Archive for Cult Movies

Transmissions to Earth: DJANGO (1966)

Posted in 2012, 60s Movies, Action Movies, Classic Films, Exploitation Films, Italian Cinema, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Spaghetti Westerns, Trasmissions to Earth, Westerns with tags , , , , , , on December 27, 2012 by knifefighter

 

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Transmissions to Earth Presents:

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DJANGO (1966)
Review by L.L. Soares

In honor of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, DJANGO UNCHAINED, which opened on Christmas Day, I thought I would see the movie that inspired him – at least in part – the original 1966 spaghetti western called, simply, DJANGO, starring Franco Nero.

When we first see the titular anti-hero, Django is on a hill, dragging a coffin behind him with ropes. He looks down upon a group of Mexican bandits tying up a prostiute named Maria (Loredana Nusciak) and flogging her. Suddenly, a group of soldiers arrive, shooting the bandits and setting the woman free – or so we think. Instead, they form a cross from pieces of wood, intent on burning her for her sins. Django comes to her rescue and she is saved a second time.

Django drags around a coffin wherever he goes.

Django drags around a coffin wherever he goes.

Going into town, they find it pretty much deserted, except for a whorehouse/saloon run by Nathaniel (Angel Alvarez). Their clientele includes the soldiers, led by Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo), and the Mexican bandits, led by General Hugo (Jose Bodalo), the exact two groups who had taken turns persecuting Maria earlier.

Django makes the whorehouse his office, dragging that coffin of his into the middle of the room, to the consternation of Nathaniel and his girls, who are terrified about how Major Jackson will respond. When we are introduced to the Major, he is using bandits as target practice (they’re forced to run up a hill and he shoots them in the back as they flee). Jackson takes some of his men into town to look at the stranger who shot some of his soldiers, which leads to  Django revealing just what’s in that coffin of his. Let’s just say Major Jackson enters the saloon with an entourage and leaves all by himself.

Django has a special treat for his enemies in the coffin he drags around everywhere.

Django has a special treat for his enemies in the coffin he drags around everywhere.

While Django and Nathaniel are digging graves for all the men Django has killed, the bandits show up again. It turns out that General Hugo knows Django from past skirmishes and they are old friends. Django reveals to the General why he came to town – to steal some gold from a military fort just inside the Mexican border. Hugo is game, and they follow Major Jackson back to the fort, where they attack (after hiding in the covered wagon Nathaniel normally uses to bring prostitutes to the soldiers) and abscond with a big bag of gold dust.

Afterwards, Hugo double-crosses Django, cheating him out of his cut of the gold in the name of “La Revolucion” Hugo is planning, to take over the Mexican government. He expects Django to make a sacrifice for the cause, but the mysterious stranger has no intention of leaving empty-handed, especially when it was his plan that got them the gold.

After tricking the bandits out of their gold, Django tries to get away, but accidentally loses the gold (now stuffed in his coffin) to a patch of quicksand. The bandits catch up and crush Django’s hands, leaving him for dead, before riding off into an ambush of Major Jackson’s men, who shoot the bandits dead.

The film ends with a lethal showdown in a cemetery with Django, with a gun but crushed hands, against Major Jackson and a group of his men, culminating in a satisfying conclusion.

DJANGO was a big hit upon its initial release and spawned lots of imitators, and some sequels. It’s clear that Franco Nero’s character is patterened after the “Man with No Name” that Clint Eastwood played in the spaghetti westerns he did for director Sergio Leone.  Django is a man of few works, with a face full of stubble, like Eastwood’s mercenary, but Nero also has piercing blue eyes beneath his beat-up cowboy hat. Directed by Sergio Corbucci, DJANGO isn’t as epic as Leone’s best work, and he clearly doesn’t have anywhere near the budget of Leone’s films, but Corbucci makes up for it in in interesting locations and a strong atmosphere of foreboding.

DJANGO doesn’t have much to distinguish it from the tons of other Italian westerns of the time, but Nero is terrific as the lead character. And that coffin he drags around is an interesting gimmick. Also, Major Jackson’s men go around wearing red bags over their heads, looking an awful lot like a variation on the Klu Klux Klan (the fact that Jackson is clearly a racist just emphasizes this).

It’s not 100% clear what Major Jackson is up to. He leads a group of soldiers, but they seem to be outside of the law and murder the locals with impunity. At one point, Jackson mentions that he fought for the South in the recent Civil War (which isn’t referred to by name), while Django fought for the North. All the more reason for them to be enemies. But since the film was made in Italy, it seems to be a little vague about the details of the war and the specifics of geography.

While it’s not a great movie, DJANGO has some great moments, including a scene where bandits cut off the ear of one of Major Jackson’s cronies, a preacher named Brother Jonathan (Gino Pernice), and that final showdown in the graveyard. And Franco Nero dominates every scene he’s in, and it’s not hard to see how he became an international star.

Charismatic actor Franco Nero became a star for his portrayal of DJANGO.

Charismatic actor Franco Nero became a star for his portrayal of DJANGO.

DJANGO may have “inspired” Tarantino’s new one, but aside from the titles (and names of the title characters) and the fact that they’re both westerns, there’s not a lot in common between DJANGO and DJANGO UNCHAINED. Tarantino has stated that he really likes this movie, however, and he uses some of Luis Bacalov’s score for DJANGO in DJANGO UNCHAINED, including the memorable title song which appears in both films. The original film is worth checking out, however, especially if you’re a big fan of Italian westerns of the 1970s.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

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The Geisha of Gore Takes On BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Controverisal Films, Cult Movies, Dystopian Futures, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Japanese Cinema, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , on February 29, 2012 by knifefighter

GEISHA OF GORE REVIEW
BATTLE ROYALE (2000)
By Colleen Wanglund

Imagine, if you will, being a high school student on a bus for a class trip, only to wake up on a deserted island and told you now had to kill your fellow students. That is the premise of the 2000 film BATTLE ROYALE. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, BATTLE ROYALE is based on a1999 novel of the same name by Koushun Takami. On March 20th of this year the film will finally be released on DVD/Blu-ray in North America….YAY! A quick bit of trivia—Kinji Fukasaku directed the Japanese scenes in the WWII movie TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970).

“At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act…”

BATTLE ROYALE takes place in an alternate-reality Japan. Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is a high school student struggling to maintain some semblance of a normal life after his father’s suicide. It is the end of the school year and the class of 40 students is returning from a field trip. At some point the students are gassed and the bus is diverted to an evacuated island for the purpose of participating in the annual “game.” The class is awakened by their former teacher Kitano (played by the wonderfully quirky “Beat” Takeshi Kitano), surrounded by soldiers and informed of their situation. They have also been fitted with collars that will explode if the kids try to remove them….or if more than one has survived by the end of the game. The students are shown an orientation video that looks more like an MTV video, complete with a cute pop star-like young woman. The students have three days to kill or be killed and only one student is allowed to leave the island alive. Some of the kids rebel or refuse to participate, but they are dealt with immediately. In one instance they are provided with a demonstration of the collar’s effectiveness (ironically it is used on a student who had stabbed Kitano a year before, causing him to retire).

Along with two additional participants, Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) and Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando), the students are sent out at sixty second intervals with their personal possessions and a pack containing basic supplies and one other item. That additional item is either an obvious weapon or something that may prove to be a weapon. The first night sees many deaths among the kids, including a few suicides. Every six hours Kitano broadcasts a list of the dead over the island’s PA system, as well as the times and locations of “death zones”—areas that will cause the students’ collars to detonate if they are found to be in the zones. The collars also serve as tracking devices and they stop sending a signal when a teen wearing one dies.

Shuya has promised to protect Noriko (Aki Maeda) and they manage to successfully stay alive by hiding and staying out the way of the others. The two run into Kawada, who helps them out by giving them shelter in an abandoned house and tending to Noriko’s wounds. They spend a good amount of time talking and Kawada tells the teens that he is, in fact a survivor from a previous year’s battle. His wish was to survive again but get revenge on those who caused the death of the girl he loved. The house is eventually attacked and the three are separated, with Shuya being badly wounded. Shuya is taken to a lighthouse where a group of girls is hiding, but fear and mistrust get the better of them.

While all of this is going on, we are given glimpses of Mistsuko Souma (Kou Shibasaki), a student who proves to be one of the most dangerous players in the game, as is with Kiriyama. Mitsuko is the popular girl with the exclusive clique among the class but here on the island she has become a cold assassin, willing to kill anyone to get off the island. It is eventually revealed that Kiriyama volunteered for the battle because he thought it would be fun. He is as ruthless as Mitsuko. Meanwhile another student, Shinji Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) and two of his friends have a plan to hack into the military’s computers and blow up their compound on the island, effectively starting a revolution. Part of Mimura’s plan is successful, but not all. Shuya, Noriko and Kawada arrive at Mimura’s hiding spot too late to help them. Now they are on their own again, determined to leave the island together. Who ultimately will win the BATTLE ROYALE?

Okay, the first thing I love about this movie is that it stars Beat Takeshi. The man is amazing. He’s a director, actor, poet, television personality, screen writer, comedian, singer, painter and author. His movies are offbeat and Takeshi has developed quite a cult following both in and outside of Japan. He is a professor and owns his own talent agency and production company. The man is a dynamo. His biggest commercial success was his portrayal of the blind swordsman in ZATOICHI (2003).

….Sorry, back to the movie…..

BATTLE ROYALE, a dystopian parallel universe that condones teens committing violence against each other. It’s also a social commentary on how the younger generation seems to be turning its back on tradition. They no longer have the respect for their elders that previous generations had. We see this in the phone calls between Kitano and his daughter, although this is probably found most blatantly in the character Mitsuko. She is most assuredly self-centered and that is ultimately what makes her so dangerous. While we are given only glimpses into the teens’ characters prior to the battle, it is clear that Mitsuko is a bully. When she does finally meet her match, it is at the hands of someone who is just like her.

BATTLE ROYALE has not been released in the U.S. until this year, possibly due to comparisons with the Columbine tragedy. But note that this year also gives us the release of the similarly-themed HUNGER GAMES.

That said, the strongest characters in the film are the teens who do care about others. Shuya and Noriko manage to survive until the third day. They have taken care of each other and Shuya would probably die rather than allow that to happen to Noriko. So the message isn’t all bad. There is hope for redemption for this generation of teens.

When BATTLE ROYALE opened in Japan, it was a box office success, despite being given a rarely used rating of R15 (no one under the age of 15 admitted). While the graphic violence against teens seems exploitative, there is clearly a message of disillusionment with society in general, as well as a fear of the destruction of civil order. After all, it isn’t only that the kids are forced to kill each other off in a “SURVIVOR-with-weapons” scenario. It is the fact that adults distrust and dislike the teens so much that they force them into the battle for their very lives. They are given the ultimate punishment for defying their elders. BATTLE ROYALE is Darwinism at its dirtiest….only the most murderous will survive. It can also be considered an allegory on the competitiveness in Japan—both in school and in the workforce. At some point every society begins to fracture. BATTLE ROYALE shows us the extreme.

BATTLE ROYALE is, in my opinion, a good movie. The screenplay hits some of the points made in the book, although in a more exploitative way. There is quite a bit of violence and the SFX guys did a fantastic job but, considering the material, it is far from gratuitous. The young cast does a great job, especially Tatsuya Fujiwara as Shuya (who also starred in the DEATH NOTE films), and the main characters are fairly relatable. BATTLE ROYALE created a stir in Japan’s Parliament due to its violence but it is a memorable film for anyone who has seen it, and I highly recommend it.

© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund

Special Movie Review for Christmas Day: THE ROOM (2003)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2011, Art Movies, Bad Acting, Campy Movies, Cult Movies, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 25, 2011 by knifefighter

SPECIAL MOVIE REVIEW!
THE ROOM (2003)
By L.L. Soares

There’s a long history of movies that are considered “so bad, they’re good.” And one of the best in recent memory is THE ROOM by Tommy Wiseau. Since it was released in 2003, it has gone on to become a cult favorite, with midnight showings across the country and even audience interaction (supposedly, at key scenes, the audience throws plastic spoons at the screen, among other things). The “cult” began on the west coast and is slowly creeping east (there were midnight screenings in Boston and New York this year), and there’s good reason for this. The movie is pretty hilarious. But it may be hard to explain why in the course of a review.

The story, for what it is, centers on Johnny (Tommy Wiseau, who also directed, wrote and produced the film) and Lisa (Juliette Danielle), a young couple who live in San Francisco (there are lots of shots of the Golden Gate Bridge) and are in love. Or are they? When we first see them, they are telling each other how much in love they are, Johnny has bought Lisa a sexy red dress, and they go upstairs for an awkward soft-core sex scene that goes on for awhile and has awful soft rock playing over it. But things are not so rosy in the world of THE ROOM.

We next see Lisa talking to her mother, Claudette (Carolyn Minnot), and telling her how much she hates Johnny, and that she doesn’t want to marry him (even though they are supposed to get married within a month’s time!). She says Johnny is boring and while he can offer her financial stability, she doesn’t love him any more. Claudette, for her part, tells Lisa to stay in the relationship, and get married, because money is better than happiness, but Lisa doesn’t agree.

Lisa then goes on to seduce Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero), who seems completely baffled when he comes over for a visit and finds Lisa coming on to him, but who quickly succumbs to her wiles. Lisa tells him it’s him that she loves and she doesn’t want to be with Johnny anymore. Mark gives lip service to the fact that “Johnny is my best friend,” but five minutes later he’s up in her bed, and they have a long, awkward sex scene with bad soft rock playing over it.

When Johnny doesn’t get a promotion at the bank where he works, as he was promised, this appears to be the last straw for Lisa, who gets him drunk (he normally does not drink, but she convinces him it will make him feel better) and then later tells people he hit her (but he didn’t). She does nothing but talk trash about Johnny behind his back, yet when she’s around him, she only tells him how much she loves him.

Among the other strange characters who come for regular visits are Denny (Phillip Haldiman), a rather simple young man who Johnny wanted to adopt at one point, and whose college tuition is paid for by Johnny. Denny sees Johnny as a father figure, and loves him dearly. He also has the hots for Lisa. Denny is an odd boy who in one scene follows Lisa and Johnny up to their bedroom because he likes watching them (!) – they kick him out so they can be intimate – and in another scene is almost killed by a drug dealer he owes money to named Chris-R (Dan Janjigian), who holds a gun on Denny but it taken away when Johnny and Mark intervene.

There are also Michelle (Robyn Paris) and Mike (Scott Holmes) who sneak into Johnny and Lisa’s apartment to do some “homework” while the place is empty and have sex on the coach.

As more and more people find out Lisa’s secret (she doesn’t feel compelled to hide it from too many people), her friends plead with her to be honest with Johnny and break it off. That he doesn’t deserve to be treated like this. But Lisa seems to truly enjoy screwing around behind Johnny’s back. There’s a real hatred there, that is never explained or explored except when she says things like Johnny is “boring” or she doesn’t love him anymore. She also implies that he treats her badly, even though we see no evidence of this. In fact, he seems to worship the ground she walks on.

Things culminate at Johnny’s birthday party, where everyone is invited and Lisa and Mark have an angry argument, which should finally tip Johnny off, but he’s still rather slow at coming around to the realization. When he does, Mark and Johnny have a couple of scuffles, and when Lisa finally leaves Johnny for good, there are tragic consequences.

Interspersed between all this are several scenes where Johnny and his buddies toss around a football in various locations (this seems to have real significance, but really doesn’t), Johnny calls a couple of his friends “chickens” (“Cheep cheep cheep”), people constantly walk in and out of Johnny and Lisa’s apartment, often without knocking (as Claudette says in one scene, “It’s like Grand Central Station around here”), and at one point, Claudette tells her daughter that the tests have come back and she definitely has breast cancer (Lisa tells her she’ll be okay, then switches the topic so she can complain more about the fact that she doesn’t love Johnny).

The acting is pretty awful throughout, although Wiseau has a certain charisma, even when he is spouting lines badly, laughing at inappropriate times, and being emotionally confused (at one point he can be shouting with anger, and suddenly calm down to say “Oh, hi Mark.”).  No matter how bad his acting abilities are, Wiseau is definitely watchable, and hilarious. The rest of the cast isn’t much better, although the very strange and awful script (by Wiseau) probably makes them seem worse than they are. Their motiviations are often muddled and often things are said or done that make no sense.

Aside from Wiseau, who looks like a muscular Frankenstein Monster with long black hair and has an oddly Eastern European accent, the next most entertaining performance here is definitely Juliette Danielle as Lisa. Lisa is the villain of this piece, even if she refuses to acknowledge it. The way she’s able to declare her love for Johnny in one scene, and then run him down to her friends and mother in others, is pretty funny (although everything is played completely straight – which is the charm of this film).

And what exactly does the title mean? What is THE ROOM? I am sure it must refer to the bedroom upstairs in Johnny and Lisa’s apartment, since this is the only room we go to several times, but what, exactly, is the significance of THE ROOM? Why is it the title of this movie? What makes it so special and different from any other room?

Sure it’s badly acted, badly written, and nobody acts or says things like real people act and speak, but that’s what makes THE ROOM such a classic of its kind. This movie really needs to be seen to be believed, and if you’re a fan of “so bad they’re good” flicks, you owe it to yourself to check this one out, if you haven’t seen it yet.

My only real complaint is that Wiseau hasn’t made more films like this since. In 2004, he made a serious documentary about homelessness called Homeless in America (which he directed with Kaya Redford) and has appeared in a few other short films (one called The House That Dripped Blood on Alex is especially hilarious) and the occasional odd TV show (Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! on the Cartoon Channel’s “Adult Swim”), but he hasn’t made any other feature films since 2003. No THE ROOM PART 2 or anything equally enjoyable. Why not? I’m sure I speak for everyone who has gone to a midnight showing of THE ROOM, and most people who have watched the DVD in the privacy of their homes, when I say “Please Tommy, make more movies!” One is definitely not enough!!

We want more of the magic you gave us with THE ROOM!

In a strange bizarro world where tossing around footballs is an important, manly ritual and calling someone a chicken is the greatest insult, where sudden, inappropriate laughing and crying are the norm, I would give this movie four knives.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

(A special thank you to Robert, Kathleen and David for introducing me to this one!)

Meals for Monsters: TROLL 2

Posted in 2011, 90s horror, Campy Movies, Cult Movies, Jenny Orosel Columns, Just Plain Fun, Meals for Monsters, Monsters, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on July 19, 2011 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: A FEAST FIT FOR A GOBLIN
By Jenny Orosel

Welcome to the first installment of my new column for the Cinema Knife Fight site, MEALS FOR MONSTERS.

Dinner and a movie has always been a classic date night. The dilemma is often, which movie and what to have for dinner. For the romantic, there is a love story followed by overpriced French food in a poorly lit restaurant. A casual evening can easily be made of the latest shoot-‘em-up on DVD and frozen chicken wings. But what about the horror fan? Whenever horror movies come up with cooking, you usually get some sort of Halloween cast-off by way of Martha Stewart (think eyeball shaped meatloaves and cupcakes that look like spiders). We horror buffs love good food too, and we love good movies.

Okay, maybe I should have left out the “good movies” part, because today’s dinner and movie is TROLL 2 (1990). If you are unfamiliar with this movie, I have to warn you: it’s bad. Really bad. But gloriously, epicly bad. TROLL 2 consistently ranks as the lowest rated movie on both Rotten Tomatoes and Internet Movie DataBase. And what makes it so wonderfully horrible is the fact that it fails on every single level—writing, effects, acting, direction. Every frame is filled with wrongness. So why does this make a great date movie? If it’s early on in the relationship, you can use this as a litmus test of your potential partner’s sense of humor. If you’re a long married couple I can guarantee that no matter how many movie nights you’ve had, you haven’t watched one like this. And if you’re looking for action, this movie may encourage increased alcohol consumption.

The basic plot behind TROLL 2 is a family goes to the town of Nilbog. Turns out Nilbog is populated by vegetarian goblins (yes, this movie is called TROLL 2. No, there are no trolls, only goblins). The vegetarian goblins won’t eat people, but they will feed people this strange neon green food that will somehow turns said people into plants. That way, they can still eat the people and remain true to their vegetarian status.

So the rules for a TROLL 2 dinner are: bright green food and vegetarian. Not a problem. I guarantee this meal will not only be tasty, but enhance your enjoyment of the movie.

To start things off, you need a tasty beverage. Actually, you will probably need multiple tasty beverages to make it through TROLL 2.

Here is the NIBLOG COCKTAIL:

It consists of:

1 shot vodka
1 shot Midori (or other melon flavored liquor)
Fill rest of glass with lemonade and ice (ice is optional)

You may want to keep the bottles nearby as the movie progresses.

For the main course, I bring you stuffed peppers. This recipe uses poblano peppers. They have a good kick. Keep that in mind when picking out which salsa you’ll be using.

STUFFED PEPPERS

Rice for stuffing:

Juice 2 limes into a measuring cup, fill with enough water to reach 1 ¾ cups (add a drop or two of green food coloring if you really want to accentuate the green color). Bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt and a cup of rice. Simmer 20 minutes, then let sit for at least five. This can be done ahead of time, as the rice will heat up while the stuffed peppers cook.

Peppers:

6 poblano peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
6 medium mushrooms
½ onion
3 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1 jar green salsa
Handful of shredded cheese (optional)

Finely chop the mushrooms, onions and garlic. Sautee them in the olive oil until nice and soft. Add to mixing bowl with rice. Mix in about 2/3 cup of the salsa. Now comes the big decision—in TROLL 2, the goblins kept to a strict vegan diet. If you choose to keep strictly to the movie, omit the cheese (also do so if you are lactose intolerant). However, there’s no good reason to pay that much attention to detail (the filmmakers sure didn’t). Feel free to add the cheese. It’ll still be vegetarian.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the tops off the peppers and scoop out the seeds. Fill with the filling, and place on a cookie sheet lined with tin foil. Pour the remaining salsa on top. Bake for 30 minutes.

If you’ve made it that far into the movie you deserve a treat (and another Nilbog Cocktail). For desert, you have two options. If you’re going the full on vegan route, some lime sorbet with diced kiwi on top works. And it’s tasty, too. But it can be a lot more fun if you go the vegetarian route with some cake!

PISTACHIO PUDDING CAKE

1 small box instant pistachio pudding
1 box white cake mix
¾ cups oil
¾ cups milk
4 eggs
Green food coloring (optional)
Diced kiwi fruit (optional)

Mix cake according to the temperature and direction on the box. I’ve found a bundt pan works well as far as baking and slicing, but any pan you have lying around will do the job. Also, before baking, feel free to add a few drops of food color to the batter. Without it, the cake will still be a lovely light green. With it, however, it will turn the bright, lovely green shade of the goblin foods of the film.

If you want a little extra moisture with the cake, when you serve it, put some diced kiwi fruit over it. The tartness of the fruit work deliciously with the sweet smoothness of the pistachio cake.

And there you are—even if this does prove to be the worst movie you have ever seen, at least you’ve had a great dinner. And if you made it to the end of the movie, pour yourself another Nilbog Cocktail. You deserve it.

© Copyright 2011 by Jenny Orosel

 
Now you can enjoy the same green food that goblins eat!

(Editor’s Note to Dummies: If you have a nut allergy, then don’t make the Pistachio cake. Do I really need to post a disclaimer? )

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984)

Posted in 2011, Aliens, Cult Movies, Dark Comedies, Low Budget Movies, Nick Cato Reviews, Science Fiction, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , , on June 23, 2011 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984)
A Parable in the Hood!
By Nick Cato

John Sayles is a man of many talents.  He was the screenwriter for the original PIRAHNA (1978), ALLIGATOR (1980) and BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980).  He also had bit parts as an actor in these films, and is (probably) best known among horror fans as the screenwriter for THE HOWLING (1981).  This one-man movie machine has also written film soundtracks, has edited and done various crew work on countless films (Editor’s Note: and he’s directed 17 films so far).  But I believe one little gem he directed in 1984 is his masterpiece…and the audience I saw THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET with on opening night would agree.

In the lily-white neighborhoods where the few suburban grindhouses I often mention in this column once stood, you hardly saw patrons who were not of a Caucasian background.  These theaters were usually packed with white middle-class guidos (yes, the same types you see today on shows like THE JERSEY SHORE), many who would leave screenings before certain films even reached their halfway point.  Thankfully—on occasion—I’d meet up with a few people who were serious about film.  Imagine my surprise when an African-American couple sat down in front of me at the (now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema, arguably the first black couple ever to set foot in a theater on this side of Staten Island.  And when they heard my friend and me discussing director John Sayles before the film began, they both turned around and joined in our conversation.  It was amazing—here were two people the rest of the theater were looking at, daring them to stare back, and I was having a fantastic film chat with them as the trailers began to unreel (we even spoke for about an hour afterwards out front).  Guidos and racists be damned!  This was one of the most beautiful experiences I ever had in a movie theater—and to make matters better, the film we were about to see couldn’t have been better on this particular evening.

THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET reminded me of Nicolas Roeg’s THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976), only nowhere near as strange.  A mute black man with strange-looking feet (played by Joe Morton, who delivers a truly fantastic performance here) crash lands in Harlem in a small space ship.  Despite being black and in Harlem, it quickly becomes apparent this guy isn’t on his home turf.  Most of the film deals with The Brother adjusting to his new surroundings, and despite the fact he’s from another planet, there’s so much dark humor here you quickly forget this is technically a sci-fi movie.  Despite The Brother not being able to talk, we learn he has escaped his home planet where he was a slave.  Two “men in black” type guys (both white—one played by Sayles) trail him to earth, but The Brother makes so many friends (in unique ways), that those who are affected by him help keep him safe from his would-be captors.

Sayles shot this on a miniscule budget, but the story makes up for any lack of special effects (one of The Brother’s powers is the ability to remove one of his eyes and use it as a “video camera” of sorts, as well as an E.T.-like touch that is able to fix all kinds of equipment).  While Sayles gets his points on illegal immigration and slavery across, the quirky characters The Brother meets help the film’s underlying messages go down smooth and not preachy.  This is one of those films that’s hard to describe: while it has gained a cult audience over the years, and it does have its own vibe, it’s not as dark or depressing as most cult films tend to be…and I remember leaving the theater refreshed and in an unusually good mood.  Best of all, my two new friends were glad they made the trek to this white theater to see the film, and they couldn’t stop laughing when I told them how many times I had been the only white guy at a Times Square horror or sci-fi flick…

With a nice brawl with the men in black toward the end and plenty of witty dialogue and scenarios, THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET was one of those rare gems that I’ve never forgotten…and which continues to impress most who view it today on DVD.  Definitely seek it out.

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

The Brother (Joe Morton) and his other-worldly dogs.