and twisted, which you might find either good or bad, depending on taste; they also say a last-act twist threatens to undermine the whole affair. Decide for yourself which side of the Fresh/Rotten divide it belongs on.
Next: Tilda Swinton’s tour de force turn in Julia
Tilda Swinton‘s performance as a struggling alcoholic takes center stage in Erick Zonca‘s Julia, a kidnapping thriller and character study that lets the usually-buttoned up Oscar winner let loose. Julia is addicted to partying and substance abuse, trapped in a downward spiral that leads her to accept a neighbor’s proposition to kidnap a young boy from his cushy home in Mexico, until a series of unfortunate events throw everything into chaos. Swinton fans should jump at the chance to watch the actress play out-of-control — a woman under the influence, as it were — in a film that has drawn comparisons to a Cassavetes flick on a rager.
Next: See, something good did come of In the Army Now…
Years after meeting In Living Color‘s David Alan Grier (presumably when they both starred in the Pauly Shore vehicle In the Army Now), actress Lori Petty teamed up with her old friend to script this semi-autobiographical story based on her own childhood, which also marks Petty’s debut as a director. The familiar realm of indie dramas about abused and/or neglected kids toughing it out amidst unsavory adult types gets a jolt thanks to a trio of young actresses (Jennifer Lawrence, Sophia Bairley, and Chloe Grace Moretz) who, critics say, carry the picture with strength and nuance. Lawrence in particular shines as the 14-year-old protagonist Agnes, who is left to care for her younger siblings when their drug-addicted prostitute mother (Selma Blair) and dubious father figure (Bokeem Woodbine) fail them, and worse. Petty herself provides a commentary track.
Next: The Last Starfighter lands on Blu-ray!
There are those who champion The Last Starfighter as an unassuming landmark of ’80s science fiction, significant even while overshadowed by bigger, flashier, more memorable flicks of its kind. We think you guys just love it because (along with TRON and our sentimental fave, The Wizard) it legitimized those hours of obsessive video gaming as essential training, inevitably to come in handy when called upon by a higher power. Director Nick Castle (who would go on to direct the live-action Dennis the Menace movie, Major Payne, and script August Rush) employed impressive-for-the-era special effects in the tale of a trailer park teenager named Alex (Lance Guest) whose hobby of playing the Starfighter arcade game pays off when an alien from the planet Rylos reveals that the game was a test, and that Alex is to be the next “starfighter” in an intergalactic war. Looking back on The Last Starfighter now, the ’80s stylings are charming (to put it kindly), but even though it doesn’t quite hold up 25 years later, it’s a fun blast from the past on Blu-ray. Tons of retrospective features, a filmmaker commentary, and image galleries make for a comprehensive collection of bonus features.
Next: A Toho Studios trifecta!
Gojira fans, take note: the Japanese monster known stateside as Godzilla wasn’t the only camp-tastic science fiction hero to come out of the wacky world of Japanese cinema, circa 1960. Serving up three newly remastered genre classics from the makers (director Ishiro Honda and special effects pioneer Eiji Tsuburaya) and home (Toho Tokyo Studios) of such kaiju classics as Godzilla, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is releasing The Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection. In The H-Man (1958), radioactive bomb testing turns people into oozing, infectious slimy blobs; in Battle in Outer Space (1959), a sinister alien race use enhanced weapons and mind control to attack Earth. Finally, in Mothra (1962), the famous psychic, moth-like God and frequent Godzilla opponent is introduced, defending her island of worshippers from their capitalist kidnappers. While the collection is woefully short on bonus features, the films have been meticulously restored and offer multiple subtitle options.
Next: Gossip Girl, Sons of Anarchy, Swayze’s Beast and more TV on DVD
It’s a huge week for new TV on DVD releases, so we’ve collected them all here for your one-stop perusal. For starters, check out Season 1 of Patrick Swayze‘s recently cancelled show, The Beast, in which he plays an FBI agent of dubious methodology (A&E cancelled the show after one season due to Swayze’s declining health). The 2000-2001 exploits of Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, and Maggie Simpson also hit DVD, though beyond a guest starring spot from boy band *NSYNC, we’re hard pressed to recall any of that season’s specifics (The Simpsons Season 12). Fresher in our minds is the explosive debut season of Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy (Season One), FX’s Hamlet-with-bikers starring Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Sutter’s wife, Katey Sagal. We’d also recommend picking up Season 3 of Dexter, in which Dex battles a frenemy and contemplates marriage. For lighter fare, there’s Season 3 of the campus dramedy Greek, along with the most OMG-inducing show of all: Gossip Girl Season 2, which includes the flashback episode leading to the would-be spin-off, Valley Girls.
Until next week, happy renting!
Jerry Bruckheimer will produce "Game Boys" for Disney, a high-concept action comedy about slackers, monsters, video games, and the Department of Homeland Security.
From The Hollywood Reporter: "Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films have acquired "Game Boys," an action spec by Tom Ropelewski and Evan Katz. Jerry Bruckheimer is producing. The story revolves around two thirtysomething video game junkies recruited by the Department of Homeland Security to lead a geeky army of gamers in a battle against creatures that have come to life from a video game they have mastered."
("The Last Starfighter" anyone?)
Tom Ropelewski directed "Madhouse" (1990) and "Look Who’s Talking Now" (1993). He also wrote "Loverboy" (1989) and "The Next Best Thing" (2000). Tom’s better half, veteran writer/producer Leslie Dixon, will act as a producer on "Game Boys."
Evan Katz is a TV writer making his big-screen debut. You might recognize his name from the credits of a little show called "24."
According to Variety, funny guy Vince Vaughn will star in a new holiday comedy entitled "Fred Claus," a project that’ll reunite him with his "Clay Pigeons" and "Wedding Crashers" director David Dobkin.
"The "Wedding Crashers" team of Vince Vaughn and director David Dobkin are at the altar for "Fred Claus," a Warner Bros. holiday comedy about Santa’s loser brother.
While negotiations are just beginning, deal should see Vaughn cement his status as a comedy-carrying star by reaching the $20 million salary mark for the first time. Dan Fogelman wrote the script and Dobkin is producing with Jessie Nelson.
Comedy revolves around Santa’s black-sheep brother, who heads back to the North Pole and gets a chance to redeem himself."